Season 51, Game 24
San Antonio 96, Detroit 93
16-8, 3rd in the West

If you’re going to punt the front end of a back-to-back by resting half your roster, you damn well better win the back end.

The Spurs did, but the game was in doubt until the end. The Pistons played like the better team for more of the game than the Spurs did. (To their credit, the Pistons actually are a good team.) But the Spurs used the great equalizer–3-point shooting–to stay in touch early, then pulled away late with increased energy and defense.

Besides the 3-point shooting, the other number that jumps out from the box score is the assists: the Spurs had 30 assists on 35 made field goals, while the Pistons had only 15 (also on 35 made field goals). When the ball is moving around, good things usually happen for the Spurs. Every single player on the team recorded at least one assist; no player recorded more than four. That is remarkable.

LaMarcus Aldridge had a rare off game. This is a good thing. The Spurs showed they are able to win games without their (current) best player playing his best. As the high assist number indicates, the Spurs are at their best when everybody is working together and the workload is evenly spread. Aldridge still had a good game, but the team didn’t need his scoring to put the Pistons away.

The most noticeable performance was Manu Ginobili. Besides hitting 3 3s, he just made the offense work when he was on the floor. The Spurs made their move at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, with Manu running the show. The Spurs used a 10-0 spurt to take a 4-point lead. Early in the 4th quarter, Manu went to the bench. Over the next 4 minutes, the Spurs only managed 3 points, and the Pistons took a 4-point lead. Manu came back in the game with about 6 minutes left, and the Spurs outscored the Pistons 14-7 the rest of the way.

Even at 40, Manu can still break down defenses with his penetration. He can run pick and roll with anybody, and always finds the open man with clever passing. Even if he doesn’t get the assist, it’s usually his action that eventually leads to the wide open shot. Tonight it was very obvious how much better the offense hummed when he was playing.

This game opened up a 3-game home stand, all against Eastern Conference teams. Up next: the Heat come to town Wednesday night.

Go Spurs Go.