Never has 1-of-7 looked so good.
Obviously, we'll look back on Danny Green's return from a broken finger fondly because the one shot he hit was his last and it was a huge three to cut the Pelicans' lead to two, when they had been up by 14 just a couple of minutes before and had the Spurs on the ropes early in the fourth quarter. It was perhaps Green's worst look of the night, a broken play where he caught a Tony Parker air ball, dribbled out to the opposite wing and fired up a prayer with a couple of seconds left on the shot clock. He had a few clean catch-and-shoot looks earlier in the game and barely caught iron with them.
The thing is, Green's shooting didn't even matter. It hardly ever does. What was important was: a) that he logged 30 minutes in his first action in three weeks -- it didn't hurt that it was a finger injury as opposed to something that would prevent him from doing cardio while he was out -- b) that he helped limit Eric Gordon's attempts, and c) that he pulled down seven rebounds, including a couple of the contested variety. And this is after a month where every Spur save Tim Duncan had struggled badly to grab a rebound.
Green was the second welcome addition to the battered lineup in two games, with Tiago Splitter having made his return on Saturday versus Sacramento after missing a dozen games with a shoulder injury. Splitter isn't much of a scorer himself, but he gives the team a second rim protector besides Duncan, somebody who can play the pick-and-roll a bit better a few feet outside of the paint and someone who can prevent the opponent from going to the basket at will when Duncan rests. Splitter didn't score or even attempt a shot in the fourth quarter, but he discouraged Anthony Davis from going all the way to the rim, he pulled down five rebounds, set some decent screens on the other end and was a +15 during his seven minute stint before giving way to Duncan.
With Splitter and Green back in the fold (and with Kawhi Leonard to follow soon) the Spurs are reassembling their defensive spine -- building from the middle outward, like any good team does, regardless of whether we're talking football, hockey, baseball, soccer or hoops. Combine that with the usual camaraderie building of the Rodeo Road Trip (cue the sports movie "it's coming together" montage) and the timing couldn't be much better. Having the defense in place will free Tony Parker to concentrate on creating points, as brutally and efficiently as possible. Ideally, the final piece of the puzzle is the return of Manu Ginobili, who will give them the bench QB/X-factor/emotional boost, and all the roles of the team will fall back into natural alignment.
Obviously, I'm getting way ahead of myself. It was just one comeback win, over a mediocre Pelicans team, that was in firm control of the game through three quarters. Still, I'm happy that Splitter and Green made their defensive stand (along with Matt Bonner, of all people) and that even though the Spurs started their big run playing naked without Duncan or Parker, Pop didn't waste that comeback effort by keeping them glued to the bench down the stretch in one of those misguided "I'm gonna stick with the guys who brought us back and show I believe in them," morality play that never quite works out. He actually brought those guys back into the game at the right times and they dominated down the stretch to seal the game, like the Hall-of-Famers they are.
Of course, it HAS to be mentioned that the Spurs did have considerable help from one Monty Williams, who did everything to hand them that game short of taking a metal chair to Anthony Davis' knees. Then again, he might as well have done that since he left the kid on the court for 44 minutes, including the entire second half, with no breather at all.
Williams' other low-lights included:
Not calling any time outs from the time the Spurs cut it to 82-75 to the time they took an 87-84 lead.
Subbing out Anthony Morrow, the NOPE's hottest shooter, 5:34 into the fourth quarter and never reinserting him into the game.
Never trapping Parker even though he was getting to the rim at will. When Parker has it going you have to get the ball out of his hands and make them beat you 4-on-3, especially with no secondary dribbler/shot-creator on the floor. Make Green and Splitter run a pick-and-roll to beat you and if they pull it off, tip your cap. If they can't do it, then it forces Pop's hand to bring Boris Diaw or Marco Belinelli back into the game to break up their flow.
Finally, Williams elected not to foul down six with 56 seconds to go. Instead, he let Parker run the clock down. Yeah, he eventually missed a layup, but there was only 33 seconds left when he attempted it.
In conclusion, let's hope that January was the nadir of the Spurs season and February is the beginning of the renaissance. There are many Eastern Conference teams on the schedule and the Eastern Conference is terrible. Maybe against the Wizards, Green will make 2-of-7 and I'll really be singing his praises.
Standard Parker Quote:
"Finally, in the fourth quarter, we were more physical and played better defense. And we just know how to win. In the fourth quarter, when it's tight, we know how to execute and we know what we want to do on offense."
By The Numbers:
17,086: The paid attendance at the New Orleans Arena, though most of them were too scared by the mascot to show up.
43:51: How much Anthony Davis played, in a 48-minute game, including the entire second half. What is Monty Williams doing?
6-of-21: What Davis shot for the game, including 1-of-5 in the final quarter, with three turnovers.
11-of-15: Anthony Murrow and Alex Ajinca's combined shooting, for the NOPEs.
25-of-64: Everybody else's shooting for the NOPEs.
7: Turnovers for the Spurs, including none by the bench, a huge reason why they stole the win.
12: Blocks for the Spurs, which isn't too shabby for a squad of non-athletic schlubs.
41: Second-half points for the NOPEs.
