The Spurs won again, as they got a balanced effort from the guys who played. In the end, five players scored in double-figures, and Marco Belinelli led the way with 18. The Spicy One went 4-of-5 from deep and 7-of-11 from the field. Tim Duncan picked up where he left off against the Nuggets and had a really solid all-around game. He made everyone on the floor with him better and finished with a game high +27 for the night. This team is so deep that an off night from Patty Mills (until late) and a 1-for-5 showing from Parker was no problem. It's the Pelicans, and they are far from a measuring stick, but this team is really cruising right now. Even on a night when they aren't their best, the team reliably plays a beautiful brand of basketball that is a pleasure to watch.
The Spurs started the game on an 11-2 run. Timmy had four, and Whi had five early for the good guys. The ball movement looked good, and the defense was sharp. Kawhi fought over every screen the Pelicans set as he stuck like glue to Tyreke Evans. The Spurs pushed the lead to 23-6 after several nice plays from Manu Ginobili. He had a steal, an assist, and a bucket along the way, as the Spurs rolled early. New Orleans went on a 9-2 run to cut the lead to ten, but Manu continued his excellent play and converted an and-one at the end of the first. The Spurs went into the second quarter with a 28-15 lead.
The first half of the second quarter was closely contested, and the Spurs were unable to open up a bigger lead until the last four minutes of the half. They went into the locker room with a 52-35 advantage. The starters had their way with the Pels, who sorely missed Anthony Davis against the efficient machine that is the Spurs. This one had the feeling of a blowout, if the Spurs could come out and play good, focused ball for another quarter.
Well, the offense bogged down in the third for the Spurs, and the ball-movement stopped flowing like it had. The bench wasn't able to keep the offensive pressure on the Pels, and New Orleans cut the lead to 11 going into the final quarter, after San Antonio put up just 18 points in the third.
Popovich inserted Duncan back into the game, and there were like 10 Belinelli threes, as San Antonio pushed the lead to 16 with eight minutes left. That was enough for Pop, and he sat Timmy and went with a lineup of Mills, Daye, Belinelli, Ayres, and Cojo for most of the rest of the game. Beli did sit with four minutes left, and Baynes received a little more time on the floor.
The Spurs get their 17th-straight win, as they improve their league-best record to 57-16. Before the season started, the over/under on Spurs wins this season was 55 1/2. I predicted 59 for the season, and with eight games left, it sure seems like the Spurs will achieve the rare 60+ win season. Sorry I underestimated the good guys. I was really high on them going in, and somehow they're even better. This is going to be a fun ride; get ready Pounders!
Notes, Thoughts, and Observations
- Has anyone noticed that Timmy is hanging back on some plays lately? I noticed at the Denver game that Tim would just stand in the back-court and let the team play four-on-five for awhile before joining the team after they couldn't get anything early. Not like he's getting back late. I'm talking about when he just stands there, not making his way down the court. With 9:30 left in the first he spent half of the shot clock hanging back. Pop hasn't been sitting him, maybe this is a rest-within-the-game maneuver. It's something to watch.
- The Spurs held the Pelicans under 40% from the field, and their starters to just 33%. If not for a couple of decent games from Brian Roberts (18) and Austin Rivers (16) the Pels would have had a hard time breaking 70. The Spurs shot an average 47% on their field goals, and it's good to see the team win shooting under 40% (Sacramento and Golden State) over 55% (Sixers and Denver) or in some creamy middle (Denver and New Orleans). This team is built to take on any team big or small, any pace, any style. It just doesn't seem to matter to these guys as they roll on.
- Numero Viente! Manu Ginobili was fantastic tonight. He played 21 minutes, scoring 15 points on 70% shooting, grabbing five boards, helping his brothers with four assists, racking up three steals, a block, and generally looking comfortable. Gino was the only player off of the bench for the Spurs that finished with a positive plus/minus at +13. A healthy, productive Manu has to make this team the last one that any competitor wants to face. If the Spurs weren't already a fixture during the sleep of the other contenders, they're surely making their nightly rounds now, perhaps as a squad of T-1000s. Unlike Tim, Arnold is actually old, so help might not be coming.
The Spurs will finally get a challenge as they travel to Indiana to take on the Pacers on Monday night. Well, I say challenge because the Pacers have a nice record, but they've been playing poorly as of late, so this may not be the challenge the Spurs need. The Pacers' margin of victory over their last 18-games is a negative .63, and to make that even worse, their strength of schedule over that time has been the second easiest in the league (.437)
I'm going to say the Spurs treat the game as a test and to see what they can do against a good defense. With the Spurs rolling and the Pacers riding on rims, I think the Spurs will extend their streak to a franchise-record 18-straight. Which is crazy. After all these years, the Tim Duncan Spurs are still winning, showing us new things. For that, I'm very thankful.
One last thing:
I talked about how great a teammate Tim Duncan was recently. This is a great example of that. The game was already over, but Tim took Baynes aside and who knows what exactly he said, but it's clear that he likes the Big Banger. Tim puts his arm around Baynes and does his sideline coaching thing. Tim didn't have to do this, but it's his nature. He's the best.