When Matt Bonner is dunking out of pick-and-rolls with Cory Joseph, typically things are going well for the silver and black.
San Antonio rolled Houston 114-92 behind an unbelievable performance from the bench and another ho-hum double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) from Tim Duncan in just 23 minutes, and the Spurs' reserves scored 59 points, once again blowing away the opponent's backups. The narrative this season has often ended in a win - even if it's of the come-from-behind variety - and Friday night's game against the Rockets fit the bill. Except the Spurs had no slow start to overcome.
Over the last decade-plus it's been the Big 3 and their winning ways that have put butts in seats, but recently it's been the bench that's worth the price of admission. The diversity and variety of skill sets Gregg Popovich's reserves possess have been too much for the typical NBA second unit to handle, and the continuity in style of play from the first string to the second has prevented any offensive lull after the exchange of personnel. The Spurs' pick-and-roll, inside-out culture has flourished with a squad that often features a grouping of Manu Ginobili and Nando De Colo alongside Tiago Splitter, and the synergy the three have with one another has been impossible for opposing defenses to stop.
"Those guys have been playing well for us all year. Nando just started getting a lot of time in the last three or four games," Pop said after the blowout. "Every game is different. You don't know what's going to happen."
And given the injury situation and the earlier-than-expected inclusion of guys like De Colo, it really is a crap-shoot in terms the amount of corporate knowledge in a lineup on the floor. By the end of the night, the only two players on the floor with at least two years in a Spurs jersey were James Anderson and Matt Bonner. But the Spurs continue to win, and in the process they've been able to give a little time off to some crucial players.
"We were able to rest a few guys, which is good when you have a back-to-back coming up," Pop said.
Ah yes. More back-to-backs. Three in the next 11 days - including the current two-day stretch - to be exact. No word on whether or not Pop has contacted the league regarding the players who will be available for the SEGABABA in Portland on Thursday, a nationally televised, TNT-produced game.
But recently, resting the main players hasn't been as much of an issue. Splitter finished the game with 15 points on just seven shots, De Colo stuffed the stat sheet again with seven points, four rebounds and five assists, and Patty Mills went 5-for-8 from the floor for 12 points of his own. And despite the starters' limited minutes, San Antonio still dominated Houston in the paint, outscoring the Rockets 60-38 inside. The Spurs scored 114 points and hit just six threes, while still managing to stack up 33 assists for the second time this season.
Tim Duncan, who at one point tried to make his way to the scorer's table in the fourth quarter before Pop bear-hugged him and escorted him back to his seat, praised the way De Colo has come in and taken control of pick-and-roll situations.
"I thought Nando was really aggressive and I think is really starting to understand what we want from him," Duncan said. "All around we're getting 10, 11 or 12 guys out there really focused at what they're doing on the court and really making the most of their minutes."
While the Spurs have made some minor adjustments to their game plan at times, they still butter their bread with the machine-like pick-and-roll. Whether it's Tony Parker and Duncan playing point and pivot with Manu, or whether it's Splitter and De Colo; San Antonio continues to get great open looks from all over the floor. The scary thing is, the Spurs haven't begun to hit their threes yet. They sank just six of their 20 attempts from deep in this game - a 30 percent clip - to keep the team's average around the 35-mark, a significant drop from nearly 40 percent last season. But it hasn't been for a lack of open looks. While San Antonio continues to rack up assists at a record pace for the Popovich era, dishing out nearly 25 a game. So it's not like the looks aren't there. They're definitely going to continue to shoot, and you'd think those shots will eventually fall at a better clip.
So as they hit the road they must continue to make due without Kawhi and Jack for the time being (though Pop said the two will most likely be with the team on the current trip). The Spurs certainly miss the two players in the middle of the lineup, but despite their lack of outside sharpshooting have managed to go 9-2 without Leonard. And since they're about to go off again (flying out on another goofy trip that begins in North Carolina and ends in Oregon) it is as valuable as ever to have a comfortable game in which minutes were spread out evenly.
"With a game tomorrow and this long flight we wanted to have as much rest as possible and not take Charlotte lightly," Duncan said. "It was good to keep our minutes down, it was good to get the other guys a lot of minutes and spread it around as much as possible.
"Four games in five nights. We need as much rest as possible."
As fast as 'the Beard' and what's left of Linsanity came into town, they're gone without much of a peep outside of Harden's 29 points. And after what looked like the Spurs' most complete effort of the season, they finally seem to be confident at home.
But Houston was the latest team that couldn't get out of town fast enough, and once again, the Spurs' plane was right behind them.
Notes: Tony Parker was spectacular in the first half, scoring all 17 of his points before the break.
Check out The Dream Shake for the Rockets' perspective.