There have been some mixed performances for the new-look San Antonio Spurs this season; from dominating the Warriors on the opening night to 3 straight home losses.
In 12 out of 13 games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, whoever led at the end of the first quarter wound up leading at the end of the game as well. So why is the first quarter so important for the Spurs?
The Spurs are 10-3 and have had the advantage at the end of the first quarter in nine of those 13 games.
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After all of nine first-quarter leads, the Spurs ended up winning the game. Also, in all three losses this season, they also trailed at the first quarter break. Only once did the Spurs manage to come back, against the Sacramento Kings, where they trailed 29-27 after the first 12 minutes.
The conclusion is clear — when they’re in the lead after first period the Spurs eventually win the game and if they’re trailing, they will probably lose it. So what could be the reasons for this?
First of all, the Spurs are probably the most consistent team in the league. They’ve been that for years. They are excellent in maintaining the level of play throughout the game. So when they get an early lead, the chances are they will keep it until the end.
The early lead is important for the Spurs early in the season for one more reason — the bench production. For the past 5 years, their second unit was always among the most efficient in the league, both in average points and point differential.
There are a lot of elements for coach Gregg Popovich to get together. He needs time to figure out which guys get along on the court best, and new players need some time to adapt to Spurs system.
These are the reasons why Spurs bench is not as effective as it has been in the past. They average 33.8 points per game this season, 14th in the NBA. Second unit guys also have a plus-1.8 point differential per game.
While this number is fifth-best in the league, it’s a 40.38 percent decrease from the last five seasons’ average.
Because the bench doesn’t make that much difference for now, the starting unit needs to step up. That is why first quarter is vital for the Spurs, making sure that starters leave enough of a lead for the bench later.
When Spurs start strong in the first period, the second unit only needs to maintain the lead. As the result, the Spurs won every game after successful start in the first quarter.
There is one more important factor. This is the first season since 2010-11 where Spurs defensive efficiency is better in the second half of the game that the first. Usually they played stronger defense in the first half, and then played at a higher pace in the second.
A reason for this is because teams usually have drop in productivity in the second half, making a defense a bit less important.
But the Spurs changed this season. While still trying to get all pieces together, they play at a higher pace in first 24 minutes. With less defensive efficiency, the Spurs need strong start of the game, and then with tighter defense in the second half they can keep the lead.
There are a lot of changes in Spurs roster this season, the biggest in the past decade. It will take some time for them to get stability and consistency. For that reason, it is of vital importance for the Spurs to start the games strong, get early the lead and keep building on that.