Go Spurs Go!
Go Spurs Go!
Season 51, Game 70
San Antonio 117, Minnesota 101
40-30, 7th in the West
I could get used to this winning thing.
It’s a small hurdle for the usually lofty standards of the Spurs, but Saturday’s win against Minnesota marked the first 3-game winning streak the Spurs have had since the end of December. Almost 3 months without winning more than 3 games in a row (and often losing a bunch of games in a row). On that face, this was another huge win for the team.
But it’s not just that the team is winning; it’s how the team is winning. They are fighting; they are competing; they are playing with an edge. In other words, they look exactly like the Spurs you would expect to see playing without their best player: they might not have the talent to compete with you, but they’ll be damned if you’ll get anything easy or they’ll beat themselves.
And yes, every win has been at home, where the Spurs have been solid all year. But two of the three wins were against West teams competing for the same playoff spot, and getting those wins was crucial to playoff hopes. Basically, every game from here on out is a “Not-quite-a-playoff-game-but-more-than-a-regular-season-game” game, and the Spurs are (finally) showing up for these games.
The story of Saturday’s win against the Wolves must necessarily begin with the play of LaMarcus Aldridge. Granted we’re all subject to recency bias, but this may be the finest game he has played as a member of the team. After a slow start to the game, he was absolutely electric in the second quarter, willing the team to an 11-point halftime lead. He was getting his offense in every way possible: his patented midrange jumpers, bullying in the post, from the flow of the Spurs offense, and fighting his ass off under the rim to get offensive putbacks.
When the game was still in doubt in the 4th, he once again had a little personal scoring flurry, helping to put the game out of reach for good with about 4 minutes to go.
When LaMarcus wasn’t beasting, the rest of the team was playing more in line with “the beautiful game” of seasons past, rather than whatever it is we’ve been subjected to this season. The key to the Spurs’ offense is to play fast but not be in a hurry. Make quick decisions, keep the ball and yourself moving, but don’t settle for anything. Again, over these last three games, something seems to have clicked back into place for the squad, and the offense is just playing at a much higher level.
Rudy Gay also had a really nice game. It feels like he is finally getting comfortable coming back from his injury and fitting into the Spurs’ offense. For a player like Gay, there is a delicate balance of getting your own and flowing in the system. Or, between being too selfish and too selfless. He is a gifted scorer, and that role is much needed coming off the bench. Playing alongside Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker (our new Hall of Fame bench crew) is allowing Gay to fit in perfectly.
Gay has also been better than advertised on defense. In the 4th quarter, he and Aldridge were fierce rim protectors, notching several blocks and generally stopping the Wolves in the paint. If he can play the 4, the Spurs have a potent closing lineup available to them.
A very banged-up Warriors team comes to town Monday night. This isn’t “must win”, but with the state Golden State is in (Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Play Thompson are all out, and Draymond Green is not 100% health), the Spurs should be favored to win the game.
Go Spurs Go.
Season 51, Game 69
San Antonio 98, New Orleans 93
39-30, 8th in the West
It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always easy. But it was a victory.
For the first time in a very long time, the Spurs strung two wins together, and in doing so, put themselves back in the playoff picture. Only a Clippers loss to the Rockets allowed them to squeak back into 8th. But a few more wins, and they’ll shoot all the way back up to 4th. That’s how tight this Western Conference race is.
After a very easy (and expected) win agains the Magic on Tuesday, Thursday’s contest against the Pelicans set up to be a more thorough test of the Spurs, hoping to provide an indicator of what we might expect over the final stretch of games.
The team started hot, scoring 37 in the first quarter, and 60 in the first half. Pop recently changed up the starting line-up, putting Danny Green back in as the 3, sliding Kyle Anderson to the 4 and LaMarcus Aldridge to the 5. Pop has long been reticent to go small (and especially to start small), but I like this new wrinkle. Aldridge is more and more the prototypical center in this “new” style NBA, and Anderson’s future in the league is almost certainly as a small 4. Against most teams, he has enough size and length to defend the opposing 4, while his PG-like skills cause problems on offense for most opposing defenses.
