Game Rehash - Spurs use new strategy at Milwaukee: Have best players play well

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Pop: "Fellas, I'm just going to spitball something here as a thought experiment, what if we asked the five guys who start the games for us and play the majority of the minutes to be our best players in this game?" Ime Udoka's head explodes. Jim Boylen whispering to Sean Marks: "That's why he's the best coach in the league."

Game 21, at Milwaukee: Spurs 109, Bucks 77       Rec: 17-4   1st in Southwest, 2nd in West   Streak: W-2

There are games where the Spurs win ugly, games they excite you with spirited comebacks, games where they thrill you coming through in the clutch against quality competition and games where they wow you (such as Tuesday at Toronto) where they wow you with team play and passing that transcends basketball Nirvana for us dorks.

All those are well and good and we enjoy and treasure each of those games in their own way. Far too often though -- and this is the reason above all others why the Spurs have their meh national reputation among the casuals -- are games like the one we witnessed Wednesday night at Milwaukee, where the Spurs not only stomp on their overmatched competition from the opening tip, but they dispatch them in an almost detached, routine, joyless and monotonous fashion. The highlight plays are few and far between because they're not required. The textbook fundamental stuff works perfectly, straight from Pop's clipboard to the court, executed exactly the way it was drawn up. The opponent, in this case the Bucks, is so inept that they can't throw the slightest monkey wrench into the works to inspire a moment of creativity from the troops. Variables don't happen. It's just systematic, piecemeal destruction. Milwaukee isn't even there. They might as well be cardboard cutouts. This is practice.

So, yes, in some respect I can see where critics of the Spurs are coming from. There are games that, through no fault of their own, they are indeed the dreaded B-word. At times they are too professional for their own good, taking the games and the opponents too seriously, having that "appropriate fear." It's almost pragmatic by design. You can see the wheel turning in Gregg Popovich's brain: "The sooner I get my guys playing well, the sooner we'll have a big lead and the fewer minutes I'll have to play Tim, Manu and Tony and risk fatigue or something worse." Thus, the Spurs suck the drama out of the building and go on to inflate their already league-leading point-differential numbers.

Where the critique falls apart is that people stereotype the Spurs as though every game they play is Wednesday at Milwaukee when of course it's not. If it were, they'd have way more than four measly championships and way fewer (well, at least one fewer for certain) fans than they already do. Every year there are plenty of games like the one they played at Toronto, a few high-scoring back-and-forths like the Rockets game, some grinders like the Warriors game and everything in between. Most importantly there is, despite what their naysayers allege, a lot of fun. There's no other way to put it: Watching the Spurs play as a team is pure joy and it makes me happy.

My advice to the league would be to have fewer teams like Milwaukee.

Be sure to read J. Gomez's recap of the game if you haven't already.

Standard Duncan Quote:

"I just made shots. That's what it came down to. We moved the ball real well and we made open shots. We were able to get a lead, and I thought defensively we were solid. We were real active. Just good energy on a back-to-back for us."

By The Numbers:

-16: The temperature in lovely Milwaukee last night, according to this Manu tweet.

11,087: The paid attendance at the BMO Harris Bradley Center last night. The actual number was closer to how many points the two teams on the floor combined for.

23.5: Percentage the Spurs shot from three.

59.1: Percentage the Spurs shot from two.

17: Offensive rebounds for the Spurs. What got into them?

16: Offensive boards for the Bucks. Not sure which number upsets Pop more, to be honest.

+35: Game high plus/minus for Leonard, in 23:55.

4: Turnovers in 17:42 for Manure Turnobili, the evil twin brother of Manu Ginobili. I hate that guy. Kudos to Pop for giving Manu the night off in a SEGABABA though. Rest them legs.

Sequence of the Game:

Duncan started the game off by canning a jumper off a Green drive-and-kick. Following a turnover from whodat Khris Middleton, Duncan found Green wide open in front of the Bucks' bench and he nailed a three. O.J. Mayo bricked a three, Green did likewise on the other end but Ayres got the board and soon after Parker found Duncan at the free throw line for another jumper. Middleton missed a J, Duncan quickly outlet to Leonard for a streaking layup and it was 9-0 and a quick timeout from Bucks coach Larry Drew. Game over.

Tweets of the Night:

Being Magic's caddy during the 80's must have had its benefits.

My drinking game is for Bonner rebounds. I'm boring that way.

I couldn't even enjoy watching the Spurs as a Spurs fan because the Bucks are so bad. I feel like I fell asleep midway through the fourth quarter.

That's one O for every point by the Bucks starters.

They should just put that quote on the cover of the Bucks' game programs.

You win, McCarney. I can't top that.

...as if this Spurs team could make the Finals.

I'd be pretty nice to the dude who almost singlehandedly enabled me to earn like $50 million dollars the past 15 years too.

