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A Tale of Two Franchises

Season 51, Game 36
San Antonio 119, New York 107
25-11, 3rd in the West

The Spurs beat the Knicks on Thursday night in a game characterized by its redundancy. Basketball masked the contest, but the game itself was the Spurs being the Spurs and the Knicks being, well, the Knicks.

Before tipoff, Bill Land highlighted a graphic that showed the differences between the two franchises since 1999, when a young Tim Duncan and a veteran David Robinson conquered the Knicks for the title. It was one of those graphics where you already knew the truth, but to see it in writing was almost funny.

The Knicks have been bad for quite a while and their franchise has been in disarray. It’s humbling to see these types of parallels. It makes you realize how fortunate we are as Spurs fans to get 50-win seasons out of our team on a year to year basis. This game was another example of that.

The game was never really in question, although the Knicks kept it generally close with the Spurs missing their MVP caliber player, Kawhi Leonard. But this game was a perfect example of the Spurs continued success over the years.

Forgotten in the excitement of “can LaMarcus and Kawhi play together” has been the quiet, yet consistent play of Pau Gasol. In his recap of the Spurs/Kings game, my counterpart Jeff reminded us of our expectations of Gasol: “a well-rounded game, contributing in lots of areas, but likely not dominating any one area.” Against the Knicks, Pau was just that.

Many Spurs fans were left scratching their head this offseason with the Spurs extension of Pau. I’ll admit, I didn’t understand it at first either, but as the season has progressed, it’s made more and more sense. The Spurs put a premium on culture and regardless of how you feel about him basketball wise, Pau embodies the Spurs culture. He was kind of a Spur before he played for the Spurs.

Now, Pau is doing all the little things and is a key reason as to why the Spurs have had success this year without Kawhi Leonard. Pau makes the game easy for everyone, but no one reaps the benefits more than LaMarcus. Gasol can stretch the floor and has showed an impressive consistency from 18 feet and beyond. But more so, his ability to get LaMarcus the ball, early, has brought the “High-Low” combo back in full force. Pau finished with 17-11-7 and no turnovers and the pair of them made Kristaps Porzingus and Enes Kanter look silly tonight.

But let’s make sure to give LaMarcus his fair credit as well. LaMarcus is an All-Star this year and rightly so. He’s been amazing the first half of the season and if it weren’t for the scoring spike in MVP candidates in recent years, he’d be in that discussion as well. He’s not going to score 35 on a nightly basis, but this has easily been his best year as a Spur and he’s the team’s MVP.

What impresses me is how hard he is playing. LaMarcus is putting in legitimate work here, folks. He’s been assertive, efficient and hungry. He wants the ball, he moves the ball and he makes the right play. This is the LaMarcus we all wanted two years ago. It’s better than “Portland LaMarcus” and I think he is only going to keep getting better.

A couple other quick notes from this game against the Knicks:

Tony Parker – Boy, does he look great. This is a 35-year-old point guard coming off an ugly injury and yet, he’s looking more and more like he never took 25-plus games off to start the year. He’s fast, he’s crafty and most of all, he’s an absolute calm on the court. Tony is going to win a playoff game this year for the Spurs and I’m all for it.

Kyle Anderson – It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of SlowMo over the years. I think his growth has been a bit slow and his slowness bothers me. But he’s had a phenomenal year as well. And didn’t he just have a knee injury too? Doesn’t look like it. Anytime you put your back-up small forward into the starting lineup and he produces 16 points and eight rebounds, shoots 4-for-4 from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line and only has one turnover in 29 minutes, well I think you take that every day of the week and twice on Sundays. It’s time for me to eat some crow: Kyle Anderson is a good basketball player.

Danny Green – The best value contract in the NBA. Don’t @ me. If you could assemble the perfect “Three and D” player, it would be Danny Green. He’s had a nagging groin and hammy injury, but I’m expecting big things from Danny this May.

