For years the San Antonio Spurs were among the slowest paced teams in the NBA and it seemed, for good reason. Their big three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were lethal offensively and the San Antonio defense was often historically stingy. If it was an NFL team, the San Antonio D would have a nickname, but television coverage of the NBA has done a poor job of highlighting positional defense (blocked shots and steals are telegenic, shot denial, not so much).
Then suddenly last season the Spurs stuck it in overdrive and for more than half a season and played at one of the faster tempos in the Association. Everyone wondered what was up. Some pointed out that the Spurs were an old team. But “old” in NBA years isn’t old in human years. Some of the best fast break teams were veteran squads. Some pundits claimed the Spurs were covering for their defensive deficiencies but that didn’t really wash. The Spurs were slightly worse defensively from ’09-’10 (9th in Defensive Efficiency) to ’10-’11 (11th) but not enough to warrant an overhaul in offensive philosophy.
This season they’ve slowed down back to their normal pace; they’re 20th in possessions per game, and now the San Antonio defense has suffered. They are 19th in Defensive Efficiency, by far their worst mark in the Duncan era. Mebbe they should pick up the pace again.