Season 51, Game 53
San Antonio 106, Denver 104
34-19, 3rd in the West
Well, that was a fun game. The Spurs finished survived a last second heave by the Denver Nuggets and held on to win their 34th game of the season. By all accounts, this game was great TV. It had dunks, three balls, Manu Ginobili playing like Manu Ginobili, technical fouls and for a large part of the game, some pretty bad defense.
The Spurs put up 60 points in a first half where Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay sat in street clothes again. LaMarcus Aldridge was nothing short of dominant in the first 24 minutes, carrying 20 points into intermission. LaMarcus All-Star. He was matched up with Nikola Jokic for most of the night, with a few mouth-watering mismatches against Trey Lyles sprinkled in. While the 22-year-old Serbian has incredible vision and a super bright future, Jokic apparently is not very good at defending All-Stars from San Antonio.
In fairness, not many people have been this year.
LaMarcus has accepted the responsibility of being this team’s best player and last night was no exception. He was miles away the best player on the court and exploited the mismatches presented to him by a scrapping and entertaining Nuggets team. We probably don’t need to get into too many analytics of his game, but for kicks and giggles, let’s summarize it in a sentence. LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points in 38 minutes on 14 of 23 shots.
It’s no James Harden, but that’s pretty good.
If we were to nitpick his game, it would be in the area of rebounding, as he finished with only five. That would be concerning, except for the fact that DeJounte Murray had 13 rebounds. I mean, when you get that kind of rebounding effort from your 20-year-old point guard, you can accept five from your power forward.
Speaking of Sweet Honey DeJounte, was this game made for him or what? He really thrives in track meets against teams like the Denver Nuggets. Denver is in a bit of a holding pattern, having stopped their downward spiral, but not quite mature enough to begin their upward climb to being a good team. So they run…a lot. And they are athletic. I’m pretty sure Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley and Will Barton have pogo sticks for femurs. They were all over the place, but so was DeJounte. He thrives in these types of games.
And so does Kyle Anderson.
It’s no secret that he’s slower than molasses in February, but as Sean Elliot mentioned numerous times, just when you think he’s in jail and about to turn the ball over, his YMCA old man game kicks in and he leaves us all chuckling to ourselves. Kyle finished with a career high in scoring, notching 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also played 34 minutes, which is evidence that he is getting the full Kawhi shift. And he deserves it. He won’t get the award, but Kyle Anderson should be a candidate for Most Improved Player this year.
Lastly, the Spurs would not have won this game tonight without Manu Ginobili. I’ve run out of things to say about him. He defies logic. It can be an around the back pass to Davis Bertans, or a rainbow three pointer, or a block on Trey Lyles in the fourth quarter, but Manu is going to compete and he’s going to entertain in the process.
I realize that there are a lot of people who have mixed reviews about the way Pop has handle the Kawhi situation. That may be fair. But no one is talking about how Pop has managed a bench unit with two Hall of Famer’s on it. Tony Parker, reunited with his old running mate, is thriving on the bench. He and Manu look like they are having fun. They typically hover around 20 minutes of playing time, but they get a different group of talent, they get a different wave of game flow, and most of all, they are probably working with the best chemistry on the team.
I don’t know if it’s possible, but if I were managing the Spurs Spanish Play-by-Play broadcast crew, I’d throw every dollar I own at Manu Ginobili after he retires and hope he becomes the Spanish version of Sean Elliot on the sideline. Pair him with Paul Casto. I forget how much of a global icon he actually is. His value goes beyond basketball and his charisma mixed with his basketball acumen would make him a fabulous color commentator for Spurs En Espanol.
Kudos Pop. Kudos Tony. And Manu, Forever.
A quick thought on Kawhi Leonard…
There are rumors. And it’s up to you to choose what to believe. It’s one thing to believe Michael C. Wright and Adrian Wojnarowkski, but please don’t believe anything Stephen A. Smith says and tread lightly with Jalen Rose (believe me instead, I am way more credible!). The latest I’ve heard as recently as this weekend is “discord” is too strong of a word. Kawhi is not angry and doesn’t want to leave. But there has been a bit of strain on the relationship due to the injury.
Apparently, the Spurs felt Kawhi was ready to go. But Kawhi, who is young and has an entire career ahead of him, including the potential for a super max contract and maybe one more after that, is concerned about the possibility of reinjuring himself. So Kawhi, sought an additional opinion, outside of team doctors, which makes the Spurs scratch their head, and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year felt he should take a few more weeks to recover.
Honestly, this makes sense, and is completely fair for Kawhi to feel that way. Like it or not, the NBA is a very different league in 2018 than it was when David Robinson played. Players now have bigger contracts at stake, but more so they have brands to maintain. Kawhi has a brand and frankly, the brand of Kawhi is in its infant stages.
Jordan Brand took a risk and signed Kawhi Leonard to their line a few years back. That comes with a huge amount of pressure, as I am sure LaMarcus can attest (also signed with Jordan). With big name players like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler signed with Jordan, Kawhi has a standard he has to meet. He also has his personal brand he must continue to develop which carries with it endorsements and commercials and basketball camps and public appearances.
Kawhi does have a responsibility to the Spurs, but the Spurs also have a responsibility to Kawhi. The NBA is a player’s league. Significantly more so than the NFL, but not nearly as much as the MLB. But since David Stern moved out of the office, Adam Silver has shown his intention to allow this type of behavior for players and rightly so. The Spurs are just slower in realizing that than most teams.
And Kawhi really just fell in their lap. So they are learning on the fly too. As a fan, you can question his millennial-type behavior. I think it’s even understandable to question his toughness a bit. But if we are going to do those things, we can only do so with the understanding that this league is changed since 1999 and Kawhi Leonard is absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt, a super star in the best basketball league on the planet, save Lithuania’s D-League.
Kawhi deserves the chance to heal, physically and mentally. Missing 73 games out of 82 is a small price to pay for him being in the right state of mind when that super max contract is ready to be signed. This team is probably not winning a championship anyways. And God forbid the Spurs lose Kawhi Leonard in Free Agency, the odds of getting another player in the draft are few and far between. He presents you with an incredible player offensively and defensively, but he also attracts other talent. He’s bait. So give him what he wants. WHATEVER HE WANTS. If he wants to sit out the whole year, let him sit.
I still think he and Rudy Gay return after the All-Star break and the Spurs win 23 of their last 25 games or so and everything will be fine, but what do I know.
Spurs draw the short stick and get to be the first team to play James Harden after he dropped a ridiculous 60 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against the Magic. The Rockets are about four games ahead of the Spurs in the standings, so even though the standings won’t change much, Thursdays I-10 matchup should be a treat for everyone.
Go Spurs Go.