Stats & Info: San Antonio Spurs

4-Point Play: Aldridge's defense lifts Blazers

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25

Don Ryan/AP PhotoLaMarcus Aldridge is blocking shots and avoiding fouls at a level few NBA players have achieved.
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Wednesday’s game between the San Antonio Spurs (eighth in BPI) and Portland Trail Blazers (seventh in BPI) at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN. Our BPI gives the Blazers a 57 percent chance of winning.

1. The Spurs are getting by playing league-average offense, because their defense is the third best in the league, justly slightly behind the defenses of the Warriors and Grizzlies. The Spurs are fourth in the league in defensive rebounding percentage at 78 percent, and when they exceed that level, they give up 98 points per 100 possessions. They give up 103 points per 100 possessions when they are below their defensive rebounding percentage average.

2. The performance of Tony Parker seems to be dropping off. He has his lowest free throw attempts rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts), assist percentage and usage percentage since his third season in the league. He is also taking more 3-pointers than at any other time in the last 10 seasons and hitting them at 49 percent.

3. LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes and 1.9 personal fouls per 36 minutes. Of the 14 players who have completed a season with more than one block and fewer than two fouls per 36 minutes, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan are among them.

4. Damian Lillard has to play at a high level for the Blazers to win. In wins, he averages a 61 true shooting percentage and gets to the free throw line six times per 36 minutes. In losses, he has a 49 true shooting percentage and gets to the line four times per 36 minutes.

4-Point Play: Spurs vs. Warriors

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20

Elsa/Getty ImagesSteph Curry may have entered the league as a shooter, but he is a complete offensive player now.
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Friday’s game between the San Antonio Spurs (fifth in Basketball Power Index) and Golden State Warriors (first in BPI) at 10:30 p.m. on ESPN. Our BPI gives the Warriors an 80 percent chance of winning:

1. Look for the Warriors to try to find good looks for Draymond Green from 3. In wins this season, Green is averaging five 3-point attempts per 36 minutes and only 3.4 per 36 in losses.

2. Stephen Curry came into the league as an elite shooter. But since his rookie season he has increased his assists per 36 minutes by 59 percent and his free throw attempts per 36 minutes by 68 percent.

3. The Spurs have struggled offensively this season, and part of the reason is a decline in their 3-point shooting. Last season, San Antonio led the league, hitting 40 percent from 3. This season, they are hitting only 36 percent from 3, but that's still sixth best in the league.

4. Tony Parker is also not being as aggressive to the hoop as he has been in the past. Only 25 percent of his field goal attempts are at the rim this season, a career low and down from 33 percent last season.

4-point play: Duncan still defensive stalwart

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesTim Duncan continues to carry the Spurs defense as San Antonio welcomes a new-look Miami team.
The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Friday’s game between the Miami Heat (18th in BPI) and the San Antonio Spurs (sixth in BPI). Our BPI gives the Spurs a 74 percent chance of winning (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN):

1. Tim Duncan continues to be an elite defensive stopper. Duncan and Pau Gasol are the only players in the league with more than 1000 minutes, more than two blocks per 36 minutes, fewer than three fouls per 36 minutes and a defensive rebound percentage above 25 percent.

2. The Spurs average 11 turnovers per 100 possessions. When San Antonio turns the ball over lower than that rate, it wins 85 percent of its games. When they are above that level, the Spurs win 55 percent of their games.

3. The Heat play at the slowest pace in the league, averaging 91.8 possessions per 48 minutes. But they do better when they play faster. Miami has won 38 percent of games played at that pace or slower and won 55 percent of games played at a faster pace.

4. The Heat currently have a 67 percent chance of making the playoffs despite a below average offense and defense, due largely to having the easiest schedule remaining for the rest of the season in the league.

4-Point Play: Clippers at Spurs

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31

Andrew Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Clippers visit San Antonio looking for their first win over the Spurs this season (9 ET, ESPN).

The 4-Point Play looks at the four analytics-based storylines that will make you smarter when watching Saturday’s game between the San Antonio Spurs (4th in BPI) and the Los Angeles Clippers (2nd in BPI). Our BPI gives the Spurs a 61 percent chance of winning.

