It's safe to assume Gregg Popovich would probably prefer to give Tim Duncan a bit more rest when he can afford to do so. The Spurs shot 73.4 percent from the floor in the first half and held a 62-44 lead over the Utah Jazz at the break; the baskets were coming as easily as the sport of basketball typically allows. It seemed to be the perfect night for Duncan - who averaged 34 minutes per game against the Hornets and Thunder - to sneak in a break.
The Jazz, however, had a flashback to the fourth quarter of Game 4 of last year's opening round, erasing the 18-point halftime deficit and scoring 35 third-quarter points to tie the game at 79 heading into the final frame. Mo Williams had 15 points in the third to go alongside Paul Millsap's 11, but Utah, on its second night of a back-to-back, couldn't match the effort in the fourth quarter as San Antonio rebounded to win 110-100 on Saturday night.
And the early renaissance of Duncan continued. The big man recorded 19 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks in nearly 32 minutes of action and looked no worse for wear in the locker room afterward. If he had hoped to get a night off in the fourth you couldn't tell. Despite the comeback, he was pleased with his team's effort and discipline.
"We expect people to make runs. We hope they don't make runs to that effect; Mo really got hot and got them back into the game," Duncan said. "We didn't panic. I thought we did a great job of kind of sticking with what we were doing. We focused ourselves on defense a little bit and took advantage of it with plays on the other end."
First it was Anthony Davis, then it was the constant Thunder attack, and on Saturday it was Al Jefferson - who had 16 points and 8 rebounds - in town for a visit. It's not like the 36-year-old Duncan hasn't had his work cut out for him. But this was more of a traditional big-man match-up, one Timmy enjoys thoroughly.
"Yeah, he's a load. He's very skilled and I like the way he plays the game," he said of 'Big Al.' "I have to work the entire game to keep him out of his sweet spots. He makes me work hard."
Still, after the first half you figured this wouldn't be a night where Duncan would have had to work hard. Everything was falling. For the game, Danny Green was 8-for-9 from the field (3-for-3 from the arc), Kawhi Leonard hit all five of his shots, Gary Neal hit three of four, and Tony Parker went a completely pedestrian (relatively speaking) 9-for-20. But even so, another Duncan double-double was key in keeping this team undefeated.
Timmy had another one of his primary helpers back for the first time this season. Manu Ginobili made his 2012 season debut against the Jazz on Saturday and certainly did some Manu-y things in his limited 15 minutes of action. It wasn't the full-on Ginobili experience, but his energy was on display from the start. Whether he was weaving through traffic before finishing at the rim or swatting the basketball off an opponent's leg, we were once again reminded of the sort of plays Manu brings to the table.
Most importantly, Manu said he felt fine afterward. You could even say he was ... happy.
"Of course, I'm very happy. Well, happy's not a word anymore, right? I was very satisfied that I was able to play for a few minutes," Manu joked, referring to Pop's recent tense sideline interview with TNT's David Aldridge. "I felt better than I expected. I'm a little out of rhythm. I tripped a couple of times, a couple of passes to Tiago that should have been layups. I wasn't sharp."
Ginobili said he could have gone back in late but Pop elected to let him rest. The game was in the very capable hands of Parker and Duncan in that fourth quarter anyway, so why push it? Still, while we're all
happy satisfied watching Tim continually defy the aging process, maybe one of these days in the near future a lopsided score will afford him the same opportunity Manu had on Saturday: a chance to rest.
- Tony Parker had 24 points and 10 assists, recording his second straight double-double.
- Nando De Colo saw his first NBA regular-season action and recorded one assist in three minutes of floor time.