With their 124-89 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the AT&T center the San Antonio Spurs have clinched the number 1 spot in the Western Conference and can still get the best record in the league. Read that sentence again. If you thought that was probable at the beginning of the season you are either supremely optimist or a psychic. If you thought that was possible after Manu Ginobili went down I would have said you were crazy. And yet here we are. The "old" Spurs are peaking at the right time and, make no mistake, the rest of the West is trembling
The Blazers are trying to maximize their chances at a good pick and get a better look at their young talent by shutting down their best players for the season, as teams out of the playoffs usually do. With Aldridge, Batum and Crawford on street clothes, they started Wesley Matthews and 4 players that figure to be marginal contributors at best next season (is Hickson staying?). The Spurs came in with a full roster and wanting to secure the first seed with 2 games left. The game went exactly like it was supposed to, with the Spurs taking revenge for the 40-point beat down the Blazers gave the Spurs JV in Oregon, wining by 35 without a single player breaking the 30-minute mark.
Pop started Boris Diaw in this game after trying him out in the second halves of the last couple matches and Boris delivered with some nice defense on J.J. Hickson in the first quarter and his usual versatility on offense. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the Spurs starting lineup for the playoffs. Diaw can guard power forwards as well as any other player on this roster. His ability to contribute without having to shoot allows Parker and Duncan to be the focal points of the offense early in the game with Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard spacing the floor.
Speaking of Green, the former Cavalier seems to have solidified his place in the starting lineup with his defense and outside shooting. Danny was as big a reason as anyone for the Spurs' 1st quarter 13-point lead, hitting from 3 with the consistency he was lacking earlier in the season but has found lately.
After a few lapses in judgement in the second quarter that allowed the Blazes to close the gap to 9 points (28-37), Gregg Popovich called a time out to remind his players to take the game seriously. The Spurs responded by closing the quarter with a 26-13 run that effectively ended the game.
The second half was classic blowout basketball: fun, sloppy at times and ultimately meaningless. DeJuan Blair and Patty Mills were aggressive on their time on the court but I doubt anything they do in garbage time is going to convince Pop to re-insert them to the rotation. That's the problem with having 13 real NBA players in your roster: someone is not going to get minutes and if the last couple of games are any indication, those guys seem to be Anderson, Blair and Mills. Of the three Blair probably has the best chance of cracking the playoff rotation depending on match ups. The Spurs' bench kept adding to the lead in the second half while the Blazers just wanted the game and the season to end as soon as possible.
Let's take a minute to talk about...the new starting lineup
In the limited time Boris Diaw has been with the Spurs, he's proved that he's still that versatile player that gave the Suns a new dimension on offense while providing solid defense. When he first joined the team I thought he was going to be injury insurance but he has emerged as the logic choice to start next to Duncan. The Danny Green-Kawhi Leonard tandem provides the Spurs with length and athleticism in the perimeter which was sorely lacking last season. They are both above average defenders that can hit the 3 (only from the corner on Kawhi's case) and move without the ball. I was a proponent of Manu returning to the starting lineup but with Blair on the deep bench and Green defending like mad and hitting shots at a high clip I'm fine with Manu running the most devastating second unit in the league. A lineup of Neal-Manu-Jackson-Bonner-Splitter is better than most starting lineups and could win a lot of games.
These are the numbers for the Parker-Green-Leonard-Duncan lineup with DeJuan Blair and these are the numbers for the same lineup but with Diaw in for DeJuan. The sample size is still too small, but there might be something to that lineup with Diaw in it.
- If the Blazers get lucky in the lottery they could return to the playoffs sooner than anticipated. Matthews-Batum-Aldridge is a nice 2-3-4. If they come off the draft with a couple of good prospects at center and point guard they could go back to being the next up-and-coming team in the West.
- James Anderson got more minutes than Manu and Tim Duncan, of all people, was the Spur logging more time at 26:19. It was that kind of game.
- Now the Spurs have to wait to see if they face Utah or Phoenix. Either way I think the Spurs match up well with both teams. Utah is bigger, the Suns have Nash but the Spurs should end either series pretty quickly.
Honorable mention: Stephen Jackson. Captain Jack played well and got a great stat line but he did most of his damage with the game already decided.
3 - Tony Parker 13 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists.
Tony has become a really consistent point guard who can hurt teams with his passing as much as his scoring. The fact that a guy that has the ball in his hand turns it over so little (top ten in assists-to-turnover ratio) is a testament to his skills.
2 - Danny Green 18 points on 6-6 form the field (3-3 behind the arc) and 2-2 from the free throw line.
Danny's 8 points in the first quarter set the tone for the rest of the game. I can honestly say that I think the ball is going in when Green launches a 3. That wasn't the case earlier this season. Resigning him gets harder and harder with each passing game.
1 - Tim Duncan 18 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks.
Big Fun did it all this game. I don't know if he should earn the top spot of this prestigious Three Stars award over Green but, since I'm the one deciding, he'll get it. It's just so much fun watching vintage Timmy go to work. With The Big Three playing at such a high level the Spurs are the team to beat in the West.
Up next, the Suns on Wednesday. A playoff preview?
For the opponent's perspective visit the always fantastic Blazer's Edge.