1. Chris Paul is third in the NBA in assist percentage, assisting on an average of 41 percent of his teammates' field goals. The Clippers need him to perform at that elite level. When Paul has an assist percentage greater than 40 percent, the Clippers win 76 percent of their games, compared to winning just 65 percent of games when he is below 40 percent.

2. The Clippers' offense is the best in the league, and has ramped up its mid-range game this year. They are at their best, however, minimizing those mid-range shots. When they get 20 percent or fewer of their points from mid-range shots, they score 112 point per 100 possessions. When they get more than that, they score 108 points per 100 possessions.

3. The Spurs are known for their passing, and 91 percent of their made threes are assisted (league average is 84 percent). When the Spurs have 90 percent or more of their made threes assisted, they have won 73 percent of their games. When they are below 90 percent, they have won 65 percent.

4. The Spurs have been surviving on a smart defense that rebounds well (77 defensive rebound percentage). They have kept opponents off of the foul line (average of 0.26 Opp Free Throw Rate). The Spurs have not lost a game this season when they are rebounding and fouling at the average levels or better.

Top stats to know: Spurs edge Cavs

November, 19, 2014

David Richard/USA TODAY SportsKawhi Leonard's tough defense helped the San Antonio Spurs come away with a win against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 10th straight time Wednesday. Here are the top stats you need to know about the game.

Rare un-clutch turnover for James
LeBron James turned the ball over with just under two seconds left and the Cavaliers down by two points. It was the first time James had a turnover in the final five seconds of a one-possession game since January 4, 2009 against the Wizards.

James finished with five turnovers on the night, his second-highest total of the season. The only game when he had more was in the season-opening loss to the New York Knicks when he coughed it up eight times.

Leonard shuts down James
Kawhi Leonard was tasked with guarding James for most of the game. Leonard held James to 3-of-11 shooting and an average field-goal attempt distance of 13 feet. Against all other defenders, James shot 3-of-6 with an average attempt distance of under seven feet.

Defense was the difference
The Cavaliers entered the game as one of the worst teams in defensive efficiency and they struggled to close out on Spurs shooters Wednesday. Cleveland contested just 16 percent of Spurs jumpers, while San Antonio contested 61 percent of the Cavaliers jump shots.

Contested jump shots are pull-up or catch-and-shoot jumpers in which the defender was within four feet of the shooter.

The Spurs adjusted at halftime to stop the Cavaliers transition offense. In the first half Cleveland scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in transition. In the second half, the Cavs were held to five points in transition.

The Cavaliers had the best offensive efficiency in the league over the previous 10 days but they ran into a defensive juggernaut. The Cavs were held 26 points per 100 possessions below their average over their previous four games. The game was played closer to the Spurs tempo, as the Cavalierss had five fewer possessions than they averaged in their previous four games.

Spurs historically dominant in 2014 Finals

June, 16, 2014

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Spurs became the fifth NBA franchise to win at least five championships.
The San Antonio Spurs ended the Miami Heat’s run at a historic threepeat, and also made a little bit of a history of their own en route to a fifth title, joining the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls as the only franchises to do so in NBA history.

The Spurs became the first team since the 1988-89 Pistons to win a title the season after losing the NBA Finals in seven games.

San Antonio made their mark in emphatic fashion.

Dominant Finals
All four of the Spurs wins came by at least 15 points, outscoring the Heat by an average of 14 per game for the series.

That’s the largest points per game differential in NBA Finals history, breaking the record of +12.6 PPG by the 1964-65 Celtics in their victory over the Lakers.

The Spurs have traditionally been known for their defense, but it was their offense which was historic in the Finals. San Antonio averaged 118.5 points per 100 possessions in the 2014 NBA Finals, and had an effective field-goal percentage of 60.4 in the five-game victory. Those are both the highest marks since the advent of the 3-point line in the 1979-80 season.

Popovich and Duncan Do It Again
Gregg Popovich is the fifth coach in NBA history to win five championships. All five of them have come with Tim Duncan, with their first title coming in 1999.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 15-year span between their first and most recent titles together is the longest for a player/coach duo in NBA history. It broke the record of 10 years by Phil Jackson with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.

In terms of players only, the 15-year span between first and last titles for Duncan is the second-longest in NBA history. Duncan trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 17-year streak (1971-88) on that list.

Duncan also became the second player in NBA history to win a title in three different decades, joining John Salley.

