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A Tale of Two Teams

By Daniel Strickland on March 16, 2013.

Minnesota Timberwolves 107, San Antonio Spurs 83
49-16, 23-12 away

San Antonio Spurs 92, Dallas Mavericks 91
50-16, 27-4 home

Two nights. Two dismal opponents. Two more games without Tony Parker. Two different Spurs teams. Two different outcomes. Two conclusions.

Neither Dallas nor Minnesota are playoff teams this year. Neither were playing particularly well going into their games against the Spurs.

Tuesday night’s 24-point loss to the Timberwolves and Thursday night’s 1-point win over the Mavericks may have simply been just one more L and one more W in a grueling 82-game season. But they also provided reminders of how much this team’s greatness depends on Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard.

Tuesday night the Spurs played without Tony and Kawhi and were beaten badly by a team in a virtual four-way tie for worst team in the West.

Worse still, the Spurs allowed Ricky Rubio to get his first career triple-double with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. (Am I the only one surprised it took him 77 games to reach this milestone? Then again, Tony didn’t have his first until last December, his 826th regular season game in the NBA.)

“They played better than we did in a lot of ways,” Popovich said. “Both defensively and offensively they played a very good game and kicked our butt.”

Thursday night, Kawhi Leonard was back in the lineup against the Mavericks. The Spurs won, but won ugly, nearly squandering an eight-point lead with 2:36 left to play. Were it not for Vince Carter missing a three-point jumper at the buzzer, the Spurs would have lost this game.

“Overall I thought (the Mavericks) played better than us,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I thought they executed better than we did. They were more physical and aggressive. We continued to play in mud like we have been for the last two weeks. I’m not sure what to attribute it to, but it’s a fact. It shows on the defensive end and it shows in a pretty dead offense. We were really fortunate to win this game.”

“We’re going through a section of time here where we’re not playing the greatest of basketball,” Tim Duncan said. “Obviously, with Tony out of here, our offense is a little limited with the guys we have in there. But outside of that, we just don’t have a rhythm right now.”

There isn’t much more to say about these two games, except I will posit two modest conclusions:

  1. These were the 5th and 6th games without Tony Parker. There will likely be 5 or 6 more. Without Tony in the lineup, any win, even an ugly one, will have to be acceptable.
  2. Kawhi is now George to Tony and Tim’s John and Paul. Without one of these three, the Spurs still possess Beatlesque greatness. Without two, they’re no better than a Rick Rubio-led boy band. (I could riff a bit on George’s importance to the Beatles, comparing his contributions to those of Manu before and Kawhi now, but I’ll leave those musings for my music site.)

Let’s hope Tony continues to recuperate ahead of schedule. This team needs him back and playing at an MVP-level if it’s to have a real chance of contending for a 5th title next month.

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