Season 50, Game 32
San Antonio 119, Phoenix 98
26-6, 2nd in the West
For a while there, it looked like the Suns were going to run the Spurs right out of the gym.
Yes, the 9-23 dead-last-in-the-West Phoenix Suns were just too much for the Spurs to handle. For a half. In the second half, the world was once again righted, and the Spurs won going away rather easily.
If this game was a litmus test of the Spurs’ defense without Kawhi Leonard, it looked like the team was headed towards a miserable showing. The Suns scored 64 points in the first half on roughly 113% shooting. They were getting whatever they wanted. The only “defense” the Spurs played was off of Suns’ turnovers, which mostly consisted of young players making mistakes. To the Spurs credit, many of the Suns shots were of the variety the defense is happy to allow, the Suns were just nailing them.
Also to the Spurs credit: their offense. The Suns defense offered little resistance, so even as they scored at will, the Spurs mostly kept up.
I’m sure Coach Pop said some very nice things at halftime and calmly pointed out their defensive lapses. Whatever he did, it worked. 64 points by the Sun in the first half, a mere 34 in the second. The Spurs were more aggressive, more connected, and locked in. While the Suns were still able to get out in transition a bit, the Spurs completely locked them up in the halfcourt and made every shot difficult.
Of course, Phoenix still threatened to keep the game tight by playing some of the loosest, silliest offense you’ll ever see from the team. Mills – enthralled with the alley-oop – attempted 2 or 3 very ill-advised oops, one to David Lee on a semi-fastbreak, another that never got more than 7 feet off the ground. Every time the team had a chance to really salt the game away, they’d blow 3 or 4 layups in a row, or turn the ball over on a fast break. I thought poor Pop might have a stroke on the sideline.
Again, he calmly reminded his PGs (and Manu Ginobili) that LaMarcus Aldridge was on the team and had a severe mismatch in the post. LA would get the ball, and he’d score. Marquese Chriss on the Suns might be a good player some day, but he looks to be about half the size of Aldridge currently, and LaMarcus would just bully his way straight to the hoop every time he had it.
(Photo: Eric Gay/Associated Press)
Aldridge finished the night 10-of-12 for 27 points and 8 rebounds. Over the last two games, he is shooting 25-of-32 for 60 points. That is… good.
This happened last year right around this time, too, where Aldridge seemed to kind of ‘figure things out’. The way he’s played the last two games is probably the best he’s ever played as a Spur. He’s making shots, certainly, but it’s more where he’s getting his shots from. He’s not settling for the long jumper (though he’s finally hitting those, too); he’s bullying his way to the rim and getting good looks up close. He’s getting to the free throw line.
And he’s playing really aggressively on both ends. His activity is keeping balls alive on offense, opening up lanes for other scorers and getting second chance points. On defense, he’s getting blocks and steals and helping to protect the paint.
This LA with Kawhi? That’s a damn scary top 2, with a great supporting cast behind it. Here’s hoping we keep seeing the increased comfort from Aldridge.
A few more thoughts from Wednesday’s win:
• Manu was a man possessed tonight. He was all over the court on both ends. He had three blocks. He had a break away dunk. He had two steals. He is 39 years old.
• The Spurs waived Nico Laprovittola on Tuesday. Watching DeJounte Murray in garbage time on Wednesday, it’s clear to see why. This kid has all the physical ability in the world with the work ethic to match. He is long and quick. He can break down any defense he wants, and stifle his match-up on the other end. It’ll take him a while to figure out the game mentally, but damn, this kid could be really good. Over the last few games, it’s clear that he’s ready to be the 3rd PG, which his why the team felt ready to move on from Nico.
I love watching Murray in garbage time, but I’m more excited to see what he starts doing in ‘real’ game action.
• Tony Parker had it going tonight. Some vintage moves (with a little extra flourish, which is needed for him to actually get open these days), wrecking the Phoenix big men, plus he had the jumper working. All told, he was 10-of-16 from the floor. If this is the top end of what we might get from Parker, he is still really valuable.
• Kyle Anderson got the start in place of Kawhi, and had a not-so-great night. I really like Kyle and want him to do well, but it’s clear his lack of speed will be an issue. So far, his intelligence and craftiness isn’t making up the difference. He seems to be struggling this season when he does get action, perhaps because he’s pressing, worried that he has to impress too much with such little time.
Jonathon Simmons has rightfully taken his rotation spot, but Anderson still has unique skills that could be helpful. He just can’t seem to get out of his own most of the time. I still hope he can figure it out.
The Spurs face the Blazers at home Friday night, a rematch from a week ago. Damian Lillard hasn’t played since last Friday with a sprained ankle, so we’ll see if he returns against the Spurs.
Go Spurs Go.