Duncan Didn’t Do It Alone
Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have now won four NBA titles together as teammates. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they’re the first set of at least three teammates to win four titles together since the Showtime Lakers did it with Magic Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have registered 117 playoff wins as teammates, the most in NBA history by a trio.

Those three, with Popovich, will likely make another run at a title in 2014-15. Parker, Ginobili and Popovich each have contracts that expire after next season, and Duncan will be back if he picks up his $10.4M player option.

In fact, the Spurs only have four unrestricted free agents on their roster from this season: Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Matt Bonner and Damion James.

Double teams hurting the Heat defense

June, 14, 2014

Robert Duyos/Sun Sentinel/Getty ImagesThe Heat defense has really struggled against the Spurs in the Finals.

The Miami Heat defense has been out of sorts in the 2014 NBA Finals – so much out of sorts that the San Antonio Spurs are on pace for the highest effective field-goal percentage in an NBA Finals series since the 3-point line was implemented.

Why are the Heat struggling so much defensively?

Drives to the basket

In the 2013 NBA Finals, the Heat stayed home on shooters when the Spurs drove to the basket.

The Heat aren't allowing any more drives than they did last year. The Spurs averaged 33.7 drives per game in last year's Finals and 33 per game this year.

The difference is how often they’re passing the ball: The Spurs passed the ball on 24 percent of their drives in last year's Finals. This year, the Spurs are passing the ball on 36 percent of their drives.

Too many double-teams

The Spurs are passing the ball more often on drives because the Heat are double-teaming the Spurs so often and leaving guys open.

With how adept the Spurs are at moving the ball, the Heat double-teams have been ineffective.

The Heat are switching defenders on virtually every screen in this series. Because of that, they find themselves often doubling the ball, whether it’s a hard double or a hedge.

When the Heat double-team the Spurs, just over half of the Spurs half-court field-goal attempts are uncontested. But when the Heat don't double the ball at all, only 18 percent of the Spurs half-court field-goal attempts are uncontested.

The Spurs effective field-goal percentage is 79 when the Heat double-team the ball in the half-court this series (including 55 percent on 3-pointers), compared to a 52 effective field-goal percentage when they don’t double.

Imagine if the Heat could play straight up defense without doubling the ball and without giving up any open shots. It sounds like a pipe dream, but the Heat are holding the Spurs to a 49 effective field-goal percentage on those shots. By comparison, the Spurs have been nearly twice as prolific (89 effective field-goal percentage) when the Heat double and leave a shooter open.

Based on these numbers, perhaps the Heat should rethink their strategy of switching on every screen and getting caught doubling the ball.

What has gone wrong for the Heat

June, 13, 2014
The Heat are down 3-1 in the 2014 NBA Finals after losing to the Spurs by 40 combined points in Games 3 and 4.

What has gone wrong for the Heat?

Leonard continues to make LeBron work
LeBron James finished Game 4 shooting 6-of-9 against Kawhi Leonard, but most of that production came in the third quarter when the Heat were already down big.

James attempted only two shots (0-of-2) against Leonard in the first half despite recording 17 touches against him on 24 plays. James attempted five shots against all others on 13 touches and 11 plays.

Only 19 percent of James’ touches against Leonard in the Finals have resulted in a James field goal attempt. Against all other defenders, that rate jumps to 34 percent.

James has been held without a touch on 35 percent of the Heat’s possessions when he’s guarded by Leonard. Against all other defenders, he’s been held without a touch 26 percent of the time.

Heat not taking advantage of LeBron’s passing
The Heat have generated 33 assist opportunities per game this NBA Finals (passes that lead to field goal attempts), compared to 42 per game for the Spurs.

James has created the most opportunities for the Heat (35), but only a few members of the Heat have been able to take advantage of his passing.

Ray Allen, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have combined to shoot 12-of-20 off James’ passes this Finals. All other members of the Heat have shot 3-of-15 off James’ passes, including 2-of-11 from 3-point range.

Heat Big 3 can’t get on same page
The Heat’s Big 3 has struggled to put together complete games all at the same time this NBA Finals.

In Game 1, James had issues with cramps and missed most of the fourth quarter with cramps. In that game, James cut down his aggressive play, driving nine times in the first half but only twice in the second half.