In the very small sample of this starting line-up, the team is definitely getting off to better offensive starts, which is critical.
Of course, the real issues in this long losing morass has been closing games in the 4th quarter. While the offense was still pretty ugly (a trend that started at the start of the second half), the defense was very good, particularly in the closing moments of the game. The Pelicans were limited to only 35 points in the second half, with just 15 coming in the 4th quarter. The Spurs didn’t score a basket in the final 5:55 of the game, but it didn’t matter, because their defense completely stymied the Pelicans, and they made just enough free throws to pull out the win.
Before we wrap this up, let’s give special recognition to Manu Ginobili. He had a stretch in the 3rd quarter where he took a charge from Anthony Davis (seeing a split second ahead of everybody else, he clearly stepped into the charge, baiting both Davis and the refs), blocked Davis from behind (what Spurs fans like to call “a Harden”), then pulled a Chris Paul and baited Davis into another foul by running him over at half court. And lest we forget, the charge was almost the direct cause of Alvin Gentry getting a technical foul, while Davis was assessed a technical after the second foul. Naturally, Ginobili made both technical free throws. For good measure, he knocked in a bit 3-pointer a few minutes later.
All this to say, at 40 years of age, Ginobili is as electric as ever. Never retire, Manu.
This was a huge win in the playoff race, as the Spurs gained a whole game on the Pelicans by both winning and forcing the Pelicans into a tough loss. The Pelicans now go home and play 5 games in 6 nights due to a being forced to play a game from earlier in the season that had to be rescheduled. That’s a brutal stretch, and hopefully the Spurs can make up even more ground on the Pelicans over the next week.
On Saturday night, the Spurs play another game with huge playoff implications against the Minnesota Timberwolves. They are playing without Jimmy Butler, so this is another great opportunity to get a good win and make up some ground in the West.
Go Spurs Go.
Season 51, Game 68
San Antonio 108, Orlando 72
38-30, 9th in the West
It’s been over a month since the Spurs won a game without any anxiety or undue late game stress. What a joy, so quickly forgotten in this agonizing season.
There’s not much to say. The Magic really didn’t want to win this game, and the Spurs really did want to win this game. Add that up, and the result is fairly easy to determine.
Of course, the last time the Spurs played an opponent that really didn’t want to win a game, they almost lost the game at the buzzer on a Marc Gasol banked in 3 that maybe could’ve been a foul and given the Grizzlies a chance to tie the game. With the way this season has turned over the last few months, we don’t take any game or win for granted.
Coming off that difficult road trip, the Spurs kick off 6 straight games at home. Regardless of opponent, it’s a huge confidence boost to start the homestand with such a dominating win. Even though the opponent wasn’t always up to the task, just seeing the ball move around and watching the offense hum (and shots go in) can do so much for the psyche and confidence of a team.
Now stealing a couple of wins against these Western Conference opponents doesn’t seem like quite the chore it did 48 hours ago. The Warriors and Wolves are banged up, the Pelicans are still a one-man band, the Wizards are as up-and-down a team as there is in the NBA, and we definitely owe the Jazz a loss. Put together a respectable stretch of home games (4-2, maybe even 5-1), and suddenly we’re right back in this thing.
For a night, it was nice to be reminded of the Spurs we all remember and cherish. Can we get an encore performance?
We’ll find out Thursday night against the Pelicans. This is a really important game for the playoffs, as a Spurs win and a Pelicans loss are both very good things.
Go Spurs Go.
Season 51, Game 67
San Antonio 93, Houston 109
37-30, 10th in the West
That sound you’re hearing isn’t the San Antonio Spurs hitting rock bottom. It’s the sweet sound of free fall, which is only cool if you have a parachute and a plan. Or if you’re on a trampoline. Maybe a bungee cord, but that looks like it hurts, not to belabor the point.
No, what happened versus the Houston Rockets on Monday night wasn’t rock bottom – it was like getting hit by a large eagle on the way down. Even at full strength, San Antonio would have had the odds stacked against them facing the top seed in the Western Conference . Without LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, or even Manu Ginóbili, the Spurs never stood a chance.