The Spurs were carried to victory last night -- against a team that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today -- by a fourth quarter lineup featuring Patty Mills, Jeff Ayres, Cory Joseph and Nando De Colo.
No, seriously, read that again.
These gentlemen weren't running out the clock during garbage time of a 25-point win. No, this was a nip-and-tuck, back-and-forth, seesaw game with 12 ties and 15 lead changes, with the score level with 8:22 to go and the outcome in doubt until De Colo's final free-throw swished through the nylon net with 2.4 seconds left.
(Usually it's a different French point guard sealing games late for the Spurs.)
Consider also that this ballgame wasn't played in mid-April, with Gregg Popovich resting his regulars prior to the playoffs but rather in early February, in the meat of the season.
Pop is entrusting Mills, Ayres, Joseph and Nando De Colo to play meaningful minutes for a contender. At this point the Spurs are less a basketball team than they are an episode of "MacGyver," (though with better actors) bailing themselves out of one perilous predicament after another with little more than rubber bands, paperclips and moxie.
Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard are still missing, while Tiago Splitter was out again with a nagging calf ailment that Pop seemed to think he could've played through. And Marco Belinelli was inactive for the first time all year, due to back spasms. Tony Parker, meanwhile -- who's nursing about ten different injuries -- played, but was a shadow of himself. He sat for good with 1:39 to go in the third quarter after a miserable 3-of-13 shooting night, and it wouldn't be at all surprising if he's shelved until the All-Star break.
That the Spurs have even managed to win half of their past ten games (and four of their past five) is pretty remarkable considering the team's catastrophic injury situation, which is as wide spread as anything this franchise has faced since the year prior to Tim Duncan's arrival. This squad is going to have a mite tougher time making the lottery, which is okay since ostensibly the goal still remains to finish atop the mountain, as unlikely as that seems at the moment.
These Spurs are relying on 37-year-old Tim Duncan (who is, mystifyingly, not an All-Star) and on Mills, who lost the backup point guard job to Joseph last year. They're relying on De Colo, who was given up for dead as recently as a month ago, and on Ayres, who I'm still not sure has opposable thumbs. They're relying on Joseph, who never gets down on himself despite his myriad demotions, who actually asked to go to the D-League last season, just so he could get some playing time, and who continues to fill any role asked of him, playing these days as an undersized two because that's the team needs.
Boris Diaw, meanwhile, is the team's designated defensive ace, because of course he is.
The 2013-14 Spurs are definitive proof of three things.
1) It's useless to forecast or predict anything when it comes to sports. All the pundits and the analysts, the talking heads and the commentators, the bloggers and the wannabe bloggers, none of us know a single thing. We're all just guessing.
2) Tim Duncan is one of the six or seven greatest basketball players of all-time and we're never going to be able to replace him, not even if we win the next five lotteries after he retires.
3) For all the crap I give him, Pop is a pretty decent basketball coach. I think he's the team's MVP so far.
Standard Pop Quote:
"Robert Parish would have played hurt, right? I think Larry Bird played hurt."
(It's been a while since Pop called out Splitter's toughness, and I'd be surprised if Splitter played down the stretch of a tight ballgame for a while until he regains his coach's trust.)
By the numbers:
19,084: The paid attendance at the Time Warner Cable Arena, which... heh, never mind.
16-2: The Spurs all-time record vs. the Bobcats. One of those losses was at home on Nov. 15, 2006, where rookie Adam Morrison (remember him?) torched Bruce Bowen for 27 points, the second-highest scoring game of his (ahem) legendary career. Somehow, the Spurs ended up winning the championship that year anyway.
17: Fourth quarter points for Patty Thrills.
15: Career-high tying points for Nando De Buckets, previously set in the game where David Stern fined Pop $250,000. (Did you know Bonner had 10 boards in that one?)
55-22: Bench scoring edge for the Spurs in this one. And that's without Ginobili or Belinelli.
6: First quarter turnovers for the Spurs.
8: Turnovers over the final three quarters.
63: Second-half points for a Spurs team, on the road, missing Ginobili, Leonard, Belinelli, Splitter and really Parker, against one of the stingiest defenses in the league.
Sequence of the game:
With the score tied at 82, Ayres had one of best spurts of the season, scoring six of his eight points on two reverse layups and a rare baseline jumper, with a J by Mills sandwiched in between. Ayres showed impressive patience on both of his layups, pump-faking his defender in the air and then going around and underneath them before laying it off the glass. He didn't fumble the ball out of bounds or travel or slam the ball off the rim or anything, to my relief. After that stretch, the Spurs led 90-84 and didn't relinquish it.
Tweets of the Night:
The bank is open late for Duncan. The bank is forever open for Duncan.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 9, 2014
Garnett has earned the most money of anyone in NBA history, but I have to think that Duncan is up there.
Patty Mills is engulfed in flames right now. 2 straight threes, he has 4 total on the night.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 9, 2014
With the team's injury epidemic being what it is, someone is bound to be trapped in a fire eventually. Or an alligator pit, perhaps.