In Game 3, the Heat failed to get Chris Bosh involved on offense. Bosh registered 12 offensive touches after averaging 39.5 the first two games (26 in Game 4).

In Game 4, Wade was able to get the basket but was unable to finish. Wade went 2-of-10 in the paint on the game after shooting 69.2 percent in the paint the first three games of the series.

Turnovers have been costly
The Heat have turned the ball over on 19.1 percent of their possessions this series, the highest in an NBA Finals since the 1997-98 Utah Jazz (19.9 percent). James and Wade have 34 turnovers in four games this Finals. Miami turned the ball over on 13.4 percent of its possessions in last season’s Finals, with James and Wade combining for 35 turnovers in seven games.

This has resulted in the Spurs averaging 21.8 points off turnovers this NBA Finals. In last year’s Finals, the Spurs averaged 12.0 points off turnovers.

Heat can’t match Spurs shooting off dribble penetration
Both the Heat and Spurs have been able to get into the lane on drives this NBA Finals, as the Spurs have only three more than the Heat. However, the Heat have not been able to drive-and-dish as effectively as the Spurs have.

Even the more dependable Heat shooters have struggled in these situations. Ray Allen is 1-of-5 and Rashard Lewis is 3-of-8.

The Heat have not made a shot off a James drive-and-kick in the series (0-of-6).

Kawhi Leonard wreaking havoc on LeBron

June, 12, 2014
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsKawhi Leonard has been the primary defender against LeBron James in the NBA Finals.
On the surface, it appears that LeBron James has not struggled against Kawhi Leonard. Video tracking shows that James shot 12-of-18 (66.7 percent) with Leonard as his primary defender in the first three games of the 2014 NBA Finals.

But those numbers don’t show the full impact of Leonard’s defense.

In Game 3, James had a series-high 73 offensive touches but attempted only 14 shots. James was guarded by Leonard on 65 percent of the Heat’s possessions with James on the court in Game 3, the most Leonard has defended James in any game this series.

Let’s take a look at how Leonard has made LeBron’s life more difficult in the NBA Finals.

Fewer shots
Only 17 percent of LeBron’s touches against Leonard in the Finals have resulted in a field goal attempt. That’s half the rate James has against all other defenders. That means Leonard has been successful forcing him to pass the ball or turn it over.

Fewer touches
Leonard has been successful keeping the ball out of LeBron’s hands. James has been held without a touch on 35 percent of the Heat’s possessions when he’s guarded by Leonard. Against all other defenders he’s held without a touch 25 percent of the time.

Fewer drives
James has driven to the basket on 13 percent of his touches against Leonard. That rate jumps to 22 percent against all other defenders. Leonard has been able to keep James in front of him and force tough angles to keep him away from the basket.

It all equals more Leonard vs James
Leonard finished a Heat possession on James 65 percent of the time when James was on the court in Game 3. James attempted only 14 field goal attempts in the game despite a series-high 73 touches.

The percentage of possessions with Leonard defending James has increased every game this series.

The Heat recognized the work James put in to score with Leonard on him in Game 3 and tried to adjust by setting screens. On 14 different possessions in Game 3, Leonard started a possession on James but switched off due to screens. That happened nine times total in Games 1 and 2.

James was 3-of-4 with six points and an assist in those situations in Game 3.

Whether or not the Heat overcome the 2-1 series deficit could depend on how successful James is against Leonard’s defense going forward.

Bosh hot from three-point range

June, 10, 2014
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have combined to make 45 three-point field goals in this series (25 by San Antonio, 20 by Miami).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most three-pointers made through the first two games of an NBA Finals series. The previous best came in 1995 when Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic combined for 38.

Of all the hot shooters in this series, Chris Bosh has been the most on fire from behind the arc.

Chris Bosh
Bosh from downtown
Chris Bosh is averaging 18.0 points on 59.1 percent shooting this series and has connected on 4-of-6 shots from downtown – including a clutch three-pointer with 1:17 remaining in Game 2 to put the Heat up for good, 95-93.

After averaging just 13.2 points over his first 12 games this postseason, Bosh is putting up 21.2 points over his last five.

Bosh leads the Heat in three-point makes this postseason with 29, one more than Ray Allen. He’s shooting 43.3 percent from beyond the arc and a little over a third of his shots have come from three-point range this postseason (67-200).

