Back To Work
San Antonio 109, Orlando 91
Like most of the rest of the country, the Spurs didn’t appear to be too intent on working hard on this Friday after Thanksgiving. Thankfully, the Magic, while well-coached and hard-playing, was the perfect post-Thanksgiving (and post-loss to Oklahoma City) feast.
The real intrigue coming into the game was the absence of Parker and his replacement, Cory Joseph. Prior to the season, much was made of this being a break-out year of sorts for Cory, and that he had firmly entrenched himself as Parker’s back-up. Then Mills came storming out of the gates and Cory was lost in the shuffle really through no fault of his own. He plays hard, he has improved dramatically, and the team is still very high on him: there just isn’t playing time to go around for three active PGs on one team.
So tonight offered Joseph a chance to get some meaningful playing time and prove himself. In typical Pop fashion, he “promoted” Joseph into the starting line-up, preferring not to mess up his bench or rotations. And he acquitted himself quite well. He played within himself, ran the offense, and didn’t try to do too much. At the start of the game he mostly deferred to Duncan and Leonard, who were both hot. In the third quarter, when the offense completely bogged down, he was aggressive, getting to the free throw line and keeping enough separation on the scoreboard. His defense was solid as ever, and his jump shot looks like it has continued to improve. Not one thing really jumped out, but his all around game was solid. He’ll have plenty of opportunities this season to make meaningful contributions. What a luxury to have two great but very different back-up PGs.
As usual, though, the game swung with the play of the bench. In the first half, they took and then extended the lead. In the second half, they blew the game open, making it a blow out going away. It truly is unfair against these younger teams with thin benches that our roster goes so deep. Our bench can hang with many lesser teams starting units, so to put them up against thin benches often results in very quick and very lopsided scoring runs.
Ginobili, in particular, looked great tonight. And against OKC. And most of the season. This unit that he spends most of his time with must be like a dream for him. 3 players with the same creative genius and flair and court vision (him, Belinelli, and Diaw), one player with an even higher motor and level of frenetic energy (Mills), and a an athletic and aggressive big who runs, sets screens, and plays stout defense (Ayres). With that unit on the floor, runs happen in a heartbeat, and with every steal and fast break, you’re just waiting for some ridiculous pass to lead to a crazy finish. On some plays, you get 4 crazy passes before it ends with a simple dunk. I love it.
Ginobili looks like he loves it, too. I know it’s foolish to engage in armchair psychology and reading body language, but more than anything, Manu just looks like he’s enjoying himself more this year. How’s that for analysis? As competitive as he is, he also puts tons of pressure on himself. Playing with this line-up seems to have freed him a bit, and he’s playing with a looseness we haven’t seen in years, while still curbing the carelessness for the most part. It’s great to see this Manu again. His body looks better, but his athleticism will never be what it was 6 years ago. Still, his brain and his heart will never diminish, and his ability to make those insane passes will probably be with him until he is 65.
It’s Manu that makes these “work” games on the Friday after Thanksgiving enjoyable and worth watching. You never know what’s coming next, but more often than not, it’s going to be good. For that, I’m thankful.
San Antonio flies home to face Houston tomorrow night. Houston is playing in Houston tonight against Brooklyn, so both teams will be playing a back-to-back. This is another good test for the Spurs.
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