Random Observations:

Okay, two Bucks things. One, John Henson is indeed all arms and legs coming out of his jersey, and gifted rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo is much the same. Together they look like a pair of daddy long legs on the floor. Supposedly Antetokounmpo is still growing, but for his sake I hope that's not an accurate report. You'd hate for a kid with his potential to wind up being one of those sad, malfunctioning pituitary gland cases like Yao Ming or Gheorghe Muresan or even Manute Bol where they just get too gangly to ever really be coordinated -- or they develop constant pain in their knees, ankles and feet. I'd like for him to settle into his body, build up his frame a bit, and turn into the star that franchise desperately needs.

Two, I liked what I saw from Nate Wolters. He definitely has some talent and on any decent franchise with a decent coach, he'd be playing 35 minutes a night while the tragicomedy that is Brandon Knight: Starting NBA Point Guard would be on the first thing steaming out of town. It's true that Parker elected to take the night off on defense, but it amused me how put off he was by the nerve of Wolters to score on him. It was like, "How dare you shoot the ball when I leave you wide open? Do you know who I am?" Parker would then retaliate on poor Wolters on the other end, driving for layups after every score.

Your Three Stars:

1) Tim Duncan (39 pts): A cool 21-16-3-2 in 24 minutes, with 9-of-12 from the floor against a fella in John Henson who had slaughtered the Bulls front line the night before (and might have been exhausted after playing 41 minutes in that one, to be fair). I think Spurs fans should start "M-V-P" chants for Duncan when he gets to the line, in a kind of "We're being ironic, but we kinda sorta mean it too," way.

2) Danny Green (21 pts): Quietly starting to heat up against the Eastern Conference dreck. Green hit two early bombs to get the Spurs off to a quick run and the game was over from a competitive standpoint after like four minutes. He even had a pair of non-spazzy layups and added three assists and three steals.

3) Kawhi Leonard (22 pts): Eight free throw attempts (and seven makes!) is a welcome development for Leonard, especially after J. Gomez ripped him a new one for not getting to the line enough in a recent column. Just a blistering hit piece if you ask me (ahem).

Up Next:

Vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-11), Friday, Dec. 13: The T-Pups had been pretty ice-cold, but they are coming off a 106-99 win over Brett Brown's plucky 76ers, in a game where Ricky Rubio had a season-high 21 points and both Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic went for over 20 and 10. Rubio has been particularly vexing for the Spurs over the years and had a 21-13-12 night in a blowout win over them last season, while Love and Kevin Martin are the only pair of teammates in the league's top ten in scoring. This is a good time for your annual reminder that PtR founder and noted Manu fan-boy Matthew Powell wrote, way back in November of the 2006-07 season, that he would trade Ginobili for Martin. A truly excellent writer,` that Powell, but a total dunderhead when it came to analysis. Anyway, I think it's kind of lame that this will count as a "home" game for the Spurs, but by now we're used to the league being against us. Hopefully they'll actually be able to play this one without any arena shenanigans, and it will be a Friday the 13th, so what could possibly go wrong?

*   *   *

World Cup Preview, Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Colombia: Fourth-ranked in the world and second in CONMEBOL qualifying, right behind the Argies, Colombia is a team that's trending upward, with a lethal forward combination of Monaco's Radamel Falcao and Porto's Jackson Martinez, both of whom are reported to be transfer targets of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. The squad scored just 27 goals in 16 qualifying games, but conceded only 13, lowest in the group. Midfielder Fredy Guarin pulls the strings for these guys and he plays for a decent Inter side in Italy.

Greece: Manoli's homies finished second behind Bosnia & Herzogovina in qualifying but easily dispatched Romania in the home and home playoff to get in. As always, their style is to play tight, concede nothing and to bounce in a rare odd goal to win, usually from Dimitris Salpingidis (who's 32) but lately by newcomer Kostas Mitroglou, who might be their best hope. Their most famous player remains Celtic's Giorgos Samaras, who looks a bit like the love child of Peter Crouch and Jesus Christ and inspires similar feelings from the fans. Captain Giorgos Karagounis is 36 now and barely playing for lowly Fulham of the EPL.

Ivory Coast: The best African team for my money, the Ivorians outlasted a decent Senegalese team to qualify and probably have the best chance of anyone from their continent to advance to the knockout stages. Midfielder Yaya Toure is one of the handful of best players in the Premier League, the heart and soul of Man City and probably the best African player in the world. An absolute beast who cannot be knocked off the ball. Up front they boast Didier Drogba, who's 35 but still knocking in goals for Galatasaray in the Turkish league and making Chelsea fans wonder why they got rid of him. The questions for Ivory Coast are about the back end, but the low watt attacking power of their opponents in this group may ease those concerns.

Japan: The Samurai Blue lucked into the perfect group for them and just might pull off a stunning run here, despite having to play in the harsh climate. They don't have much up front except for Shinji Okazaki who plays for Mainz 05, but the midfield trio of Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) and Makato Hasabe (Nurmberg) are quick, aggressive and creative and will give teams problems.

Prediction: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece

This is my favorite group of the tournament because it's the most unpredictable. All four teams are so evenly matched, in that third tier of squads where none of them is a sleeper or a minnow, that any order of finish wouldn't be a surprise. I have no idea what's going to happen here and that's the beauty of it.

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