37: Second-half points for Duncan and Parker.
21-4, 10-2: Separate Spurs runs in the fourth quarter, split by a Gordon three in between.
Sequence of the Game:
With the team down ten, 82-72, Mills snapped a field goal drought of a couple minutes with a jumper at the top of the key, and following an authoritative Splitter board of a Davis miss, he nailed a deep shot off the dribble from the wing to snap a streak of six missed threes for the Spurs. They started 2-of-14 from downtown, but made three of their final four, with Green hitting his after catching an air-ball from Parker and Bonner draining his to give the Spurs an 85-84 lead.
Tweets of the Night:
It's like Duncan started that clip thinking, "Ugh, Anthony Davis tonight, dammit so much," and then remembered, "Wait a second, I'm Tim Duncan and I'm pretty good too," and started skipping.
Spurs will travel 9000 miles over nine games, which is the equivalent of 7.6 million Cory Josephs laid end-to-end— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 4, 2014
I don't even know if this is dead serious or a joke but either way I'm good with it.
Anthony Davis reminds me a lot of David Robinson on offense.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) February 4, 2014
Robinson wouldn't have gotten blocked twice by Bonner.
So I figured out something worse than baseball. Exhibition baseball. #BigLeagueWeekend— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) February 4, 2014
Nothing is worse than covering that fourth preseason NFL game. Nothing.
Helpful advice: apply enough pressure to a pelican, it will suffer internal injuries and die just like any other vertebrate animal. #nature— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 4, 2014
I think this was a stretch of the game where Spurs fans were getting cranky and slightly morbid.
Big, if true. MT @PaulGarciaPS All of a sudden SAS down 7 with 8:03 remaining. That score will shrink if SAS gets stops.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 4, 2014
This is the stuff we talked about w/o Green/Leonard. Spurs were having to depend too much on non-defenders to go 1-on-1 with marquee guys.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) February 4, 2014
They were running out of defenders on the blogs, too. (Hey-O)
TIMMAY! pic.twitter.com/dLdD8GaD70— Jesse Blanchard (@blanchardJRB) February 4, 2014
Throwing one down on Durant!
YEAH, THIS IS HOW YOU STICK IT TO THE TEAM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE DIVISION— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 4, 2014
DON'T RUIN IT!
Rodeo Road Trip: One up, one down. Now onto Washington. pic.twitter.com/bSjIdzAcq3— SARR (@SARR_SBN) February 4, 2014
Jeff Ayres got a DNP: CD tonight, and had only two points, total, in his past three games, over 38 minutes. Obviously, scoring isn't Ayres' forte (he did have eight boards in those 38 minutes, along with five assists), but it'll be interesting to monitor his role with Splitter back in the lineup, especially with Bonner playing better. As always, Bonner will have to show that he's not a total weakling on the glass to merit consistent playing time (he had no rebounds in 14 minutes against the Pelicans).
Your Three Stars:
3) Tim Duncan (97 pts): Another way to sum up just what an immortal Duncan is: He outplayed Davis, the wunderkind who's half his age, and didn't even have that great of a night, except for one great burst in the first half of the third quarter and a finishing kick at the end. But his six blocks tied a season high.
2) Matt Bonner (5 pts): I don't give Rocket love very often, but full credit to him for the defensive work he did on Davis in the fourth quarter. Davis went 0-of-4 against him down the stretch -- with Bonner blocking two of his shots! -- and Bonner forced two more turnovers out of him, and stole one other ball for good measure. On the other end, Matty's three gave the Spurs their first lead since the first quarter.
1. Tony Parker (85 pts): Finally, Parker is starting to resemble the guy we saw last year, when for a two-month stretch he was the third-best player on the planet. The Spurs need him to be that again if they want to have any hope of being a real contender -- especially with Ginobili and Leonard still out. Also, in the random stat department: He had two blocks, for just the fourth time in his career. Oddly enough two of those four games have come in the last three weeks.
Up Next @Washington Wizards (24-23), Wednesday, Feb. 5: Stop two on the Rodeo Road Trip has the Spurs trudging up to the nation's capitol, where if this was a just world they'd be meeting President Obama and having their pictures taken and giving him a jersey and all that jazz. Instead, the only event on the calender will be the game against the Wizards, who beat Portland 100-90 on Monday night to climb over the .500 mark for the first time since Obama's initial season in office. John Wall led the Wiz with 22 points, while Trevor Ariza had 20 and Kevin Seraphin had 19 off the bench. Portland had an off-night from three, shooting just 5-of-19 and only got to the line a dozen times. We tend to look down on the Eastern Conference -- and with good reason -- but the Wizards have now beaten the Blazers, Thunder and Heat all by double digits. They're the only NBA team who can claim that. And they snapped OKC's 10-game winning streak on Saturday too. The Spurs did beat them at home 92-79 on Nov. 13, in a game Splitter and Diaw dominated on both ends of the floor (which offset Duncan's 1-of-12 outing) and Parker badly outplayed John Wall. My advice to the fellas would be to not wait until the fourth quarter to play hard, especially since there will be a SEGABABA on Thursday in Brooklyn.