Thank You, Denver; There Will Be No Encore
San Antonio 133, Denver 102
Two nights after bemoaning the need for a loss in the wake of a flat and lifeless second half, the Spurs rebounded (against the same team, on the road) by completely annihilating the Nuggets wire to wire. When a team plays that consistently well over the course of an entire game and wins by 31, it’s hard to get too upset about much of anything.
It’s also difficult to keep heaping the same praise over and over. This team is just playing at such a high level right now. Consistently high. In Wednesday’s game, they had a 20-point lead at the half, 63-43. Tonight, it was only 19: 62-43. On this night, however, they only upped the energy in the second half, completely blowing the doors off the game so that the line-up on the floor with 8 minutes remaining in the game was Cory Joseph, Boris Diaw, Austin Daye, Jeff Ayres, and Aron Baynes. That’s a 1, two 4s, and two 5s. And the Spurs still extended the lead.
So let’s look at two specific things:Kawhi’s defense and Tiago’s passing. We all know about Leonard defense, and the havoc it wreaks. But I think it’s even more impressive and important than we realize. You know how sometimes a player will stretch out his arm and deflect a pass out of bounds, and it might disrupt the flow of the offense, but the opposing team still maintains possession? When Kawhi does that, he just casually catches the ball, turns around, and starts a fast break. He’s also insanely good at getting steals without gambling, just by digging down from a help position and anticipating passing lanes. He’s also a great shot blocker, both at the rim and on the perimeter.
The thing about this D is that it almost always leads to a sure lay-up in transition or something good going the other way. In many instances, these are miniature 4-point swings, by denying two points and securing two the other way. He does this 2-3 times a game, which could be worth anywhere from 6-12 extra points. This is insane.
Kawhi’s stat line tonight: 14 pts, 4 rebs, 6 asts, 2 stls, 3 blks. In 23 minutes.
Tiago’s line: 8 pts, 12 rebs, 7 asts. Seven assists! He was the team leader in both rebounds and assists. He gets a lot of criticism for lots of little things. We all know how good his defense is, but his passing is criminally underrated. It’s not as flashy as Diaw’s, but his ability to move the ball in tight spaces creates so many layups. Tonight, a lot of his damage was done off of offensive rebounds and kick outs. Many bigs like to go right back up with the ball after an offensive rebound, but often there is a pretty wide open 3 just waiting to be shot.
I’d also like to point out that the team’s assist leaders tonight were Tiago (7), Kawhi (6), Boris (5), and Tim (4). That’s 22 assists out of the front court. The Nuggets had 15 assists as a team.
The team has a quick turnaround, playing New Orleans in San Antonio Saturday night. The game is ripe for some rest, but given tonight’s low minutes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the majority of the starters available. If I had to guess, I think Tony might sit (he still looks like he’s ailing), Danny will sit again, but everybody else will be available.
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