Ladies and Gentlemen, Your New Big Three
San Antonio 104, Golden State 102
Now that was a fun game.
These shorthanded Spurs often produce my favorite games of the season. It’s really a win-win situation for the Spurs: if they lose, they were expected to; if they compete and win or almost win, then it’s a morale boost or a big victory. Either way, there is no pressure on the Spurs, the team is allowed to play loose and free, and the opposing team either loses focus playing an undermanned Spurs team, or tightens up under the pressure to get an ‘easy’ win.
When Pop rests the Big 3, they often focus on the star end of it. The Spurs’ core is aging, needs rest; Pop knows his team and how to manage minutes, etc, etc. But they very often don’t look at the other end: the players who do play the games. Do you think they go into the game thinking they will lose? Does Pop just assume his team won’t compete and possibly win the game? As analysts like to say: it’s the NBA. Everybody gets a paycheck to play professional basketball.
And these games can do wonders for the players suddenly playing 2 or 3 spots above their usual place. Patty Mills get to start and run the show and be the resident Tony Parker (while still playing defensive gadfly); Kawhi Leonard gets to actually be the focal point of the offense, get plays run for him, and be the ‘most important’ player on the floor for a night; Baynes gets to start and play meaningful minutes; Belinelli gets to be ever more Manu. Players who don’t normally see crunch time are on the floor in a tie game (on the road) with under a minute left. These are valuable big-game reps for these players, who may face critical moments in the playoffs. When these moments occur, perhaps in part due to Thursday night, they will be unafraid of the moment.
People like to talk about Pop throwing away games by resting his stars; I’d rather talk about the small moments he may have won down the road by instilling corporate confidence in players like Marco and Patty and Kawhi.
As for the game itself, what a treat. Those three in particular were magnificent. At any given moment, one of those three was carrying the team offensively, keeping us close with a potent offense. Marco, in particular, had an incredible shooting and scoring night, and got us back in the game in first half, and helped to seize control of it in the 3rd. I’m surprised when a shot of his doesn’t go in. Kawhi shook off a slow start to play with the confidence of knowing no one on the Warriors could stop him, and he had a potent game on both ends of the floor. And Patty played with his usual energy, had some crazy backcourt steals (which we should just call “Pattys” at this point), ran the offense effectively, and had the gall to go toe to toe with Curry and hold his own, at least for a night. The three combined for 69 of the Spurs points. On the other side of the ledger, Curry, Lee, and Thompson combined for 75 points. But the Spurs 3 got their points on an absurdly efficient 47 shots in 98 minutes, as opposed to 68 shots and 120 minutes for the Warriors trio of players.
That, more than anything, is probably what I love most about the Big 3-less games. The players in the Silver and Black still run the same offense, play the same defense, and come into the game with the same set of expectations as Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. Nobody goes rogue to try and impress the staff, or play outside of themselves. Sure, they are playing more minutes and asked to do a bit more. But Patty is still Patty, Ayres is still Ayres. They make the passes they are supposed to make, take the shots that are there, rotate where they are supposed to, and play the system of basketball they are trained to do. It’s still Spurs basketball.
And if everything goes right, if a few players step up, if a few more have really efficient shooting nights, and a few things fall into place, the ‘underdog’ Spurs can pull off an upset.
Up next: the Spurs head home to host the Thunder on Saturday night.
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