Rudy Gay – Guys, I really hope Rudy is ok. He’s been fabulous all year, but we might have to nickname him Achilles. His heel has been giving him problems and he is now scheduled for an MRI after leaving the game in the third quarter. He’s been a real gem this year and I hope he can stay healthy enough to stay on the court. The “Point Shark” is a playmaker every time he is on the court.

We still haven’t seen the best of this Spurs team and they are still pretty good. It remains to be seen how they will fair against the elite teams and their small ball line-ups. But for now, they continue to dominate with two more twin towers. Hopefully, we see the minutes restriction lifted for Kawhi in a few weeks. He’ll be back in action Saturday when the Spurs travel to Detroit to take on a pesky Stan Van Gundy-led Pistons team.

It’s going to be rowdy.

Go Spurs Go.

Gasol, Aldridge Help Spurs Outlast Kings on the Road

Season 51, Game 34
San Antonio 108, Sacramento 99
23-11, 3rd in the West

The Spurs have survived (and thrived) this season – in the absence of Kawhi Leonard – in large part thanks to the play of their starting bigs.

It’s not the “sexiest” way to play, nor the style that is en vogue. And one could reasonably argue that it won’t get you very far in the playoffs. But, if your goal is to win regular season games and establish some modicum of consistency while players rotate in and out of the rotation, lineups change incessantly, and minutes restrictions severely hamper the development of chemistry, there are worse strategies.

It helps to have LaMarcus Aldridge playing the most well-rounded ball of his career. I won’t necessarily say it’s his best ball, because some of his Portland seasons were exemplary; but I would argue that he is a more complete player now. His offensive gravity is the cornerstone of the Spurs’ offense, whether he’s making or missing shots. When he’s making shots (as he did Saturday night against the Kings), the Spurs have the foundation of a potent offense.

But it’s everything else he’s doing now that is leading to winning. He’s rebounding; he’s passing; he’s setting great screens; he’s doing the dirty work. Most importantly, he is also the backbone of the Spurs’ defense. He’ll never be Tim Duncan, but he is playing the role that Duncan did in the middle stages of his career: anchor of both the offense and defense.

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The Klaw Returns, But Spurs Fall to Mavericks

Season 51, Game 28
San Antonio 89, Dallas 95
19-9, 3rd in the West


If there was any doubt that Leonard would be effective in his first NBA game since May, it was quickly erased. Kawhi showed a few signs of rust, losing the ball a couple times (he wasn’t credited with any official turnovers), but he shot 6-12, including a three pointer for 13 points. The All-Star forward also recorded six rebounds to go along with an assist, a steal, and a block in his 16 minutes of play.

It’s safe to say that Kawhi is back and doesn’t look any worse for his time away from the game. His final minutes came halfway through the third quarter, which is a shame, because if he was even able to play for four or five more minutes in the fourth quarter, San Antonio might not have blown this one.

Which leads me to the bad news…

Besides Kawhi, the only other person who traveled with their offense to Dallas was Rudy Gay, San Antonio’s front-runner for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Gay finished the night with 21 points, going 8-11 from the field, including two three pointers in 27 minutes of work.

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The Spurs Beat the Bulls and it Wasn’t Particularly Close

Season 51, Game 13
San Antonio 133, Chicago 94
8-5, 4th in the West

The San Antonio Spurs beat the Chicago Bulls in an NBA basketball game on Saturday night. The score was 133 points in favor of the Spurs, compared to 94 points for the Bulls.

Analysis? The Bulls are not good.

There really isn’t much to take away from this game. We saw a lot of bench work tonight from the Spurs in route to a 39 point win. The game was pretty much over before it began and that’s even with Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Danny Green out. It was an annihilation.

The game was never really in doubt, save for a few minutes in the second quarter when the Bulls somehow managed to cut the lead down to single digits. But no matter. Coach Pop just inserted the 2017-2018 6th Man of the Year, Rudy Gay, into the lineup (that’s right, Sean. I said it first.)

