Rested or not, the Spurs stole this one.
San Antonio improbably erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, turning what looked to be a waste of Thursday's early plane ride home into a 99-95 overtime victory. And this was against a Memphis Grizzlies team ironically playing on the second night of a back-to-back. (You can do that?)
The Spurs' players who were sent home early sure did seem rested, to some degree validating Gregg Popovich's decision to have them bypass the nationally televised game against the Heat. Tony Parker dropped 30 points in 43 minutes - eight of which came in the extra period - and Tim Duncan scored 21 in the first half on his way to 27 points and 15 rebounds in 40 minutes.
Not only did they seem rested, they looked charged.
Duncan was quiet and reserved in the locker room after the game, explaining he's just out there to play hard regardless of the situation. He said there wasn't any more motivation than usual against a team like the Grizzlies. But the calm always comes after the storm, especially when the storm produces a tense victory over the team with the best record in the West.
Pop was dismissive, though not any more than normal. When asked if there was a little juice left in his guys' proverbial tanks because of the extra day off, Pop said he didn't know how to gauge that kind of thing. A predictable answer.
But then, there's Parker, who smiled when asked the question. He was
happy willing to answer.
"Yes. I felt good in overtime. I didn't feel tired," Parker said, trolling the world while grinning. "I had two days off so I felt like I had a lot of energy in overtime."
So, what about you, Tony? Was there some extra incentive? Some "win one for the gipper" type stuff?
"A little bit. We definitely always have Pop's back," Parker said, becoming the first player to finally admit it. "Me, personally, I really appreciate what he's doing for my career. I wanted to be super aggressive and make sure we won the game."
Late in regulation, it was Tony who allowed Manu to at least tie it. Duncan rebounded a Gary Neal miss and tapped it to Parker, who wrapped the ball around his back and whipped it to Ginobili for an open three in a play reminiscent of one of the great moments of the Western Conference Finals last season. Memphis responded with a pretty average play design and a missed shot. The game was headed to overtime, and it was the Grizzlies who ran out of gas.
Close call or not, Pop's plan worked. He was willing to sacrifice the game in Miami to get the upper hand on Saturday night, but it seemed like it wasn't going to work. The Spurs shot less than 42 percent from the floor, 24 percent from deep and lost the rebound battle, yet again. But, without Leonard and Jackson, and without Green for most of the second half, San Antonio's defense was solid once more. Memphis managed to shoot just 36 percent from the floor, something not solely indicative of fatigue.
There was concern over how the Spurs would manage without their best perimeter defenders for an extended stretch, but Duncan said it's been a solid collective effort.
"We're running thin on threes and wings, so we just kept on shuffling. Boris is playing some three now, Matt (Bonner) played some great minutes for us at three and four with Boris," he said. "We're just making adjustments on the fly and guys are stepping up and covering those minutes.
"We'll continue to do that and continue to make changes as they come and hopefully get these guys back as soon as possible."
It's strange watching Diaw play alongside Duncan and Blair, or any other combination of Bonner and Tiago Splitter, but it's been as effective as one could hope. And it's certainly been interesting watching this team mix and match, not making Pop's job any easier as he continues to juggle lineups and ridiculous league sanctions. Still, he continues to prove why he's the best this league has; why, despite his saltiness and apparent general disdain for so many things, the determination in doing what's best for his players has never waned. And I doubt it ever will.
But for now, he gets the opportunity to take what he just provided the Big 3: a couple of days off.
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