In the third installment of 3 in the Key™, Trace Ronning and Andrew Flores discuss the 12th game of the season, the Spurs 110-105 win on the road against the Sacramento Kings.
Let’s start with Trace’s three key takeaways…
Have you ever heard anyone say, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish”?
Nobody has ever said that to this collection of San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs led by 18 with 5:56 to go. And they led by 18 with 2:49 to go. And yet, San Antonio ended up winning by just 5 points.
“A win is a win is a win,” head Coach Gregg Popovich would say if you asked him about his team just eeking out a victory. But behind closed doors, I’m going to guess several third stringers got roasted.
You know who won’t get roasted? The starting five, which leads me into my three takeaways from last night.
#1: The starters are figuring out how to play together
San Antonio was without Danny Green for the first couple weeks of the season. They were also (and are still) without Tim Duncan. They added Pau Gasol. So until last week, the Spurs’ starting five had played 0 games together, and it showed in home losses against the Rockets and Clippers.
Last night, the Spurs’ starting five outscored the Kings starting five 80-48 – the monstrosity known as DeMarcus Cousins had 26 of those 48 – and all but Green scored double digits. Danny finished with 9 pts and played excellent wing defense, per usual. I believe this is a good sign for the future of the Spurs, and not just the Kings being awful – which they are, most certainly.
#2: The bench has figured out how not to play together
So, hopefully that means they’ll stop doing it. Nobody on the Spurs’ bench finished with a positive +/- other than Davis Bertans, who played some nice defense besides some silly fouls on Cousins. Bertans also made some nice threes, but has plenty of room for improvement. I still really like the effort shown by David Lee and Patty Mills, who were -9 and -12, respectively, but this was an unimpressive night by the San Antonio bench.
Of course, +/- isn’t a comprehensive look at the way players perform (both Lee and Mills being prime examples). And maybe it’s unfair to compare this bench to the championship-winning 2013-14 team or the two seasons that followed, but without a reliable bench, it’s going to be hard to make a deep playoff run.
#3: When Kawhi makes his threes, he’s unstoppable
I honestly don’t think that’s hyperbole. What are defenders supposed to do when Kawhi Leonard is on target from behind the arc? Grow an extra pair of arms and legs? You have to respect everything Leonard does on the court, because he can do everything on the court, which hardly ever puts you in the best position to take away any one of the things Leonard can do to score.
I envy nobody who lines up against him at any point of the game.
If he could only figure out how to get to the free throw line half as often as James Harden… can you even imagine?
And now let’s welcome Andrew Flores back to the Spurs Dynasty fold…
#1: Pau Gasol is a Bad Mamma Jamma
As a long time fan of the Timmy “sneaky-sneaky” style of collecting 3000+ blocks, I was delighted to see #16, Pau Gasol, own the league’s most talented center, DeMarcus Cousins. Pau is a baller, folks. His offense is reliable and his defense is cunning.
However, what most impresses me about the Spurs steal of the off-season is his toughness. You’ve seen it – that scowl on his face is like a man who is headed into the Running of the Bulls. His determined leadership is contagious. After a three-game losing streak, I saw a different style of play on both ends of the floor that I contribute to the current winning streak. Knowing that Pau is just being Pau, don’t be fooled into making comparisons to Duncan, no matter how seamlessly his game is working out within the system in the first 10 games.
#2: Pop is always in Mad Scientist mode
Sure, Pop… let’s make the game stretch past even longer into my bedtime with your 3rd string v 1st string 3-minute drill. Watching this squad is as awkward as watching a “good game’ moment between Durant and Westbrook. Bertans playing ‘center’ is the kind of crazy that makes me wonder what goes on inside of Coach Pop’s head. I understand giving the D-League players a chance to understand the pace and competition of a starting 5. Watching them play reminds me how important team chemistry is in the NBA. Still, tip of the hat to you, Mr. Popovich, for doing what no other coach in the League would ever attempt. Who says the Spurs are a boring team?
#3: Manu is on a personal streak for “Amazing Shot” per game
I was at first skeptical anbout the Spurs paying $14 million for Manu Ginobili’s single season contract. It’s easier to justify when Manu is the recipient, especially in the wake of the retirement of the GOAT. I told myself that for years the Spurs had Manu in the payroll at a deal and this was a gesture of payback. However, look at his stats and he’s putting up some very efficient numbers. He’s been giving us flashes of the old X-factor that we normally rely on The Juice to provide off the bench, sick moves that I have to rewind and watch again, to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. If the team can get this kind of effort on a night-to-night basis out of #20, the Spurs are going to be a tough team to beat.