Rudy came in and shut things down and the Spurs never really looked back. Can you blame them, though? The Spurs are really, really good and the Bulls are really, really bad. Of the 11 players who played for the Spurs, eight of them were in double figures. The Bulls? Three: Robin Lopez, Bobby “Break Yo Face” Portis and Chris Dunn, the only bright spot for the franchise.

The Spurs led in every category this game except one (steals), shot 66% from the three-point line and out-rebounded the Bulls 44-28. Did I mention the Spurs were without Leonard, Parker, Manu and Green? And Joffrey? And Derrick White?

So what do we take away from this game? Not much. We got some meaningful minutes from some core bench guys and put some use to those two-way contracts. But the biggest take away is learning a little bit more about this team is. Also, I got really deep into #HorseFactFridays due to how boring the game was.

Thanks, Trace.

It’s early, so I want to tread lightly here. With full disclosure, I am aware that Kawhi Leonard’s quad injury is a bit more serious that maybe we all thought. I am aware that Tony Parker may never be Tony Parker again, although, he might be. And I am aware that Tim Duncan is not walking through that door. Boris Diaw is not walking through that door. Tiago Splitter is not walking through that door (thankfully).

But the Spurs are starting to look like the Spurs of 2014. Let me explain.

The ball movement is there. The grit is there. And the defense is there. The talent is not.

There are flashes of the beautiful game that we all will tell our grandkids about in 30 years. It may not be perfected yet, and it may not last, but even against the Bucks and Clippers, you can see the extra pass being made. I identified last week that the guys were making too many passes. And I know it’s the Bulls, but last night, they made the right pass.

Kawhi and Tony’s absence could end up being a real blessing in disguise. The flow of the game has been very “benchy” during the first 13 games of the season. If you recall, the Spurs always play a deeper bench than most teams come April. Sometimes, that’s a bad thing. This year, I think it’s going to be a huge boost.

If you’re not on the Rudy Gay bandwagon, I suggest you buy a ticket. Rudy might be the most versatile player not named after a Hawaiian Island to ever take the Black and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He’s smart, smooth, athletic and very crafty. I just hope he gets the minutes and stats to warrant that 6MOY trophy. I am making two trips to Texas over the next 90 days and I fully intended on getting myself a Rudy Gay jersey while I am there. For those who know me, that’s a big deal. I don’t buy Spurs jerseys unless I feel like you’re a Spur. To put that in perspective, I haven’t even gotten a LaMarcus Aldridge jersey yet.

Rudy is a Spur and he’s a darn good one.

Speaking of LaMarcus, it’s time to buy his jersey. LaMarcus is for real, too. He finished with only 14 points in this one, but also played only 21 minutes. He went 7 for 11 from the field and had seven rebounds and two blocks. I firmly believe that teams have turned a blind eye to him this year because of the events of last year. Shame on them. Aldridge has been a monster this year and already deserves to be an All-Star. If he stays in this killer instinct mode when Kawhi comes back, I’m telling you: the Spurs will be a tough out (also, I covet a Sweet Honey Dejounte-Green-Kawhi-Rudy-LaMarcus lineup, so get well soon, Klaw).

Gasol has been underdiscussed but has quietly looked very Spursian this year too. He does his work, stretches the floor, finishes with either hand, has been an offensive threat as of late, and although he could probably be a nominee for an Oscar, his assertiveness against the Bulls led him to a beautiful 21 and 10 game. Pau will win a playoff game for the Spurs this year. Watch.

I don’t like Kyle Anderson. It’s no secret. Something about his game bothers me. Makes me uncomfortable to watch. Kyle always looks like he just got done mowing the yard and is really, really tired. Then he scores on you. I’m going to leave Kyle alone and stop being a hater, because whatever he is doing is working and he’s in the NBA and I am writing about him while my kids are napping on a Sunday.

Bryn Forbes can flat out shoot the ball. He’s the 2017 version of Gary Neal, but better. I’d expect to see a lot of Bryn this year, especially as we get close to March and guys are sitting out with res….injuries.

