Season 49, Game 76
San Antonio 102, Toronto 95
64-12, 2nd in the West
Are the San Antonio Spurs becoming a super-charged version of the Oklahoma City Thunder?
I mean no disrespect with this question. The Thunder are a really good team. Great, even. In any other season, the NBA world would be talking more about them. (I’m scared to death of that second round match-up.)
The Thunder’s great flaw, lo these many seasons (outside of bad injury luck), has been their inability to surround their two incandescent talents with a supporting cast to match.
Enter this season’s Spurs: two great stars with a supercharged supporting cast to match.
This might raise some eyebrows, because the Spurs’ supporting cast is littered with veterans, former All-Stars, and sure fire Hall of Famers. But at this point in all of their respective careers, they rarely rise above the occasional star cameo.
Which is fine. With Aldridge and Leonard playing the way they are, the team needs smart players who know their roles and execute them proficiently, and who also understand the system and can function within it intuitively. That fits most every Spurs player to a T. On any given night, the team probably needs a little bit more from at least one supporting member, but no individual is responsible for carrying that load night in and night out.
Only two players have that load. The win against Toronto shows just how much they can carry. Aldridge and Leonard were magnificent. In the 2nd and 3rd quarters, the Spurs scored a total of 45 points. Aldridge and Leonard accounted for 39 of them, a whopping 87%. In total, the two scored 64 points, had 21 rebounds, handed out 8 assists, and got 4 steals. Not a bad night.
The next highest scorer was Parker with 8 points. Duncan grabbed 11 rebounds. Four different players had 4 assists each. It was a total team effort, buoyed by the play of the two stars.
Sound familiar? At their best, this is the Thunder’s modus operandi. When it fails is when the role players are too one-dimensional or have too many fatal flaws for the stars to overcome.
This is what makes the Spurs roster so special. The players that get regular rotation minutes are good enough to lift the team when necessary and rarely sink the team.
With so much talent, it’s rare to have a night without a 3rd scoring option. But that is the worry heading into the playoffs. Against a short-handed Toronto squad, it took 30-point games from both Leonard and Aldridge to get the win. The rest of the scoring was evenly distributed, but it would have been nice to have a 3rd player step up and score in the 12-18 point range. Tony Parker, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, David West, and Danny Green are the most likely candidates. In the second and third round of the playoffs, the Spurs won’t be able to win games without that 3rd scoring option.
For now, though, they got the win. While I’m a bit concerned about the team’s recent inability to put games away in the 4th quarter, it is nice to get some competitive games heading into the playoffs and keep the players sharp.
With the win, the Spurs improved to a record 39-0 at home. And now things get interesting. The team has a chance at history: no team has ever gone a full season undefeated at home. (The record is 40-1.) The Spurs need two more wins to do it.
The tricky part, part I: those remaining two home games are against the two other best teams in the league: the Thunder and the Warriors.
The tricky part, part II: with rest and playoff readiness paramount, wins and losses suddenly have less meaning.
The tricky part, part III: Pop seems to care very little about this record.
My take: I want the record. And I think the team should go for it. There are two home games and four road games left. Do whatever the hell you want in the road games, but use the home games as playoff prep: play everybody, use playoff rotations, go for the wins. The team needs to stay sharp, and what better way to do that than to play your best against the best. You might still lose, but don’t just hand over the record without a fight.
This season has been historic, overshadowed only by a season more historic. The Warriors are most likely going to set the single-season wins record. But the Spurs have a chance for an almost equally impressive record, one that the Warriors won’t even be able to claim. I think that’s worth something.
The road to the Finals will be harder than it’s ever been, and as it stands now, the Warriors would have to be the favorites in a match-up with the Spurs. As great as this season has been, the odds of making the Finals are not great. Getting this record isn’t a ring, but it’s at least a feather in the cap, a way to remember and immortalize this season in some capacity.
The Spurs head out on a tough 3-game road trip, starting Tuesday in Utah, followed by a Thursday-Friday back-to-back in Oakland and Denver. That’s brutal this late in the season, especially with Utah playing really well and fighting for their playoff lives. I fully expect a shorthanded Spurs roster for most, if not all of these games. Maybe Pop will play Utah at full strength, and then send some players home before the Thursday-Friday games.
Do what you want on the road, Pop; but please play the home games legitimately.
Go Spurs Go.