Season 52, Game 46
San Antonio 100, Brooklyn Nets 95
30-16, 3th in the West
In 46 games played so far this season, the Spurs have been without Kawhi Leonard for 37 of them. It looks like that trend will continue.
Hours after Wednesday’s breaking news about Kawhi Leonard being shut down indefinitely with right quadriceps tendinopathy, the Spurs beat the Brooklyn Nets and retained their number 3 seed in the Western Conference.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting in nearly 38 minutes of play. Aldridge was impressive from the start, but dominated the third quarter with 14 points, scoring at will. The Nets are young and play hard, but they had no match for the All-Star lock, as LaMarcus was able to shimmy, shake, pump fake, and dunk over pretty much any defender thrown at him in the second half.
His performance was accompanied by his trusty side-kick and former Blazers teammate, Patty Mills, who hit a career best 7-of-8 threes on his way to 25 points on the night, helping the Spurs hit “100” and earn their 30th win of the season. Mills shot his way out of a slump and looked like the Patty Mills we all know and love.
Danny Green is looking better by the day. Kyle Anderson has filled in admirably. Dejounte Murray is a monster on the glass. And while Pau Gasol continues to serve up Aldridge in the paint, Tony Parker remains the Spurs consistent playmaker.
The Spurs will need Aldridge’s continued dominance and this version of Mills if they want to stay afloat without their best player. In an over-crowded cluster of runner-ups to the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs have found themselves on the wrong side of the injury report this season.
My how quickly things can change.
Just a short calendar year ago, the NBA, and quite possibly the world, was starting to bask in the revelation of just how good Kawhi actually was. Words like “MVP” and “Superstar” were being tossed around. Talk of Finals trips were commonplace amongst Spurs fans. Even the “LeBron to SA” rumors were out in full force.
But alas, it was not to be. At least not yet, anyways. Kawhi rolled an ankle, we all lied to ourselves pretending the Spurs might have beaten the Warriors, and then we accepted this idea that, in 2018, when Kawhi is healthy, the Spurs can be that one team to upset them.
Two months later, “quadriceps tendinopathy” was being googled by every Spurs fan from here to Buenos Aires.
I’ve been critical of this new dynamic of Kawhi the Superstar.
I don’t think Kawhi knows how to be a superstar and I don’t think Gregg Popovich really knows how to coach a true superstar. But in 2018, it’s all about protecting your brand, protecting the product and now, protecting the future. So this entire dynamic is new to them, and to Spurs fans. Players brands are just as important now as their jump shot.
We’ve seen quite a bit of branding coming out of Kawhi since the end of last year.
Tim Duncan and David Robinson were better than Kawhi, but weren’t nearly as talented. Both were expected to be great players and both had the spotlight shining solely on them. Kawhi kind of came out of nowhere and his emergence, while welcomed, seemed to have caught the organization off guard.
You have to remember: the Spurs signed Aldridge and then suddenly, their defensive specialist turned into an offensive juggernaut.
Frankly, I am glad to see Kawhi shut down and would like to see him shut down for the year. The injury to my understanding is more of a “wear and tear” injury rather than just a incidental one (like Tony Parker’s). And don’t get hung up on the word “indefinitely.” LaMarcus was out last year “indefinitely” with a heart issue. He missed three games and came back.
I think there are one of two scenarios at play here.
The first: the injury is super bad and he ends up shut down for the season. That’s my hope. Let’s punt this season, let LaMarcus run the show, and then start fresh next season.
The other: keeping him out until after the All-Star break, which should bring back Rudy Gay and probably Manu Ginobili, all in one motion. This is a good point in the season to buy an extra week of recovery for players with lingering ailments. As much as I’d want to see that punt, having this team roar out of the All-Star break and win 20 of their last 25 isn’t a bad alternative.
There will be good and bad in this, but if the Brooklyn game is any indication, the Spurs aren’t as bad off as we may think. LaMarcus is still a really good player. Maybe a top 20 player in this league. And Popovich is a really good coach. Spurs fans should certainly raise eye brows in concern, but I don’t think panic is the right response yet.
We’ll see who decides to fill in for Kawhi again in Toronto on Friday. It should be a good test.
Go Spurs Go.