Take a look at how his three-point game has evolved over the years.

Back in the 2011 playoffs, Bosh attempted 291 shots – and only four were of the three-point variety.

Bosh in clutch time
This postseason Chris Bosh is tied for the fourth most three-point field goals attempted in clutch time situations (last five minutes of the fourth Quarter or overtime with the score within five points) with nine. He is 3-for-9 from three-point range and 4-for-11 overall from the field in those games.

During the regular season, Bosh had the fourth highest three-point field goal percentage in clutch time situations throughout the NBA (among players with a minimum of 20 three-point field goal attempts). He shot 16-for-31, making 51.6 percent of those threes.

Game 3 notes
• The Spurs are 9-5 in Game 3s of a best-of-7 series when the series is tied 1-1 in the Gregg Popovich era.

• The Heat are 3-0 in Game 3s at home when the series is tied 1-1 in the James-Wade—Bosh era (since 2011 playoffs). Miami has gone on to win each of the last six series in which they were tied 1-1. The last time they lost a series in which they were tied 1-1 was in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

• Should Miami win Game 3 – the Heat have won each of the last six series in which they led 2-1. Their last such series loss was the 2011 NBA Finals.

• Should Miami lose Game 3 – the Heat have a 2-0 series record when trailing 2-1 in the James-Wade-Bosh era. Miami fell behind 2-1 against Indiana in the 2012 Conference Semifinals and then proceeded to win the next 3 games to close out the series. The Heat also fell behind 2-1 in the 2013 NBA Finals against the Spurs, but rallied back to win in 7.

Spurs shoot their way to series lead

June, 6, 2014

ESPN Stats & InfoThe Spurs shot 87.5 percent from the field in the fourth quarter.

The Spurs win extended their NBA record to eight straight home playoff wins by at least 15 points. It was San Antonio’s 11th straight Game 1 win, which ties an NBA record according to the Elias Sports Bureau (Celtics, 1985-87 and Bulls, 1996-98).

The Spurs 24.6 turnover percentage was the highest by a winning team in an NBA Finals game since 1996-97. San Antonio’s 23 turnovers were its second most in any game this season.

Fourth Quarter Dominance

After three quarters, when Miami led 78-74, it seemed like they would pull out the win on the road.

But the Spurs dominated the Heat in the fourth quarter, outscoring Miami by 19 points. They ended the game on a 31-9 run.

The Spurs went 6-of-6 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter. Of those six attempts, five were uncontested.

The Spurs outscored the Heat 14-6 in the paint in the fourth quarter. The Spurs went 7-of-8 on those attempts.

The Heat failed to record a single point in transition in the fourth quarter after scoring 23 transition points in the first three quarters.

LeBron James was far less aggressive attacking the basket in the second half. His average field goal distance in the first half was 5.2 feet. It dropped to 15.6 feet in the second half.

Dwyane Wade and James were a combined 2-6 in the paint in the second half. They went 9-13 in the first half.

Looking Ahead

Don't count out LeBron and the Heat.

His teams are 6-4 in series in which they lose Game 1. That stacks up favorably to the records of the players with which he is most often compared.

But if James and the Heat want to continue that success, they will have to slow down San Antonio's shooting in Game 2.

The Spurs shot 66.7 percent (12-of-18) on catch-and-shoot jump shots in Game 1, tied for their best this postseason. The Heat were slow to close out on those attempts as 14 of the 18 were uncontested, with the Spurs going 10-of-14.

Guarding LeBron is Spurs' top priority

June, 5, 2014

AP Photo/Kevin C. CoxWhat can the Spurs learn from guarding LeBron in last year's NBA Finals?

Do the San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals hopes hinge on simply stopping LeBron James?

The stats from last year’s NBA Finals would suggest so. But how should the Spurs handle controlling James and what can be learned from last year’s NBA Finals, when the Spurs gave James plenty of cushion on the perimeter?

Over or under the screen?
Because of James’ decision making, going over or under the screen is almost a moot point.

When James was the pick-and-roll ball handler last NBA Finals, the Spurs went over the screen 58 percent of the time and under the screen 42 percent of the time. The Heat were almost equally efficient in either scenario.

When the Spurs went under a James pick-and-roll, James shot more but as a team the Heat went 10-of-20 with 1.08 points per play.