Brandon Paul is our Jonathon Simmons replacement. So far, I like the upgrade, and I loved the Juice. But Brandon is the epitome of a journeyman NBA player. Learn to do two things in the NBA and you will find yourself with a contract: Shoot the 3 and play defense. Brandon ranks 18th in the league in charges drawn. Of the 17 guys ahead of him, only three play less minutes (Willie Reed, Jared Dudley, Okaro White). Of those three guys, Brandon has played in more games, has more 3 point shots made, and more deflected passes. So, yea, I’d say the Spurs found another diamond in the rough.

Finally, I think we need to discuss the future, Sweet Honey Dejounte Murray. The kid is a player, but he is also still young. He opened the season with a really good game and had a couple more, but has been sent back to the bench. This is ok, and to be expected.

First off, it helps him immensely psychologically. His pressure is reduced and he is free to play looser with the second unit. Secondly, his shuffling in and out of the lineup in various time frames of the game allow him a unique perspective to see the game in real time from multiple viewpoints. Murray is getting valuable experience, within the experience gain from Parker’s absence, that will develop him faster than we might have imagined.

The beauty of Pop is how he manages to win these types of battles. In the past, we’ve seen him keep Patty Mills on the bench in his backup PG role and would put the #3 guard in as the starter. We will probably continue to see some of that until Parker’s return, but starting Mills and bringing Murray off the bench allows Pop to develop Murray as both a starting caliber point guard AND as a backup point guard: two very different roles in today’s NBA. It’s genius and I love it. We will thank Pop in 2019.

Not all teams will be as tough a challenge as the Chicago Bulls, but it was a pleasant way to end a six-game homestand, on Veterans Day, before heading to Dallas on Tuesday.

And I’ll end with this: we would be remiss if we did not thank our veterans. If you have served in the Armed Forces, there are no words that could fully summarize our gratitude for you and your families. From all of us here at, Thank You.

Go Spurs Go.

Almost Symmetrical

Season 51, Game 07
San Antonio 94, Boston 108

I miss Kawhi Leonard. And I know I am not the only one.

The Spurs fell to 4-3 Monday night after a 108-94 loss to the Boston Celtics. While it certainly wasn’t the worst loss in Spurs history, clearly this team is without its superstar and it’s never been more obvious.

The Spurs actually played fairly well and managed to keep it close for most of the game, save that ghastly 3rd quarter. The offense is humming along and the Spurs had several good looks. Pop has said numerous times that the players can’t worry about making the shots. That part will come. What they can and should worry about is taking the right shot and making the right play.

For the most part, the guys seemed to do this. Unfortunately, we continue to see plenty of “deer in headlights” plays. Too often, the Spurs are passing up a good shot for a worse shot. It’s fine to go from good to great. It’s another thing to omit the good completely. There’s been quite a bit of extra passing that isn’t exactly beneficial to this team.

The Spurs shot a rough 41 percent from the field, 46 percent from 3 and a mere 50 percent from the charity stripe. Those aren’t good enough numbers to beat the Magic, let alone the Celtics. Brad Stevens has done splendidly in getting the Clover back to reality after losing Gordon Hayward on opening night. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he has Kyrie Irving.

There was about a four minute stretch where you could almost see it on the faces of the players: we miss Kawhi. They needed a bucket a few times and looked like a team playing on a SEGABABA in the middle of March. They looked gassed. Mentally, it takes a toll on you. You miss a few shots, over the course of a few games and then the defense starts to slip. Guys shots turn up short and then they miss a rotation. It’s almost symmetrical.

For years, the Spurs have been kind of a running joke around the league. Everyone talks about how old they are and we all laugh and chuckle about it. But the reality is, this team is young and against the Celtics, without Manu, that youth showed.

