End of the Bench Loses, Wins, Loses Game Again
San Antonio 86, Denver 96
57-21 overall, 21-16 road
Let’s be clear about one thing from the jump: the Spurs winning this game would have been surprising. Denver has now won 21 games straight at home, and the Spurs were playing without 4 of their top 8 players.
The game started well, as the starters came out strong, building a 14-0 lead. But it wasn’t sustainable; the Spurs had no way to get into the paint and were not making outside shots. Eventually, the Nuggets were going to stop being so careless with the ball and get out on the break.
When a team is battling injuries, often it’s not the players replacing the injured players that are the problem; it’s the players filling in behind the fill-ins. Suddenly the third string becomes the second string, going from garbage minutes to critical bench minutes. De Colo can come in for Parker and play reasonably well, particularly with Splitter, Duncan, and Leonard still on the floor. But when the end of the first quarter features Blair, Bonner, Neal, Mills, and Joseph, you’re not winning that game.
Look at this way: in some order, our top 8 players are: Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, Splitter, Green, Diaw (this might be the injury that most concerns me, as he is really our only other Big in the rotation, and it appears he may be out a few weeks now), and Jackson. (Throw in De Colo and Neal, and you’re looking at most of the playoff rotation.) Of our top 8, four players weren’t playing. That really weakens the team. So when we’re playing our “second” unit (in reality, the third unit), we’re playing players 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14. That’s not going to get a win in Denver.
So while I was frustrated with the overall play of the team, I was heartened by the way those guys fought back in the third quarter. It’s asking a lot to win in Denver without Parker or Ginobili; to be that close late in the 4th was nice to see.
Another interesting quirk of the game, I think, standings-wise, the team was OK with either result. If the Spurs win and Denver loses, the Spurs move closer to secuing the top seed, and push Denver closer to the 4th seed (and Memphis closer into that 3rd seed, the team we should most like to avoid in the first round). But with the Spurs losing and Denver winning, it puts us in 2nd and strengthens Denver’s hold on the 3-seed, also helping us to avoid Memphis.
Even though most of the playoff teams are set in the West, no seed is set, and it’s going to be a crazy last week to see how everything plays out. There are too many possible first round permutations to list them all, but here’s a realistic one that would leave the Spurs a strong path to the Western Conference Finals. OKC (1) vs. Lakers (8); San Antonio (2) vs. Golden State (7); Denver (3) vs. Houston (6); Memphis (4/5) vs. Clippers (4/5). OKC faces a veteran Lakers team in the first round, then a bruising Memphis team in the second round. San Antonio gets a young Warriors team that has a lot of trouble against them, and then either Denver or Houston (who could give Denver a run for their money in the first round) in the second round.
I like that path than any one that involves the Lakers or the Grizzlies.
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