When the Spurs went over a James pick-and-roll, James passed more but as a team the Heat went 11-of-23 with 1.03 points per play.

Giving too big of a cushion
The Spurs were able to limit damage on James' drives last NBA Finals, holding him to 40 percent shooting on those plays. To put that into perspective, James shot 64 percent on drives this regular season and is shooting 69 percent this postseason, both according to Player Tracking Data.

But giving James spaces to shoot didn’t work out as well as the Spurs may have planned, as he made 50 percent of his uncontested jumpers.

Who should guard LeBron?James’ three most common defenders in the half-court offense last NBA Finals were Kawhi Leonard (44 percent of plays), Boris Diaw and Danny Green (15 percent each).

James had his best success against Leonard, who may be the closest physically to James. Against the smaller Danny Green and thicker Boris Diaw, James struggled.

James vs. Green
Green’s quickness helped keep James away from the basket. James was able to drive on Green only four times in the series, and had a higher rate of taking jump shots off the dribble against Green than anyone else, going 2-of-9 on those attempts. James was also unable to get to the line against Green, drawing only two shooting fouls against him.

James vs. Diaw
James went 3-of-21 when guarded by Diaw last postseason and averaged 0.40 points per play (he averaged nearly 1.0 point per play against everyone else). Diaw’s size and speed created major problems for James. James was 1-of-6 posting up Diaw, 1-of-5 when driving on him and 1-of-10 when guarded by him outside 10 feet.

James vs. Leonard
James didn’t shoot well on drives against Leonard (2-of-7 FG), but found other ways to score.

James answered the inability to drive by posting up more, shooting 6-of-11 when posting up Leonard (2-of-14 versus all other Spurs).

When James had to shoot over Leonard, he started to do so with a quicker release. Only five of his 14 jump shots against Leonard in Games 1-3 were uncontested last Finals, but in the final four games of the series, 13 of his 22 jumpers against him were uncontested. James shot 50 percent overall (41.7 percent from the 3-point line) on uncontested jumpers against the Spurs last Finals.

Popovich and Duncan: long-term success

June, 3, 2014

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesTim Duncan and Gregg Popovich have set the precedent for long-term player/coach success.

Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich first teamed up for an NBA title with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. Now, 15 years later, the two Spurs mainstays are back in the NBA Finals together. That is the longest span between the first and last appearance in the championship round by any coach/player duo in the four major North American professional sports leagues.

Here is a breakdown of the top coach/player duos for each sport.

The player/coach combination in the NFL is actually a three-way tie, but the common thread is Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins. After the 1971 season, Shula led the Dolphins to Super Bowl VI. 11 years later, the Dolphins were in Super Bowl XVII. Offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg and defensive lineman Vern Den Herder were each on those teams. Shula also paired with offensive lineman Ed Newman in Super Bowl VIII and XIX for another 11-year span between player and coach.

On the ice, it was Boston Bruins head coach Art Ross teaming with Hall-of-Famer Dit Clapper to win the 1929 Stanley Cup over the New York Rangers. 14 years later, they were back in the Cup Final together, although they lost this one to the Detroit Red Wings in 1943.

Out on the diamond, the longest span between first and last championship round appearances by a duo was an interesting one. In 1970, Milt Wilcox was a rookie pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, who would go on to the World Series under skipper Sparky Anderson. 14 years later, they were together again – this time with the Detroit Tigers, where they went on to win the 1984 World Series together.

But perhaps no duo has had a sustained excellence quite like the Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich tandem. They made the 1999 NBA Finals together and now 15 years later – which in professional sports is an absolute eternity – they’re back in the Finals again. None of the other tandems in any of the other sports bookended their span with a pair of wins, but Duncan and Pop can get that done if they beat the Heat this season.

Top stats to know: Thunder at Spurs

May, 19, 2014

Getty ImagesTim Duncan and Kevin Durant are four wins away from advancing to the NBA Finals.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs begin their Western Conference Finals series tonight, the second time in the last three seasons that they have met in this round.

Back in 2012, the Thunder defeated the Spurs in six games in the Conference Finals, winning the final four games after losing the first two. What are the key storylines heading into this year's matchup?

Impact of Ibaka’s injury
Serge Ibaka will miss the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury, leaving the Thunder with a big hole in the middle.

