Despite choosing to sit Tony Parker, Danny Green, Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter, Gregg Popovich guided the Spurs to their 14th consecutive victory over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. In addition to those last minute scratches, Popovich managed to earn the victory while playing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili just 22 and 26 minutes, respectively.
The 15-win 76ers and the 53-win Spurs are as far apart on the NBA spectrum as teams get. Before the game, Fox Sports put up a graphic that compared the years of experience of the 76ers' starters versus Tim Duncan. Tim won the battle easily, 17 to 10, and the game followed suit.
I do not mean to diminish this Philadelphia team, but the Spurs blew them out while playing in cruise control. It seemed to take everything the Spurs had to take the game seriously. The Spurs began the game in sloppy fashion, allowing the 76ers to stay close in the first quarter.
The Spurs are aware of how good they are and it seemed they were content to put Philadelphia away while playing only on one side of the court. The Spurs shot 62% in the first quarter, but it wasn't a sharp performance. I know that seems impossible, but it was a sloppy 62% by the Silver and Black, and they only led by seven after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, behind the efforts of Tim Duncan and Austin Daye, the Spurs increased their lead to 16 at the half. Tim Duncan is always great, and tonight was not any different. Duncan finished with an efficient 19 points on just 12 shot attempts. But the surprise tonight was that seldom-used Austin Daye can play.
The 6'11" Daye, who was acquired in the midseason trade that sent Nando De Colo to Toronto, led the Spurs in scoring with 22 points as he made six of his 10 3-pointers. More than just a hot shooting night, Daye contributed in every facet of the game. He played good defense, grabbed six rebounds, had two steals and two blocks to go along with one pretty assist. At first glance, his basketball IQ seems to be very high, which means he should fit in well with the team.
In the third quarter, the Sixers did manage to cut the Spurs' lead to ten points, but this one was never in doubt. The Spurs were careless with the ball and didn't benefit from any calls, which is basically why this game never got to the 30+ range. The Spurs had 17 turnovers in the game, five of which Manu Ginobili contributed, and that's why this game wasn't even more of a blowout.
Manu needs guys to play hard for his passes to work, and I thought a lot of guys were going half speed and maybe not finishing cuts off like they normally would. I thought most of those turnovers weren't on Manu, they were on his teammates that weren't fully committed to running hard. Well, maybe it's just that some of these seldom used lineups make the timing plays more difficult to pull off. Yeah, let's just go with that.
Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard only know one speed and that's what they did tonight. They went hard and came away with some respectable performances. Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli may have mailed it in a bit, although Belinelli did lead the team with eight assists. It's just difficult to look sharp when the mismatch is so vast.
I'm not trying to blame anyone here. The Spurs won their 14th game in a row while playing at half speed and resting just about everyone. They shot 56% from the field and 48% from distance while racking up 31 assists. The most important thing for the Spurs is health, and Popovich clearly realizes this as he's taking every opportunity to keep his guys fresh.