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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

Spurs Beat Grizzlies a Second Time, By a Bigger Margin

Season 51, Game 22
San Antonio 95, Memphis 79
15-7, 3rd in the West

Something remarkable is happening this season.

Despite the fact they’re still without their best player, and their veteran point guard missed the first 19 games, the Spurs are third in the Western Conference and only 1.5 and 2.5 games behind the Warriors and Rockets, respectively.

Put another way, the Spurs are winning games, and remain in the thick of the early playoff chase, even though they’re only playing at half strength.

How impressive is that?

We all know that Coach Pop is a master at getting the most out of the talent he has at his disposal. This season Pop’s mastery has been on full display.

Kyle Anderson was considered too slow for the NBA, and dismissed by some of my colleagues here at And yet here he is, after 22 games, second in total minutes played, third in rebounds, third in assists, and first in steals.

Danny Green was waived twice, first by the Cavaliers and then by the Spurs, and played in only 28 games in his first two seasons in the NBA. Now he is one of the best ‘3-and-D’ guys in the league. Better yet, he’s still developing his game, adding some good off-the-dribble play to his repertoire this year. Danny had a rough shooting night, going 0-for-7, but he was still +13 on the court with 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists.

Patty Mills continues to impress. He’s averaging more assists, and taking more three pointers, this season than in any other.

Rudy Gay was all but forgotten after playing the last three and a half seasons in Sacramento and then tearing his Achilles’ tendon last January. With San Antonio, he’s shooting a career best 47.2% FG percentage. Tonight he was the Spurs’ second leading scorer with 18, including 3-of-5 from long distance.

Can you believe Manu Ginobili is 40 years old? Tonight he had 11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and one steal. That’s a stat line any player half his age would love to have. Amazing.

And I haven’t mentioned LaMarcus Aldridge, who looks every bit the All Star he was in Portland and we had hoped he would be for San Antonio. LMA led all scorers tonight with 22.

If all this weren’t reason enough to celebrate, the beautiful game is back, too.

In the preseason, Jake tried to convince me that this Spurs team could be the most talented we’ve ever seen. I scoffed then, but I’m starting to believe now.

And I can’t wait to see how good this team gets when Kawhi is back and Tony is playing at a higher level.

Go Spurs Go.

Round the Horn:

Aldridge’s Big Night Pushes Spurs Past Grizzlies

Season 51, Game 21
San Antonio 104, Memphis 95
14-7, 3rd in the West

This is the LaMarcus Aldridge that was promised.

We all had a vision of what LMA would be in a Spurs’ uniform. Perhaps our expectations were too high. Regardless, these last 2 seasons, he has not met them.

When he signed with the Spurs in the summer of 2015, the conventional wisdom was: imagine what LMA can be in the Spurs’ system? What will Pop and the coaching staff unlock in his game?

In his first season, he was good, but not great. He was still an All-Star, but his numbers weren’t necessarily what we were expecting and he didn’t seem as dominating as his days in Portland.

His second season was even more disappointing, though not as bad as we collectively remember it.

But something was happening in those two seasons: slowly, and under the radar, Pop and his staff was unlocking something in Aldridge. He was becoming a better defender, a better passer, a more aggressive offensive player, a better “big man”. All of those little things we were wanting were growing, they just hadn’t fully developed.

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Parker Returns, Spurs Win

Season 51, Game 20
San Antonio 115, Dallas 108
13-7, 3rd in the West

Monday night marked Tony Parker’s 1,144th career game in the NBA. After an injury sustained in last season’s playoff series against the Houston Rockets, many of us didn’t see him getting past 1,143.

In a game Parker later compared to his first game as a rookie, San Antonio sputtered early, but eventually settled in and claimed victory over the five-win Dallas Mavericks to improve to 14-7 on the season. Parker only played 14 minutes, but he scored six points on seven shot attempts to go along with four assists. Most importantly, he didn’t appear to re-aggravate his injured thigh which is obviously priority number one in your first game back from long-term injury.

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Spurs Recover From Slow Start To Win Big in Charlotte

Season 51, Game 19
San Antonio 106, Charlotte 86
12-7, 3rd in the West

Holding your opponent to 29 points in a half can cover up all manner of sin.

So while the Spurs only managed 14 points in the first quarter Saturday night, they were no worse for wear, as the Hornets only managed a meager 15. 12 minutes later, the Spurs were back on track (after a 26 point 2nd quarter), while the Hornets were still spinning in the mud.

That slow first quarter is easily misleading: after starting 1-for-10 from the field (10% for non-Math Majors), the Spurs finished 38-for-70 (54%) the rest of the way. Once the ill-effects of too much turkey wore off, the Spurs were blistering offensively.

We’ve spent a lot of time this season talking about LaMarcus, Kyle Anderson, and Danny Green. All had good games. LaMarcus continues to work his butt off, doing all of the dirty work that gets less notice than his scoring output. Kyle continues to be the best PG on the team. He also had 5 steals in the game, using his long arms and anticipation to make up for his lack of speed.

But one player we haven’t talked much about this season who is playing brilliantly is Pau Gasol. Most observant fans were left scratching their heads after the Spurs re-signed Pau for 3 more years in the off season. At his age and with his production last season (and how the contract left the team with little financial flexibility), that seemed like a mistake.

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