Asked if he gave any thought to competing in slam dunk, LeBron answered "no." Next year? "Nah, I'm gonna be 30."— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) February 9, 2014
To paraphrase Will Farrell's character Mugatu in "Zoolander," LeBron has one dunk. All these people imploring him to be in the dunk contest for years now, and it's always the same, the cock back with the right hand. ONE DUNK! Doesn't anyone else notice? Am I taking crazy pills here?
DUNKED ON THEM ALL? RT @Matthew_Tynan: Nando wandered into the trees and …. well …. you can guess.— Aaron Velarde (@avelarde2) February 9, 2014
In De Colo and Ayres the Spurs have a pair of guys who constantly straddle the line between "useful role player" and "OH MY GOD GET OFF MY TEAM IMMEDIATELY."
I feel like the Spurs should consider shutting Parker down through All-Star break. Let Dragic or Conley take his spot.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) February 9, 2014
I will sign your petition and am interested in receiving your newsletter.
And three ladies in the front row pregnant. RT @danmccarneysaen: 10 of 13 with 6 rebounds, 4 assists for Mills in just 23 minutes.— David McGinnis (@dav_mcg) February 9, 2014
So that's why Parker looks so fatigued.
Alright, I guess this isn't too random since I'm going to be the 1,487th person to point it out, but I really like P.J. Carlesimo in the analyst chair. I like his frank assessments of the opposing players and the endearing way he gets on referees, in almost a fatherly way ("Jason, no! Why?") as if they just spilled some soda on the rug. I don't think Sean Elliott is nearly as bad as his critics allege -- he is paid to be a homer, like all the other color guys around the league -- but Carlesimo gives you fewer "us," and "our guys" than Elliott does. He's a bit less patronizing and arrogant, and I do appreciate his coach's perspective.
I think a perfect broadcast would be a three man booth so that you can have the viewpoints of both a coach and a former player, to understand how each view the game. But if I have to choose one over the other, then yeah, I'll take P.J. I also find Andrew Monaco a bit less hokey than Bill Land, but I'm sure if I had to listen to him for 20 straight games he'd have tics and habits that grate on me too. I will say that Land's enthusiasm is pretty sweet when Ginobili is going off.
The other random thing is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's jumper, which isn't quite as ugly as Shawn Marion's, but is even less accurate. MKG, simply put, shoots the ball like somebody who's never shot a basketball before. It's this sideways, double-pump, corkscrew mess and I was trying to figure out who it reminded me of, before it came to me: I think he borrowed it from the late, great, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who had the only worthwhile scene in the otherwise forgettable "Along Came Polly." WHITE CHOCOLATE!
Your Three Stars:
3) Jeff Ayres (2 pts): Duncan and Diaw both have cases here, but it's time to reward Ayres for one of his better efforts on the season. Had four assists, including a pretty give-and-go bounce pass to De Colo.
2) Nando De Colo (5 pts): Tied a career-high with 15 points and kept the Spurs in the game late in the third quarter with seven points in a 1:24 stretch. San Antonio scored 11 in the final two minutes of that period.
1) Patty Mills (29 pts): Had a season-high 32 and it's pretty clear that the Spurs would've lost this game had not Mills gone off. Mills hit 10 of 13 shots, was efficient from just about everywhere on the floor, and though he was a bit ball-hoggy at times, it's hard to blame him when he was so hot. Had a career-high seven boards too, topping his previous best of six, which was set about four days ago.
@Detroit Pistons (21-29), Monday, Feb. 10:
So, this is weird. The Pistons just fired coach Maurice Cheeks even though they've won their past two games. And they weren't just wins, mind you, but absolute thrashings of the Nuggets and the Nets, so something goofy must've happened behind the scenes. This article suggests that Cheeks was let go mainly so that the team could pursue former Grizzlies boss Lionel Hollins, but it doesn't make much sense since they could've just hired him in the summer instead of Cheeks, right? Their record is pretty bad, but honestly I was surprised to find that they're just a half-game behind Charlotte for the final playoff spot in the East. The Pistons don't shoot it very well with Josh Smith masquerading as a small forward, and they're 25th in scoring against, but otherwise they're doing great.
GM Joe Dumars is under a lot of scrutiny, and deservedly so, but at least he's won the trade of "mediocre point guards named Brandon" with Milwaukee, and Brandon Jennings is red hot right now with 61 points in his last two games, including 35 and 12 assists against the Nuggets. Smith, meanwhile had a LeBron-ish 30-10-8-4 line in that one, so obviously the Spurs are getting these guys at the perfect time. De-twa annihilated the Spurs on the RRT last year behind Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva (who's buried on the bench these days) but Duncan and Ginobili missed that one. This time though ... okay, a bunch of Spurs will still be hurt, so I have no point. I can see Pop putting Andre Drummond on the free throw line a bunch.