When a Spurs nosedive occurs against an inferior opponent one night, the next is generally a different story.
San Antonio overcame an inexplicable loss against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday to crush the Sacr-eattle Kings 130-102, but the victory came at a cost as the Spurs lost Tony Parker to a left ankle sprain from which he did not return. But TP's departure opened the door for a record-setting performance from a guy who may have needed it more than anyone on the team.
Manu Ginobili took a lot of criticism after his sub-par play on Wednesday night and late free-throw miss that allowed the Suns to hit an overtime-forcing 3-pointer. But the oft-injured Spurs sixth man carved up the terrible Sacramento defense for a career-high 15 assists off the bench as the Spurs pushed the lead to nearly 40 points during the fourth quarter. With all the time Ginobili has missed over the course of the 2012-13 season, a night like this one is great to see for a guy who 's had his struggles.
The Spurs' depth, Parker's brilliance and the overall system effectiveness has allowed for success in San Antonio, even without this team's longtime top reserve playing at a high level. There haven't been many off nights for a guy who's played at the level TP has in recent months, so relying on the twelfth-year point guard to be great day in and day out has actually been a luxury the Spurs have been able to count upon. But bad nights — and now injuries — can happen, and the importance of Manu's role as a facilitator off the bench during any down time for Parker has suddenly become paramount.
Ginobili deserves a certain benefit of the doubt, though. He's seen his share of time on the trainer's table and in street clothes on the sideline, and the transition back to being a consistently efficient player for this group hasn't necessarily been seamless. Given his injury-proneness, it can't be assumed he'll ever get to the point where he needs to be. But if this team is able to continue to monitor his minutes while giving him the opportunity to return to his pace of play, the outlook is good for Manu moving forward down the stretch. Ginobili is as good a distributor as there is in this league from an off-guard standpoint, and his skills were on full display against the Kings.
While Parker's exit didn't exactly occur during a close game, the Manu-led offense didn't miss a beat when its star player went down. San Antonio absolutely crushed Sacramento in a game the visitors had very little chance to win, despite the Spurs being out three players due to injury. It was a good rebound game for San Antonio as it clings to a two-game lead in the loss column over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But there's a lesson to be learned yet again: it's only one game. Quite a bit was made over the Big 3's struggles during the Phoenix game on a night Parker wasn't at his best (which is apparently what 22 points and eight assists means in TP's world of detractors). Given the infrequency of Parker's less-than-dominant performances, San Antonio hasn't spent much time relying on other means to initiate the offense. Parker and Duncan weren't exactly peaking during that fourth-quarter meltdown against the Suns, and with both players looking a little tired in the team's first game back from the Rodeo Road Trip, hypercritical assertions and questions were raised over the physical state of the Spurs' elder statesmen.
But just as it's borderline idiotic to say Duncan and Ginobili are "done" based on recent, injury-plagued weeks, it'd be irresponsible in itself to overreact to what Manu just did against the Kings. Fifteen assists off the bench is an incredible achievement, but Sacramento is a bad, BAD team. Manu, especially, has some room to make up in terms of scoring, but watching him so involved as the orchestrator of a Parker-less offense at times was a good sign.
Look, there's a long way to go before this season ends (50 days until the playoffs begin), and this team is biding its time in an effort to peak at the right point. There are injuries that must be overcome — the newest being to Parker's left ankle — and there are a few schematic wrinkles to be added that must fit as we enter the stretch run, which is something Gregg Popovich mentioned prior to the Suns game. All these things, with a little home-court relief sprinkled on as an ingredient, make up the recipe for a letdown against a Phoenix team that has suddenly won three straight games (they just beat Atlanta, a team that currently ranks fourth in the East.)
So don't go proclaiming Tim and Manu are "done" just yet ... at least not until we see what they do without Parker.