Season 49, Game 81
San Antonio 102, Oklahoma City 98 OT
Season 49, Game 82
San Antonio 96, Dallas 91
67-15, 2nd in the West
Back in the day, coaches didn’t rest players. At least not much. And records, both for teams and individual players, mattered a whole lot. Just ask David Robinson.
On April 24, 1994, entering the final game of the regular season, The Admiral trailed Shaquille O’Neal by 33 points for the league’s scoring title.
On today’s Spurs team, Robinson might have been allowed to play long enough to score 34 points, if he could. Then again, with the playoffs looming, Pop might have DNP’d David, because records don’t matter. Right?
Instead, Robinson played nearly the entire game (44 minutes) and achieved something only four other NBA players have ever done – he scored 71 points. And of course, beat Shaq for the scoring title.
Despite David’s remarkable personal achievement, things didn’t turn out well for that year’s team. In the first round of the playoffs, the Spurs lost to the Utah Jazz. (The Jazz in turn lost to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, who beat the New York Knicks to win the NBA Finals.)
It’s astonishing really, but that season Robinson averaged 40.5 minutes per game. Dennis Rodman wasn’t far behind, averaging 37.8 MPG. Even crazier, The Admiral played in all but two games and The Worm played in all but three. The only rest they got would be during the offseason.
Fast forward to the 2013-2014 season. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich has turned resting players, or more precisely managing players’ minutes, into an art form. Two years ago, the Spurs became the first team in NBA history to not have a single player average 30 minutes or more per game. And they won their 5th title.
Pop is still resting players. This season, only two players have averaged more than 30 minutes per game — Kawhi Leonard (33.1 MPG) and LaMarcus Aldridge (30.6 MPG). And they’ve missed or have rested for 10 and eight games, respectively.
Resting has paid off again, too. This year’s Spurs finished with the 7th best record in NBA history and the best in franchise history. They also tied the best record for a team playing at home… a record they very nearly broke.
Two weeks ago, Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr speculated about whether Pop would go for that record or rest players.
“He’s smart. They’re locked into the No. 2 spot and there’s no danger of anybody catching them from behind. And they’re not trying to set any records. I will be interested to see if they rest guys at home. Do they want to go undefeated at home? But he’s been through this forever and, obviously, their team is older than ours. Duncan and Parker and Ginobili need rest at this stage of their careers.”
In another era, any other coach might have gone all in, playing everyone in hopes of becoming the first team to have a perfect record at home.
So what did Pop do? He rested Duncan and Diaw. Still, the Spurs might have beat Golden State and the record for wins at home, had it not been for LaMarcus Aldridge dislocating the pinkie finger on his shooting hand. (It’s still sore, by the way.)
But as we all know, records don’t matter to Pop. All that matters is winning in May and June. And that means strategically resting your players, even if it means losing a winnable game or two.
I suppose you can learn something by looking at who Pop rests, and when.
Tuesday night against the Thunder, Pop rested Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili, while Andre Miller and Matt Bonner did not play. Bobo and Manu have both suffered recently from groin issues – although no one would argue that they were anything remotely similar — so their rest made sense.
On paper, this game looked to be an easy Spurs win, since Billy Donovan let Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka take the night off. Even though the Thunder were without their three best players, they nearly won. In fact, the Spurs only led this game for 11 minutes. It was an ugly, frustrating, teeth-gnashing game to watch as a fan. Some inspired play by Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker down the stretch was enough to send the game into overtime, and for the Spurs to eventually win.
Conclusion? The Thunder are damn good. They present serious matchup problems for our team, even when they’re without their best players.
On Wednesday night against the Mavericks, Pop rested Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, while Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, and David West did not play. That’s resting players taken to an absurd extreme.
Put another way, Pop’s starters for the regular season finale were Boban Marjanovic, Kyle Anderson, Andre Miller, Danny Green and Matt Bonner.
The Mavericks, on the other hand, leaned on their starters to try and finish their season on a high note. Raymond Felton, Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews combined for 70% of the Dallas offense.
The Spurs leading scorers? Boban, Jonathon Simmons, and Anderson. Not surprisingly, Dallas led this game for nearly as long (32 minutes) as OKC did the night before (34 minutes). Against all odds, the Spurs second unit completely outmatched the Mavs starters in the second half, outscoring them 62-39.
Conclusion? The Mavericks are pretty terrible right now.
(These teams played yesterday, perhaps coincidentally. The headlines on Yahoo Sports tell you everything you need to know about the game: “Miserable Mavs get blown out by Thunder” and “OKC demolished Dallas in a laughably one-sided Game 1.”)
This evening the Spurs open the 2016 playoffs against the injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies. Turn in later today for Jeff’s series preview.
Let’s hope that the Spurs are well rested and ready to roll.
Go Spurs Go.