Season 50, Game 15
San Antonio 119, Charlotte 114
12-3, 3rd in the West
With the man himself sitting courtside, Kawhi Leonard put on his most Jordanesque performance to date. Drawing on all eras of his career, he fearlessly attacked the rim, he dropped step-back jumper after step-back jumper, he drew enough offensive attention to open things up for other players, and he played defense like there were 2 or 3 of him on the court.
All Michael could do was shake his head.
Kawhi scored 30 (on a career-high 14 made baskets) and the Spurs needed every single one of those points. The Hornets are a very good team (they’d be my sleeper pick for 2nd best team in the East), and they play a lot like our Spurs: stout defense, ball control, highly-executed offense, intelligent and precise basketball. They are a joy to watch.
While both teams pride themselves on defense, they put on a clinic of beautiful offense Wednesday night. It was a game played at the highest of levels, a complete joy to watch. Made more so by the Spurs win, of course.
A few more thoughts on the game:
• There’s going to be a season-long national discussion centered around “Is Tony Parker washed up?” If you don’t watch the Spurs and only see the numbers, you’ll probably think “yes”. The numbers (and perception) are skewed by the first few games of the season when Tony was attempting to play through a nagging knee injury. Eventually the numbers will even out.
Since Tony has come back, he is averaging 12.5 points and 5 assists per game. Not earth-shattering, but far from washed up. Most importantly, the Spurs haven’t lost a game since his return. (The one game he sat out in that stretch, against Dallas, was the worse they’ve looked.) He’s also averaging a +/- of +11.5. The Spurs average margin of victory in that span is 6.3 points. He is having a positive impact.
To paraphrase Kawhi (ok, not exactly but close enough): If you don’t see what Tony’s doing for this team, then you don’t know sh#t.
Tony’s not washed, and he’s still critical to the team’s success.
• Bertans continues to impress in his limited minutes. He hit all 4 of his shots in the game, including 3 from 3. What continues to be the most surprising and exciting part of his game is his defense. He moves his feet so well and has good instincts in the paint. As his understanding of the system continues to grow, so should his impact and role on the team.
• Aldridge seems to be slowly rounding into form. We need his offense to be a great team.
• I’m enjoying the budding bromance between Gasol and Parker. Parker is working hard to get him involved in the offense early, and Gasol is returning the favor with his beautiful high post passing. Gasol hit Parker for the game-sealing corner 3, and Parker immediately went over to Gasol for the hug (with a wry wink thrown in). Considering their respective nation’s basketball rivalry, it’s cute to watch.
• After his hot start, Simmons seems to be struggling to play consistent and positive minutes. He still shows flashes, but seems hesitant and unsure of himself for long stretches. With Anderson’s stunted development this season, that leaves a pretty big hole at the back-up 3 so far this season. I think both can be positive contributors, but they need to start putting it together.
• Did we mention Kawhi played like Michael Jordan last night? If so, it bears repeating.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the Spurs fan out there! I’m thankful I get to cheer for this team, and I’m thankful I get to write about this team, but mostly I’m thankful for the wonderful friendships my fandom has brought into my life. Perhaps I’m biased, but Spurs fans are the best people out there.
The Spurs play a post-Thanksgiving matinee in Boston today.
Go Spurs Go.