The story coming into tonight's game was the absence of Tony Parker who was out with a "sprained ankle." The Spurs had not rested anyone on a BABA yet, but with Parker leading the team in minutes and the Magic missing their own starting point guard, it made sense for Pop to give his star the night off.
Cory Joseph got the nod to start and not Mills, as Popovich probably wanted to keep the bench rotation intact. My biggest concern with Joseph filling in for Parker was how big the drop off in offensive efficiency was going to be. To my surprise, there was virtually none, at least when it came to putting up points on the board. The Spurs struggled with turnovers, but Tim Duncan started out on fire hitting all the shots that were rimming out earlier in the season while Kawhi Leonard contributed six first quarter points of his own. The defense, on the other hand, was not up to par. The Spurs allowed a team that was ranked 18th in offensive rating coming into the game to score 22 points in the first 7:30 of the first quarter.
Fortunately, the bench came to the rescue as it has consistently this season, going on a 13-2 run to close the first quarter up, 29-24. It seemed the onslaught was bound to continue in the second quarter but the Magic subs, with Andrew Nicholson leading the way, found enough scoring to keep the game close and they hoped to finish the half with a manageable deficit. That all changed around the six minute mark, when a couple of Marco Belinelli triples seemed to energize the up until that point apathetic Spurs.
Duncan continued to dominate on offense while Kawhi Leonard wrecked havoc on defense, creating points off turnovers. After sleep-walking through the start of the game, the whole team looked engaged and that new found focus resulted on another big run, this time 22-5. By halftime, the score was 63-45 and it seemed the Spurs were on their way to crush another over-matched opponent early, like we've seen them do countless times over the past few seasons.
But The JV has his guys competing. They refused to go away quietly and took advantage of the Spurs' starting lineup beginning the second half as sluggishly as they did the game. The great start from Duncan had the negative side effect of turning the offense too post-centric, which slowed down the pace and curbed the ball movement. Without doing anything particularly well, the Magic started to chip away at the lead, until the Spurs' bench once again stopped the bleeding.
Ginobili turned back the clock all the way to 2010 and carved up the Magic's interior defense out of spread pick-and-rolls sets, finishing at the rim or finding Jeff Ayres rolling to the basket. It seemed that was going to be the game's breaking point, but the same turnover problems that plagued the Spurs in the first half reappeared and the Magic, with Oladipo carrying their offense, kept it within reach going into the final quarter only down 11, 81-70.
There's always inherent danger in allowing an inferior team to stay in the game, as a couple of timely buckets could turn a potentially easy win into a costly loss. Fortunately, the Spurs remembered they are playing a SEGABABA tomorrow against the Rockets and came out determined to end the game once and for all. After withstanding two big runs, the over matched Magic finally succumbed to the Spurs' third assault and the 12-0 run to start the quarter was the last nail in the coffin. Despite not playing particularly well, the Spurs escaped with the W and didn't have to play anyone more than 25 minutes to do it. That's all that matters in November.
- Cory Joseph was his usual reliable self in Parker's absence. He remained active on defense and made the best of his chances on offense, doing a particularly good job of getting to the line. He's not the impact player Patty Mills can be when his shot is on, but it's comforting to know the Spurs have a steady third string PG for emergencies.
- Aside from Tim Duncan and at times Kawhi Leonard, the starters struggled on offense. Splitter started the game terribly but righted the ship as the minutes passed, improving defensively and finishing strong with four timely points in the fourth quarter. As for Green, with no one providing open three pointers off drives, he was largely ineffective. He barely played in the first half and it was obvious why. Danny misses Tony more than anyone.
- Speaking of Green, Marco Belinelli probably should have started in his place. The starters needed that extra playmaker and it was no surprise the Spurs' big second quarter push started with Belinelli, Duncan and Leonard on the floor together. I'm hoping Pop takes notice and makes the adjustment if he sits Parker again. Belinelli can clearly stretch the floor, as his four triples attest to, and can take the playmaking burden off Leonard.
- Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw, the other members of the Foreign Legion, had pretty typical games, combining for 25 points, nine boards and seven assists. The turnovers, a combined seven, were not ideal, but the bench continues to be a huge asset for the Spurs, especially in games against weaker opponents.
- Nobody likes anything as much as Jeff Ayres likes to dunk with force. I'm not exactly complaining, as it can result in awesome highlights. But perhaps Ayres should ask Splitter to teach him how to hit reverse layups and ask Timmy how to pump-fake; it might be a good idea.
- Matt Bonner finished with a +17 on the night in 17 minutes. I think single game plus/minus is beyond meaningless and you should call me out on it if I ever try to use it to make a point. But it's just fun to see how Bonner always seems to be near the top in that category, regardless of his numbers.
- The Magic have a nice little roster taking shape. They have a few youngsters that seem like quality starters or at the very least rotation players in Oladipo, Vucevic and Nicholson and a couple of wild cards in Harkless and Doron Lamb. With a high pick, a free agent signing and whatever they can get for their veterans in a trade, they should be on their way to the playoffs in the East in a couple of years.
The Spurs will play the Rockets tomorrow and with the starters not playing much in Orlando, could actually have a go at it with their full team. Or Pop could rest Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Leonard. You never really know with Extraneous G.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Orlando Pinstriped Post. Their recap includes some pretty good quotes about our Spurs.