Season 51, Game 80
San Antonio 116, Portland 105
46-34, 6th in the West

If Saturday night’s matchup versus the visiting Portland Trail Blazers felt like a playoff game to you, you’re not alone. San Antonio came into the game needing two wins in their final three contests to secure a 21st consecutive trip to the playoffs.  The team has been in win-or-go-home mode since, what, early March?

Another reason this much-need victory felt like a playoff game: The Spurs could very well end up meeting Portland in the first round of the playoffs next weekend. Portland currently holds the 3 seed, while San Antonio sits in 6th.

Should the seeding hold (and if you’ve been listening to the podcast, you already know I not-so-secretly want it to hold), the Spurs will need to put together a string of games like Saturday night to reach round two of the playoffs.

Everyone contributed to this victory, and without Kawhi Leonard, those contributions are necessary. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 28 points, grabbed eight boards, and even chipped in with four steals against Portland. He’s the workhorse for this team until further notice, but Dejounte Murray’s 17 points and Rudy Gay’s 16 were just as essential.

Murray doesn’t play like a typical point guard. He’s only averaging 2.9 assists per game, compared to Damian Lillard’s 6.6. But Murray’s presence is felt – largely because of his ability to outrebound men larger than him – and he’s improving with every second he spends on the court. It’s going to be a ton of fun to watch him play a full season with Leonard* and Aldridge in 2018-19.

Back to Gay for a moment, his game Saturday night was exactly what the Spurs brought him here to do in the offseason. He needs to be a reliable double-digit scorer and simply not be a defensive liability. He couldn’t get the three ball to fall last night, despite some wide-open looks. If he makes just two of his four threes, he’s looking at a 10-15 night with 22 points. I have confidence his shots will continue falling more often than not as he’s finally been able to get into a rhythm after returning from injury.

There’s a few more Spurs I really want to talk about, but in an effort to keep this brief, I’ll just gush about Manu Ginóbili for a bit. I can’t believe he’s still playing basketball at age 40, and not only that, but he still has the ability to completely take over a game through sheer force of will. He finished with 17 points on 7-7(!!!) shooting, including an 8-0 run midway through the final quarter.

With the Spurs clinging to a 93-89 point lead, Manu took a Gay assist and drained a three over a slacking Lillard. Following a Blazer miss, Manu drove the ball up the court and pulled up and sank another uncontested three. Seconds later, Ginóbili stripped the ball from Lillard and finished with a beautiful right-handed finger roll on the other end to cap his 49 second highlight reel.

Never retire, Manu. Never retire.

The Spurs remain home for a Monday night tilt with the flailing Sacramento Kings at 7:30pm CT. A victory guarantees a trip to the playoffs for San Antonio, who are still eligible to to finish as high as the 3 seed (with a lot of help from OKC, Utah, and Portland).

Extra stuff:

  • It almost never shows up in the box score, but Kyle Anderson deserves an insane amount of credit for his role on this Spurs team. He quietly finished with 28 minutes, two offensive rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block. He is not fast, but he moves without the ball just as good, if not better, than anyone on this team. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and that is no coincidence. PS His 177 offensive rating led all starters of both teams by a long shot
  • Tony Parker didn’t really do much in this game, and it’s hard to imagine him having any real role on the team this postseason and beyond. He took zero shots but made two free throws. I just don’t know what he brings to the table anymore, I think Anderson might be faster than him at this point. For a guy who relied so much on speed to draw in defenders and get other players open looks, that’s a big problem for Parker. It’s a shame, too, I thought he was having a brilliant start to the playoffs before his quad exploded last year.
  • I don’t think I like Bryn Forbes. Please @ me on Twitter and tell me why I’m wrong for this: @dinna_dawg 

*A big if, but I don’t want to talk about it right now.

Image Credit: Ronald Cortes, Associated Press