How much will Ibaka’s absence hurt the Thunder against the Spurs?

The Thunder are eight points better per 48 minutes this postseason with Serge Ibaka on the court compared to when Ibaka has been on the bench.

If there's a silver lining to Ibaka getting injured, it's that the team stumbled upon the pairing of Nick Collison and Steven Adams.

The two played on the floor together for 16 minutes in Game 6 and the Thunder outscored the Clippers by 16 when Collison and Adams shared the floor. Prior to Game 6, Collison and Adams had played on the floor together for just 33 minutes this postseason.

With or without Ibaka, the Spurs were likely going to put the Thunder's interior defense to the test. According to Player Tracking Data, the Spurs have been one of the best teams getting the ball inside during the playoffs.

The Spurs are averaging 28.1 drives per game this postseason, third-most in the NBA. The Spurs are also averaging 19.2 "close" touches (within 12 feet of basket) per game this postseason, second-most in the NBA.

San Antonio was one of the most efficient teams around the basket during the regular season, shooting 58.1 percent inside the paint, which ranked third in the NBA. But no team slowed them down better than the Thunder. With Serge Ibaka on court, the Spurs shot just 47.1 percent inside the paint.

Thunder regular season sweep
The Thunder took all four meetings against the Spurs in the regular season, winning by an average of nearly 10 points per game.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the fourth instance in NBA history where one team was 4-0 or better versus another team in the regular season and then met in the Conference Finals.

Each of the three previous times, the team that swept the regular season won the playoff series as well.

Importance of Game 1
If history is any indicator, the Thunder could be in trouble tonight.

They have lost 10 straight Game 1s on the road, with their last such win coming in the 1992 Western Conference First Round at Golden State. The Spurs have won nine straight Game 1s, the fifth longest streak in NBA history, according to Elias.

The Spurs are 22-4 in best-of-7 series when winning Game 1 in the Gregg Popovich era (6-7 when they don’t); the Thunder have a 5-2 series record when winning Game 1 since moving to OKC (3-2 when they don’t).

Spurs, Timberwolves going international

December, 4, 2013

AP Photo/Eric GayTim Duncan has been one of the most successful international players in NBA history.
Wednesday night, the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves will meet in Mexico City. It will be just the second NBA regular-season game played in Mexico City. However, when you include exhibitions, this will be the NBA’s 21st game in Mexico overall.

The other regular-season NBA game in Mexico was Dec. 6, 1997, a 108-106 victory for the Houston Rockets over the Dallas Mavericks. In that game, Michael Finley led all players with 35 points in a loss, while Charles Barkley had 19 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Rockets.

It’s fitting that the NBA is expanding to play more games outside the United States and Canada, as the NBA is growing more international league-wide.

According to the NBA, there were a record-breaking 92 international players from 39 countries and territories represented on opening-night rosters. Wednesday’s matchup will be between two of the most international teams in the NBA.

The Spurs have 10 international players on their roster, the most such players ever on an NBA roster. Minnesota has seven, the second-most by any team.

Let’s take a look at two of the premier international players who will be facing off in this game.

Tim Duncan
Although Duncan enters Wednesday’s game averaging career lows in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage this season, his accolades over the course of his 17-year NBA career are exceptional.

His 23,994 career points are the second-most by an active player born outside the United States, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki. His teammate, Tony Parker, sits fifth on that list.

With six points tonight, Duncan would also become the ninth player in NBA history with at least 24,000 points and 13,000 rebounds in their career. Of the other eight, all six who are eligible are in the Hall of Fame (Shaquille O’Neal is not yet eligible, Kevin Garnett is still active).

Ricky Rubio
Although Kevin Love and Kevin Martin have handled the bulk of the scoring for the Timberwolves this season, Ricky Rubio has shown his effectiveness, especially with Love on the floor.

Ricky Rubio
This season, in 574 minutes with both Rubio and Love on the floor, Minnesota is outscoring its opponents by 12 points per 48 minutes. The team as a whole is outscoring its opponents by four points per 48 minutes on the season.

The combination is especially effective on the offensive end, as the team averages 110.2 points per 100 possessions when the two are on the floor together, the most of any two-man combo on the team among those who have played at least 200 minutes together. To put it in context, the Rockets lead the NBA as a team with 109.5 points per 100 possessions this season.