It showed when Kyle, Danny, Bryn, Brandon and Sweet Honey Dejounte all refused to shoot, desperately looking for LaMarcus at the end of shot clocks. There is an unnecessary deference taking place inside the offense right now and it’s driving me nuts. These guys are on the court because they can play basketball – well, the jury is still out on Kyle – but without them having the guts to let it fly, the whole team suffers.

Kawhi will help immensely and his return is looming. Parker will also help control the flow of the game and settle things down in the chaos. But until that happens, we will experience some growing pains along the way. For now, we need to take the bad with the good and expect there to be a few headaches.

A few more takeaways from this game…

LaMarcus Aldridge is still really good at basketball.

He received way too much criticism last year, partly for not being Tim Duncan, and partly for not being Portland LaMarcus playing in a spread offense with a penetrating and ball dominant point guard. It was all unfair. He’s been great for the first six games of this season. But he was rubbish last night. In 26 minutes, he shot 39 percent, had a +/- of -19 and shot 1 of 5 from the line. He finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, a block, a turnover and a foul. Sounds like Aron Baynes.

LaMarcus showed some real maturity this offseason by letting the trade rumors fly and then eating some humble pie and having a heart to heart with Pop. This is good and necessary, but tonight was his first game since the opener where I didn’t like his effort. Well, not at least until he started getting the ball at the elbow versus the low block. He’s much more effective there.

Dejounte Murray is not Kyrie Irving.

This was a little underlying drama to the game. Remember when I was telling you guys all summer on my Twitter that Kyrie Irving was not being traded to the Spurs and you guys wouldn’t listen? I do. Good times. But that trade was only even on the table for the Cavs because of Murray. He was the young piece that had the Cavs interest. And Dejounte shares the same agent with one of the Cavs players. I forget which one.

This game was essentially a showcase of who made the right choice. And clearly, Kyrie was ready for this. He ate Dejounte’s lunch and popped the bag. Murray had five turnovers and two of them were pretty much Kyrie just taking the ball away from him.

Look, Murray is going to be a good player in this league. Maybe an All Star one day. But that day is a long way away. He’s still a 21-year-old, second year player, subbing for a Hall of Famer. It remains to be seen how the rotation will shape up when Parker returns, but for now, Sweet Honey Dejounte will match up against the cream of the crop for point guards every night. We should all accept that it might not always be that pretty.

Rudy Gay is kind of our best player.

I’ve been on the “Rudy Gay for Sixth Man of the Year” bandwagon for a while now. He was the only player to play more than 20 minutes AND score double figures and not finish with a negative +/-. And he’s a scorer. Personally, Sean Elliott can do better than “Natural Born Scorer” as a nickname for him, but it at least remains true. He’s been the only help for LaMarcus in these first seven games and it’s hard to find a real weakness in his game.

Nothing looks rushed. He has incredible size (I didn’t realize how long and bulky he was), an above average handle and is the only player on this roster not named after a Hawaiian Island who can create his own shot, which coincidentally is also a good shot. I love Rudy. I’d buy his jersey.

I don’t know what Brandon Paul is yet.

I have this joke I never got to make when we signed Brandon Paul. I wanted to make a meme of Pop yelling at RC Buford saying, “No! I said CHRIS Paul.” Guys, it would have been hilarious. Point is, I knew nothing about BP3. But uh, hello? He’s nice, y’all.

Defensively, he’s been pretty solid filling in for Kawhi and spelling Green at times. But he has easily been our best shooter as well, shooting a blistering 64 percent from behind the arc.

The next closest person? Former NBA Finals Three Point Leader Danny Green at 44 percent. Paul can Ball and I’d fully expect him to get a lot of Jonathon Simmons’ old minutes, just like Pop said he has earned.

The Spurs get a day off and then get six games at home. They start off with the Warriors, then get the Hornets, Suns, Clippers, Bucks and Chicago. I’d like to see them get four of those six, but it won’t happen unless someone starts shooting the ball.

Hopefully that someone wears number 2.

Photo credit: Michael Dwyer/ AP

Round The Horn

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