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Depleted and Tired Spurs Hold Back Suns’ Late Surge

Season 51, Game 27
San Antonio 104, Phoenix 101
19-8, 3rd in the West

The Spurs got lucky in this one. Against about 26 other teams, this game likely would have been a loss. But against these young and rudderless Suns, they were able to squeak out the win.

Like the night before, a late 3-pointer from the wing secured the victory. But unlike the night before, the shot was less triumphant and more “oh thank God”. (This is to take nothing away from Bryn Forbes, who is having a wonderful season and proving himself to be an NBA player with one elite skill and a well-rounded game.)

The thing is: this game had all the markings of a loss. The Spurs were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, traveling West after a tough home win less than 24 hours prior. And six veteran and/or regular rotation players were not playing.

Generally, I love these “end of the bench” games. Against good teams (like the OKC game last week), it’s fun to watch the superior opponent squirm as “scrubs” take it to them. Against bad teams, it’s fun to see them spread their wings and grow and (hopefully) pick up valuable wins.  Continue reading

Manu, Forever

 

San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) pumps his fist after hitting the winning shot in the final seconds of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 105-102.

Season 51, Game 26
San Antonio 105, Boston 102
18-8, 3rd in the West

Sometimes, a game requires an in-depth analysis that breaks down plus/minus and true shooting percentages.

Sometimes, a game reveals mismatches that one team exploits over the other and can be talked about at length.

Sometimes, a team gets lucky and steals a win against a better team in perfect storm scenarios.

And then sometimes, a 40-year-old Manu Ginobili steps out of the phone booth and reminds us he can still save the world from time to time.

Make no mistake, this game was worthy of its True Shooting Percentage analysis or its mismatch exploitation recap. But the heroics of Manu Ginoboli, which I surmise are taken for granted more than any other player in Spurs history, are exponentially more impressive than can be verbalized. It’s quite simple really:

Manu Ginobili is a gem. A national treasure, who should be preserved. A rose in a field of thorns. On a snowy night in San Antonio, Manu Ginobili hit a game winner and there was only one thing to say:

He is Manu, Forever. Continue reading

Spurs Survive Three Point Barrage From Heat to Win At Home

Season 51, Game 25
San Antonio 117, Miami 105
17-8, 3rd in the West

On Monday night, the Spurs used the 3-ball to stay in contact with the Pistons, eventually eking out the win. On Wednesday, the Heat were on fire from deep, nearly pulling off the upset of the Spurs at home. Luckily, the Spurs were mostly able to match the Heat from deep and were able to out-execute the Heat in the other areas to get the win.

Miami hit a ridiculous 18 3-pointers in this game (on 53% shooting from deep). They seemingly could not miss. The Spurs, though, hit 13 (on 52% shooting), keeping up enough to win the game in other facets. While you never want to give up 18 threes in a game (to be fair, some of them were shake-your-head-and-laugh shots that went in), it was nice to see the Spurs embrace the deep ball themselves.

In today’s NBA, you have to be able to shoot from deep. Sure, you can zag against the rest of the league’s zig and continue to play traditional bigs and emphasize the post and midrange; but not at the complete eschewing of the 3-pointer. It just means too much in the game, and you have to take them (and make them) to keep up.

While the Heat are no Warriors or Rockets, they do like to play that style. So to see the Spurs match them was encouraging. Also encouraging: watching the Spurs start the 2nd half small (with Rudy Gay essentially playing the 4 instead of the 3) and try to speed up the pace a bit to match the Heat. Again, it’s nice to be able to play two traditional bigs together and impose your will, but a team needs to have flexibility to compete. Over the last two years, it felt like Coach Pop was a bit too inflexible in his rotations and line-ups, so it’s nice to see him tinkering a bit more at this stage of the season. Continue reading

Hot Shooting From Deep Helps Spurs Beat Detroit At Home

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.

Continue reading

Laughing Out Loud at the Thunder

Season 51, Game 23
San Antonio 87, Oklahoma 90
15-8, 3rd in the West

Seriously though.

The Spurs fell three points short to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night, but I don’t think I recall ever seeing an 87-90 loss be more of a win.

