They may be the NBA's model of consistency, but don't call this year's version of the Spurs predictable. At least not so far.
Matching up against a team with only one true center, the Spurs turned to small ball early and often in this game, beginning with Boris 'The Body' Diaw replacing Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup. From then on I don't think I ever saw Duncan and Tiago playing together, which resulted in plenty of spacing on the offensive end of the floor. Diaw even played center for a long stretch of the second half, with Pop at one point putting Cory Joseph alongside Patty Mills to try and stifle the perimeter-oriented Suns.
Phoenix seemed quite happy rolling with a smaller lineup, using their athleticism advantage to score on numerous iso plays. Their only true center, second-year player Miles Plumlee, looked solid in the post against Timmy, showing off an array of moves, great footwork, and a soft touch.
Who benefited most from this brand of basketball, however, was the Suns' Markieff Morris. The 6'9'' more-skilled-twin of brother Marcus used his inside-out game to punish whatever undersized defender the Spurs had playing the four. In 30 minutes, Markieff hung up 23 points and 11 rebounds and had a +10 plus/minus. Marcus Morris chipped in 11 and 6, but it's not yet clear whether 'Kieff had just switched jerseys for a bit due to foul trouble.
The story of the game might've been Danny Green though who, like the mighty bird from which his opponents' city took its name, rose from the ashes of his dreadful early season play to regain his shooting mojo. In a game-high 36 minutes, Green had 19 points, knocking down 8 of 11 from the field (including 3 of 6 from deep). He used his high-energy play and a few early lay-ups to get his confidence going and open up his game, leading to a number of encouraging plays that echoed his Finals brilliance:
But it wasn't just his outside shooting that was noteworthy tonight; it was how Green responded to the defense closing in on him that impressed me. At this point it's obvious that Danny won't be getting the same looks he got last year, and we'll hopefully see more plays like this moving forward.
Green also chipped in four blocks and two steals. All in all it was a great game by the former Tar Heel, who hadn't seemed his old self since fading away against the Heat last year.
Even with Green Light's hot shooting, it took another dominant performance by Tony Parker, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the final quarter (including the final six points of the game) for San Antonio to pull off the victory. Parker didn't miss in his last seven shot attempts, scoring off cuts, floaters and pull-ups, and the athletic Eric Bledsoe could do nothing but watch. These are the kinds of amazing performances that have become almost commonplace in Tony's career.
The Suns still had multiple chances to tie the game with ten seconds left, but some decent defense by the Spurs resulted in a Gerald Green miss, which clunked off the backboard as the horn sounded. It was a closer game than many expected, but a W is W, and this one might come with the kicker of helping Danny Green return to form.
It's important to note that these Suns - like the Sixers and Magic early on - are not the tank-tastic scrubs people expected them to be going into the season. They came in to the game in San Antonio with a 3-1 record, with their only loss coming in Oklahoma City on the night of Russell Westbrook's revitalizing comeback. They might decide to write this season off further down the line, but until then they're going to be a competitive (and fun) team to watch play.
Next for the Spurs are the Golden State Warriors at home on Friday. What, did you think it was meant to get any easier?
- Another poor shooting night from Manu, but as long as he finds other ways to leave his fingerprints on the game, we should remain optimistic.
- Ginobili's best came early in the game, as he knocked down a few shots and came up with some fantastic assists as soon as he was subbed in mid-way through the first quarter. He made a few mistakes later in the game, but the charge that he took against Gerald Green with 40 seconds remaining was big, leading to Parker's go-ahead jumper in the following possession.
- Diaw continues to appear reborn, attacking the hoop and, as usual, doing more than his numbers (11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) would lead you to believe.
- It's already been mentioned, but this game could be significant for Green to get back into a groove. Through four games, he'd averaged 3.5 points a game, and had only knocked down two threes.
- It was another quiet night for Kawhi, who finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds. His outside shot's still not falling (0 for 2 tonight), and he's not playing the same aggressive brand of ball that he did in the preseason. He did however have another excellent coast-to-coast basket, off a steal in the third quarter.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- QuickCap: Spurs survive against the Suns, win 99-96
- Stampler Previews Spurs-Suns on The Phil Naessens Show
- Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns
- Morning Rehash: Spurs win in Denver, 102-94, with a little help from the Nuggets
- Nuggets giftwrap 102-94 win for Spurs