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Ships Passing In The Night

By Jeff Koch on April 1, 2014.

San Antonio 103, Indiana 77

Headed in different directions. The Spurs into the high tide of the Playoffs, the Pacers deeper and deeper into stormy weather and choppy water. (I don’t do nautical metaphors well; thank you for your patience.)

What can we say about this game? A month ago, this seemed like a huge game, a litmus test for the team’s preparedness heading into the playoffs. Then the Spurs transformed into basketball destroyers, the Pacers became completely average, and the game was hardly competitive. The Pacers’ defense was actually quite good, forcing the Spurs offense to look just ordinary for large chunks of the game. But the beauty this team is that the offense is so potent, and keeps coming in waves, that eventually the dam will break, if even for a few minutes, and a scoring burst will happen. The Spurs scored big early and scored big late, and it was enough for a blow out.

And look, Tony Parker looked like a reasonable facsimile of Tony Parker last night. He was the proverbial motor of the engine again, just abusing poor George Hill all night. I’m still worried about his overall health, but given the schedule in the playoffs allowing for plenty of rest, I imagine Parker can be that Parker every few days.Without back-to-backs and crazy travel schedules, there is less stress on the body.

Can we finally put to rest who won the trade between the Pacers and Spurs a few years ago? Yes, both teams benefited. Leonard wouldn’t play on the Pacers behind Paul George; the Pacers needed a competent PG, and the Spurs needed a competent SF. The Pacers got a good PG, but the Spurs got a possibly-transcendent-but-definitely-great SF who is so disruptive on both ends of the floor that even the most ardent of fans don’t realize his true value. The Pacers are better with Hill, but their title hopes don’t rest with him; the Spurs are competing for a title and might win one this season (after being so close last season) in large part because of Leonard. That feels like a win to me.

Let’s look at some basic numbers. The Spurs have lost 16 games this year. Half of them came in one 17 game stretch when the team went a pedestrian 9-8. The significance of that 17-game stretch? That was when Kawhi was out. So the team lost half of its games when Kawhi was injured. With Kahwi playing at least 20 minutes: 49-8. That prorates to a 71-win season. Um, yeah. The Spurs boast an almost-80% win percentage with a healthy Kawhi. (h/t, Arturo Galletti. Every NBA fan should follow him.)

Here’s a fun game to play: when watching games, just watch Kawhi, particularly on defense. He simultaneously plays incredible one-on-one defense, team defense, and help/cheat defense (without getting out of position). His arms are freakishly long, his hands freakishly huge, he rebounds like a beast. He completely bottled up Paul George last night. (Credit to the Spurs’ team defense: he was always funneled into a wall, much like the way they play LeBron.) He can almost double team without leaving his man just by stretching out an arm. Defense is one of the hardest things for non-basketball minds to grasp (I barely get it), but watching Kawhi is a great crash course introduction.

The Warriors come to town Wednesday night, and the Spurs have a quick turn around, playing in OKC Thursday night. We all see where this is going, right? I predict a full squad Wednesday at home, and then Pop is going to liberally rest a slew of players for Thursday’s game. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, Green, Splitter: I bet 3-4 of those 6 don’t play. Which is pretty genius, in its own way. The Thunder might let down not facing a full Spurs squad, which could allow our ‘skeleton crew’ to hang around, possibly even steal a win. More likely, the Thunder win but prove nothing, and Pop gets to snap the winning streak. It’d be nice to face the Thunder with a full squad before the end of the regular season, particularly given the team’s struggles against them this season. But that would be the Spurs 3rd game in 4 nights (and 5 in 7), and the Thunder’s first since Sunday, giving them 3 full days of rest and preparation.

It’ll be interesting to see what Pop does. First though, let’s get #19 Wednesday.

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