The San Antonio Spurs' offense has not been in question at all this season. San Antonio finished with the league's best offense in the regular season; they edged out the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks largely to holding the league's top shooting percentages from the floor and beyond the arc. It'll be interesting to see the Spurs against a top tier defense, but that will wait until the Finals. This season, there's a divide that has led to the Western elite being offense-heavy and the East's best focused on defense.
Because of the Spurs' unassailable offense, that awful first quarter against the L.A. Clippers in Game 3 on Saturday could never have lasted. San Antonio shot just 25 percent in the period, hitting 5 of 20 shots and making just one three-pointer. In those 15 misses, the Spurs captured just two offensive rebounds and had six turnovers. They ended up with 11 points in 24 possessions, which is incredibly bad for any team, let alone the Spurs.
Meanwhile, their defense -- their Achilles -- fell apart, too, as L.A. scored 33 points in 24 possessions. San Antonio finished the regular season No. 10 in defense. This, to me, was a much bigger concern. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are talented scorers, and the latter went 7-8 for 14 points in the first. CP3 didn't score much early, but had a whopping seven assists. Unlike with the offense, there was no reasonable assurance that the Spurs' defense would bounce back strong. The Clippers had the league's No. 4 offense, after all. And, need I remind you, the Spurs' likely Western Conference Finals foe, Oklahoma City, had the No. 2 offense. If San Antonio couldn't keep the defense tight, there would be real questions as to their title hopes.
That magical 24-0 run in the third quarter did a pretty good job answering those questions, I'd say.
It's easy to overlook half of what makes something like a 24-0 run. The NBA.com highlights focus on the Spurs' scoring during the run, but more important as we roll the bones to assess future round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs were the stops. San Antonio took an opposing unit that dropped 33 points in 24 possessions in the first quarter and held them without a single point for 14 straight possessions in the third. Zero for 14. L.A. scored 18 points in the final 14 possessions of the first quarter (converting nine times), and zero in the 14 possessions that made up the Spurs' 24-0 run.
A knock on the Spurs is that they don't have much size. Between Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw and shapeshifter rookie Kawhi Leonard, they certainly had enough to both challenge L.A. at the rim (the Clips missed three up close during the run) and force them into jumpers. The Clips don't turn the ball over (thanks to CP3), and San Antonio doesn't force turnovers (a Popovich legacy). Yet the Spurs picked up two turnovers in the run, one a live ball steal of CP3 by Leonard. The Spurs finished No. 1 in defensive rebounding during the regular season, and held the spry, active Clippers (No. 4 in offensive rebounding) without a single second-chance in 12 opportunities during the run.
The natural response as we creep toward a Thunder-Spurs series is to assert that Kevin Durant teams don't have 14-possession goose egg streaks. Well, neither do Chris Paul teams, and that just happened. Keep in mind too, as Zach Lowe has been reminding us, that the Spurs defense has fared plenty well against the Thunder this season. You wouldn't think that San Antonio could show us something new and impressive after winning 16 straight (Game 3 was No. 17), but there it was: the 24-0 run that saw the Spurs completely shut down one of the NBA's best offenses and its amazing playmaker.
It's a scary time to be a Spurs weakness, because you can be eliminated at any time.