Season 50, Game 57
San Antonio 105, Los Angeles Clippers 97
44-13, 2nd in the West
I’m certain the extended All-Star is a good thing. The players and coaches get a real vacation in the middle of the season, a chance to get their minds and bodies right for the stretch run and playoffs. (It also allows the trade deadline season to have its own stage, but that’s another story entirely.) It likely has a very positive impact on the quality of the late-season games.
But man if it isn’t hard to get back into the season after a full week off. (The All-Star game does not count.) It feels like I forget how to watch basketball. There was a moment when I thought Gasol was Splitter, which confused me.
It seems like it’s hard for the players to get back into it, as well. This game was played hard, but it wasn’t necessarily played well. The Clippers are the easiest team in the league to dislike (the Rockets are nipping at their heels in this department), so it’s doubly frustrating that they have the Spurs’ number. In the end, we got the win against a loathsome rival, so it was a good game.
Kawhi seemed to be having a hard time getting back into the flow. He strikes me as a player that relies heavily on rhythm and repetition (he always seems off in the first game back from missing even a few games), so the week off is probably hard for him. He played with good energy, but his rhythm was way off. He was forcing shots and passes, and just didn’t seem in the flow of the offense.
Also, he almost fouled out, which might have been a good thing. The Spurs played a long time in the second half without their All-Star, and might have been better for it. Patty Mills, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, David Lee, and Pau Gasol carried the team through the 3rd and 4th quarters, not only keeping them afloat, but taking control of the game.
In this particular game, with Leonard out of sorts, it was probably better for the team to not rely on him so much. In the long run, it could also pay dividends to get comfortable playing well without always relying on Leonard. (Kawhi will also likely be better not having to do so much.)
The other point of interest in this game: the return of Gasol. What made it especially interesting was that he didn’t start the game. This was likely just to ease him back into the system and the flow of the team. But it also presents an interesting question.
Is Gasol better coming off the bench?
Coupled with that question: is Dedmon better in the starting line-up? Dedmon offers a skill set the Spurs haven’t had for years. He’s an athletic big man who is super mobile, protects the rim, and excels rolling in the pick and roll. His skill set is a nice fit with the starters, who could use that jolt of athleticism and superlative defense against other team’s elite big men.
Gasol, on the other hand, is actually a perfect bench player in today’s NBA. His shooting and deft touch are a perfect fit with the bench. His defense won’t get as exploited against second-unit big men. And his post game is more useful against other team’s back-up big men. While he is still a solid starter, he could be a “superstar” bench player, much like Ginobili still is late in his career.
Would Gasol accept this role? Likely not.
Would Pop have the balls to do it? Probably, though he is also smart enough to know if Gasol’s psyche could handle it.
One thing is certain: Dedmon has earned playing time, no matter when and where it comes.
The Spurs finish off the Rodeo Road Trip Sunday afternoon against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Much like the Sunday matinee game in New York, this has “trap game” written all over it. Here’s hoping the Spurs beat it… this time.
Go Spurs Go.