The San Antonio Spurs show confidence and clout in a Valentine's Day thrashing of the New Jersey Nets, 102-85. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the way in the first half, and Manu Ginobili sealed the deal with two three-pointers in the fourth to claim another convincing win. As the Spurs starting lineup routed their counterparts for the second straight game, San Antonio can claim some momentum leading up to the road trip finale against Chicago on Thursday.
Although the Nets are no playoff opponent and shot just thirty-five percent, they put up a fight for three quarters and obliged Popovich to play his big four big minutes. Tim Duncan and crew responded with an efficient and balanced attack to go with solid defense, and denied the Nets much of a second-half chance. In what's becoming a common thread in Spurs recaps this season, at some point the three point shooting kicked in and a comfy lead became an insurmountable one.
Both offenses started out hot, with the Spurs running everything through Parker and Duncan and the Nets countering double teams with timely passing. New Jersey soon cooled off and got stuck on eleven points, coming up empty on five straight possessions. Tim Duncan scored nine straight during this brick-fest to give the Spurs their first real lead at 18-11.
The Spurs' bench has been so strong this year that I was hoping the reserves could build on this lead. Unfortunately the ice-cold Nets started to draw some fouls and nailed a few long jumpers and were right back in the game. Gary Neal and George Hill were the only bench players who played well in the first half and the Spurs couldn't get anything going with Tim and Tony resting. When the starters came back so did the lead and it became clear the Nets were going to struggle to score against them all night.
The Spurs reserves rely more on the three-point shot than the starting unit does. Early on they weren't able to get good looks for Bonner, Hill, and Neal, let alone knock them down. When there isn't enough movement or pressure on the defense to create three point opportunities, the bench is noticeably less dangerous than the starting lineup.
Especially on nights where Tim Duncan is going to go for fifteen points and eight rebounds (three offensive) in the first half! Tim and Tony Parker were +17 and +19 at the break, reflecting how explosive they were on offense and the steadying influence Duncan has on the defense. Tony and George Hill were the heroes of an exciting flurry to end the half, scoring six points in the final minutes on a sweet bank shot, a layup in traffic and a coast-to-coast and-one.
The Nets' main goal at halftime, then, was to avoid another shellacking at the hands of the Duncan-Parker group and make up some ground on the 59-48 deficit. Three quick turnovers by the Silver and Black helped the Nets trim the lead to seven early in the third. After a timeout the Spurs went back to aggressively charging the paint and stretched the lead back to thirteen.
Once again, when it was time to for Tim Duncan to rest it was time for the Nets to rally. The Spurs get in the lane and finish easier when Duncan is on the floor, and Brook Lopez seemed more comfortable backing down McDyess than the Big Fun. After a Lopez post bucket it was 72-66, but before it can get closer the Spurs rediscovered the three-point shot and nailed two as part of an eight-point run to end the third quarter up fourteen.
At this point the Nets were one run away from being finished, and when Manu shook off his long-range shooting slump long enough to nail another pair of threes to start the fourth it was more or less over. The Nets lost with nine minutes still left on the clock, but won the moral victory of forcing Duncan to play three long stints. That's more than the Wizards can say.
Road Warrior Bullets
- The Spurs bench got torched in the first half, but Gary Neal played well all game and Hill and Dice later redeemed themselves. More than anything this game was about the starting lineup running smooth and clean while the Nets bricked jumper after jumper.
- Manu's final three - which put the Spurs up 88-68 and convinced Pop to start packing it up - was a thing of beauty that got a big reaction from the nominal home crowd. Avery Johnson had been waving his arms in horror for several seconds before it happened, knowing that he had one fewer defenders than the Spurs had three-point shooters and he was about to get burned. The Spurs have made the late barrage of threes their trademark finishing move this season.
- Dejuan Blair was just 2-6 from the field, but made 6-8 FTs and came down with four offensive rebounds on his way to another double-double. The Spurs had a good night on the offensive glass with Tim and Dice adding three each.
- The excellence of the starting unit shows in the +/- tracking for Duncan, Parker and RJ. When these three play they usually share the court, and they were +18, +16 and +21. The counterpart core of Lopez Harris and Morrow was -25, -22 and -19.
Tim Duncan - 7-10 with 8 rebounds in the first half. Played 26 minutes against Brook Lopez's 30 and held Lopez to five of sixteen shooting. Discouraged Nets from driving to the basket with three blocks and his help defense.
Tony Parker - The box score and my heart tell me to go with Manu, but Tony was a big part of the hammer and anvil act the Spurs put on in New Jersey tonight. He finished 5-13 with 7 assists, played good defense and had two and-one opportunities.
Gary Neal - Continues to make circus shots that only players like Jason Richardson and Kevin Martin should be able to hit. Gary Neal is pure shooter - not that he can't contribute in other ways, but if you forget his identity for one second he'll put the ball on the floor to get to his spot and nail the pull-up with such confidence that you'll feel dumb. Eleven points on 5-10 and he saved the bench from getting torn apart by Gregg Popovich.