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The Kids Are Alright

By Jeff Koch on March 29, 2011.

Portland 100, San Antonio 92  //  57-17  //  1st in the West

That was my favorite loss of the year. Maybe ever. Hell, it was one of my favorite games of the year despite the loss.

It was great to see the role players step up and play fiercely and compete their asses off. Each player was asked to do just a little more than usual, and each delivered. It still wasn’t enough for the win, but it almost was. And you know that Portland was sweating that win out until the very end.

I was especially pleased and impressed with George Hill and Tiago Splitter. Hill has had a tremendous 2-game mini-run, showing that he, much like Parker and GInobili, can be an unstoppable force driving to the cup. More importantly, though, he’s starting to show a bit more creativity in his movement and in his decision-making, allowing him to be a more viable PG. He’s still primarily a scorer, but he’s not just a scorer.

And who would’ve thunk that Splitter and Hill would have such great chemistry? They looked like a miniature Duncan and Ginobili out there for stretches. What most impressed me about Splitter was his enthusiasm and energy. He really wanted it. And his post game is really coming along. He’ll never be Duncan in his prime (who is?), but if we can have a reliable inside scoring presence coming off of our bench, our offense gets even more potent, as we can run the same sets and same action regardless of personnel.

Of course, none of these players will be playing these meaningful minutes come playoff time. But it’s still nice to get them the burn and get them ready to step in if necessary and know and trust that they can do it. I think that more than anything is why Pop made the choice. I’m sure all 3 of the 4 starters that were out with injuries are certainly dinged up; but I’m also willing to bet at least 2 of them could have played. But why not take the pressure off and let the kids play one? If you lose, you were supposed to; if you win, it’s a huge win and a small statement. Either way, the long-term health of the team is probably helped.

I also think Pop did it to send a message that the Spurs don’t care about regular season records or wins. Yes, we’d like the 1 seed. But we’re not going to sweat some late season losses with star players down with injuries. Nothing matters but the post-season.

That being said, expect a fierce game Thursday with Boston in town. Both teams will surely be using the game as a guage of their playoff preparedness, and both teams are in the midst of some tumult and could use a signature win.

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