You Keep Me Warm At Night
San Antonio Spurs 104, Utah Jazz 97
(53-16, 30-4 home)
Last night’s win over the Utah Jazz was a sloppy, choppy, back-and-forth game wherein the slightest of touches on the perimeter was a foul, but a WWE-style takedown in the paint was a blocked shot. As more than a few people have quipped, the game had the feel of an NCAA Tourney game, in which sloppy play begat quite the exciting finish.
Luckily, the Spurs pulled out the victory in OT. So let’s go to the notes, and try to focus on the good, because there was some of that, too:
• The big story of the night was Tony Parker’s return. He ended up playing a full game’s worth of minutes, but it was a very choppy rotation. He never really played for more than a 6-minute stretch, so it really threw off the substitutions, even more than his return would normally do. He definitely seemed to be feeling his way back into the game and easing in, and was deferential in the first half. However, in the second half he seemed to get some of his groove back. It wasn’t a masterful game, but it was a great first showing back. Where it showed most noticeably was in the last 2 minutes of the game and OT, when the Spurs offense stayed active and productive. In Parker’s absence, one of the biggest drop offs has been in crunch time execution.
• Tim Duncan is still very very good. Dude is competitive, too. Don’t let that stoic demeanor fool you. He wants to win just as badly as Kobe or any other player trumpeted as ultra-competitive.
• Tiago had a pretty rough offensive night, but was still a beast on the defensive end. As this article from John Schuhmann illustrates, the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is improved defense, and a lot of that is because of the increased minutes of Splitter.
• And also the increased growth of Kawhi Leonard, who had another ho-hum awesome game. (The defensive numbers with Duncan, Tiago, and Kawhi on the floor together are insane good). Kawhi is, unequivocally, our third best player. I’ve been saying this for a while now, and I’m starting to see it in other places, too: Kawhi needs to get the focus that for so long has been reserved for Manu. Manu is having a wildly inconsistent season, and seems to do best in specific roles, without too much asked of him. Kawhi is excelling at every thing that is thrown at him. He is destined to be a fantastic pro, but this year and next might be our best chance to capitalize on the prime of Parker, the twilight of Duncan (still kicking ass, obviously), and the beginning of Leonard’s potential.
• Bonner came in last night and gave the team a solid run in the 4th quarter. The 3-point shooting was bad for 3 quarters, which often collapses the defense. Bonner’s presence alone is often enough to stretch defenses out and open up the paint a little bit. Bonner is a lovable goof-ball, but is also the definitions of a consummate pro: he goes games (which sometimes span weeks) without a lick of playing time, and then comes in cold in the 4th quarter of a tight game and plays his ass off, produces, and doesn’t make mental errors. And there aren’t articles written every other day in the paper about what a great pro he is, or how he is handling it well. (I’m looking at you, DeJuan Blair.)
• Congratulations to Coach Pop on his 900th victory. All with one team. The only other coach to accomplish that with just one team? Jerry Sloan, naturally. A fitting team to beat for such an honor.
• Notice there was nothing said about Ginobili, the back-up PG situation, or anybody else on the bench in general. That is all.
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