While OKC barely saved face, the Spurs organization and their head coach looked like the smartest scientists in the laboratory on this particular night.

These types of games are always fun for me to watch, but it’s special when it happens against OKC.

Here’s a fun exercise. Let’s look at the top 5 players who led their teams in minutes last night.

Dejounte Murray: 39:29
Brandon Paul: 33:11
Bryn Forbes: 32:34
Davis Bertans: 29:26
Joffrey Lauvergne: 22:59

Russell Westbrook: 38:31
Andre Roberson: 34:25
Steven Adams: 33:18
Paul George: 33:15
Carmelo Anthony: 30:55

Now granted, this may be slightly slanted, considering Kyle Anderson went down with a knee injury and will miss 2-3 weeks, and Derrick White played most of the 4th quarter, but the point remains the same.

Now let’s look at the salaries of those individuals.

Dejounte Murray: $1.3M
Brandon Paul: $815K
Bryn Forbes: $1.3M
Davis Bertans: $1.3M
Joffrey Lauvergne: $1.5
_____________
Total: $5.2M

Russell Westbrook: $28.2M
Andre Roberson: $9.2M
Steven Adams: $22.4M
Paul George: $19.3M
Carmelo Anthony: $26.2M
______________
Total: $105M

According to Shams Charania, the NBA Salary Cap is set at $99,093,000.

The five Thunder players alone have a combined salary that is $6 million over the cap, compared to the Spurs five which are basically $94 million under. The Thunder also rolled out 38 years of combined experience between their five cash cows.

The Spurs? Six years and a rookie.

There isn’t a ton to take away from games like these other than a few really wild stats and some good laughs at the Thunder.

Oklahoma City might have the worst fan base in all of the NBA. They practically stole that team from Seattle and with names like Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden and now Carmelo Anthony and Paul George going through their revolving door, there’s no excuse for them to have not won a title. But they haven’t and they continue to act like it’s not their fault. It is and the fans are incorrigible.

Last night, the Spurs five, worth about 5 million bucks, were giving the Thunder all they could handle in the second half and you could have heard a pin drop in that arena. It wasn’t until late in the game… too late in the game… that the Thunder pulled away. Then the crowd went wild, as if they had won something.

Sure. You won something. You won a ridiculous luxury tax and a bigger local TV contract. You won Carmelo Anthony, a notorious coach killer whose kryptonite is the playoffs. You won Paul George, who is probably the least impressive superstar in the NBA. And last night, you won a game against essentially the Spurs summer league roster.

Enough about the Thunder.

The Spurs played swimmingly. It was the ugliest, most beautiful game of the entire year. They didn’t shoot well, at all, but then again, neither did the Thunder. What they did do well was rebound. And defend. And boy did they rebound and defend.

The Spurs managed to miraculously secure 39 rebounds compared to the Thunder’s 47, even though their top three rebounders were sitting on the bench with unlaced shoes. And as if they had been born to play small ball their whole life, they had 11 steals and 10 blocks. AGAINST THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER. AT FULL STRENGTH. IN OKLAHOMA CITY.

Maybe you say the Thunder scouted for the Spurs regulars and were thrown off their game. Sure. Maybe. But then that proves that Pop is playing chess while Billy D is playing checkers. But also, it can be simpler than that: the Thunder aren’t very good.

The Spurs face Detroit tonight in the second leg of a back-to-back on the road. The Pistons are a good team and might be worth keeping San Antonio’s players fresh.

Also, it wouldn’t shock me to see a certain small forward from Riverside, California make his season debut either, although that still may not happen.

The Spurs still sit comfortably at 15-8, good enough for 3rd in the West. Considering how many injuries they have had, it’s a pretty admirable feat in and of itself.

Lastly, I sure hope Kyle Anderson is alright. I’ve been critical of him in the past, but he’s been nothing short of magnificent this year. I hope he is just a pansy and the scream we heard from him is not an indication of the severity of the injury. Get well soon, Kyle. Kawhi is coming back soon and we want everyone to be together again.

Photo credit: Sue Ogrocki, STF/Associated Press

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