Friday night sucked for basketball fans everywhere, not just those in Chicago, Memphis and the Bay Area.
If you haven't heard, Derrick Rose, who missed all of last season rehabbing from a torn ACL of his left knee which he suffered during Chicago's first playoff game of the 2011-12 season, had to be helped off the floor during the Bulls' loss at Portland on Friday night with a right knee injury. He's scheduled for an MRI on Saturday, but naturally people are fearing the worst. Meanwhile in Memphis, Marc Gasol, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, hurt his left knee against the Spurs defending Jeff Ayres in the post, on a play where he really didn't seem to be touched at all and his leg just buckled. He too, will have an MRI on Saturday. Finally, Andre Iguodala injured his left hamstring in Golden State's loss at the Lakers, telling reporters that he "felt a pop," and that he couldn't walk out of the locker room without assistance. You wouldn't expect a hamstring injury to be a catastrophic season-ending deal, especially with it coming in late-November, but it will likely keep Iguodala out for some time.
I've never met Rose, Gasol or Iguodala, but they're all integral parts of their teams and they all seem like good dudes from what I've seen, heard and read about them, so I feel for them and their fans. Honestly though, even if they were first-rate jerks I'd still be bummed about these injuries. You want to watch good basketball and for the league to be as competitive and entertaining as possible. You want to beat everybody at their best and for the product on the floor to be high quality. You hate to see anyone compromised or for entire seasons to be wasted for teams. Hopefully the news won't be as bad as we're expecting it to be for any of those guys.
As a Spurs fan, we should be feeling relatively pretty awesome right now. After all, the team is tied for the best record in the league, they've won nine in a row, their defense continues to be stifling thanks mainly to the efforts of Tim Duncan, Tiago Spliiter and Kawhi Leonard; their bench continues to dominate with the trio of Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli and the rejuvenated Boris Diaw; and they've got one of the best closers in the business right now in Tony Parker.
The truth is though I'm feeling anything but awesome. Friday night was another sobering reminder that no matter how well things seem to be going, it can all be taken away from you in an instant with one ligament bending in a way it's not supposed to, one muscle popping inexplicably or one bone going kablooey for no good reason. These are some of the finest athletes in the whole world and yet no matter how much they condition themselves, tune their bodies, eat right, get their proper rest, hydrate like madmen, stretch like contortionists and take every precaution possible, their bodies still fail them far too often, even on plays where nobody touches them. You can blame the grueling 82-game schedule with all the travel and the back-to-backs, but what does it matter? The point is these things happen and will continue to happen. All sports are battles of attrition to a degree and often the team that holds the trophy at the end isn't the best but rather just the right combination of healthiest and luckiest. When you put it that way, sports seem even more pointless than they already are. It's all just so random, just like the participants involved being the winners of a genetic lottery.
So yeah, the Spurs beat the Grizzlies on Friday night. Again. They're an awful match-up for Memphis, as they are for most teams. It's too hard for them to control Parker for four full quarters, too hard to keep pace with the Spurs bevy of offensive weapons that come at you in waves, even with Duncan struggling, and too hard for them to get Zach Randolph room to operate inside when they've got a bunch of non-threats on the perimeter. Hell, the Spurs even got Ginobili going somewhat on Friday. Almost every facet of their operation, with one notable seven-foot exception, is clicking right now.
We should enjoy every single win, every single moment, while we can. It's can all go poof in an instant, just because. Luck in sports isn't just about which way a ball deflects when two bodies collide. Often times it's more about which of those bodies comes out the worse for wear in those collisions.
(Or, scarier still, the non-collisions.)
Standard Duncan Quote:
"We played well in the first half and got a bit of a lead. They made a run as we expect everybody to do. This is the NBA. It's how it works. We kept our composure, made some plays at the right time and just gave ourselves a cushion again."
By The Numbers:
17,109: Tonight's attendance at the FedEx Forum, the majority of whom were left disappointed by the lack of grittiness and grindiness.
25:58: Time Tiago Splitter spent on the court.
25:58: Time Tiago Splitter spent on the court while Zach Randolph was in the game.
2: Field goals made by Randolph with Splitter on the court, in 10 attempts.
3: Turnovers by Randolph while Splitter was on the court. (h/t to Matthew Tynan for all of these)
53.2: Field goal percentage by the Spurs against the so-called fearsome Grizzlies defense. Not too shabby for a struggling offense.
0: Three pointers for Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless, combined, in five attempts.
0: Three poitners for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, combined. Usually a losing proposition for the Spurs.
45: Bench points for the Spurs.
18: Bench points for the Grizzlies.
9: Game winning streak for the Spurs.
14: Days they've held the NBA Regular Season Championship Belt, which they've successfully defended six times.
Sequence of the Game:
It has to be Ginobili's three assists on three straight Spurs possessions early in the second quarter, right? He hit Belinelli on a back cut for one layup, found Jeff Ayres who sealed off Marc Gasol (on the play where Gasol hurt his knee, unfortunately) for another and then, following a steal he hooked up with Belinelli on a breathtaking 20-foot bounce pass to Rocky for a dunk, which sent Hubie Brown into as much hysteria as a 113-year-old man can muster without a hot nurse being present.
Kawhi Leonard didn't have any emphatic dunks or coast-to-coast drives, but he did have a couple of "wow" offensive boards in traffic. His most impressive play for my money though was when he hit Splitter with a bullet pass from the high post for an and-1 with 9:56 to go in the game. You expect Ginobili, Duncan or Diaw to be able to make that pass, but there's no way Leonard would've even thought about it a couple years ago. It's just a testament to his ever-developing half-court game and his expanding skill set. Leonard is definitely becoming self-aware, and it's gotta be scaring the dickens of the rest of the league.
Also, Ginobili did a behind-the-back dribble during a fourth quarter drive to the hoop. He didn't score on the play, but you know he's feeling good and confident when he tries that stuff. It's an encouraging sign.
Tweets of the Night:
I swear Tim Duncan makes like 80 percent of layups in practice.— Jesse Blanchard (@blanchardJRB) November 23, 2013
(I like this because I think it's a sneaky shot at Dwight Howard.)
Every time Tiago contests a Randolph shot, @HPbasketball dies a little inside.— Jesse Blanchard (@blanchardJRB) November 23, 2013
(GET YO MONEY TIAGO!!!)
Oh look. Game 6.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) November 23, 2013
(ESPN is going to show replays of that during every Spurs game until they win another Finals. They are pure evil.)
Manu's been in the league since 2002, and Hubie still can't pronounce his name.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) November 23, 2013
(How sad is it that the biggest Spurs booster on ESPN can't get a future HOFer's name right and isn't aware of Splitter's awesome hook shot?)
The Spurs are attacking Randolph in every pick-and-roll. And Randolph looks GASSED.— Project Spurs (@projectspurs) November 23, 2013
(You think the Spurs have abused Randolph for the sins of 2011? Wait until you see what they do to LeBron, D-Wade and Ray Allen from now on.)
This lineup (Ayres, Diaw, Manu, Marco, Patty) has to be one of the least physically intimidating lineups in the league.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) November 23, 2013
@Matthew_Tynan just wait until Bonner joins it— Jesse Blanchard (@blanchardJRB) November 23, 2013
(Being allowed to play with six dudes would be pretty intimidating.)
It's my personal belief that Manu Ginobili could've been one of the greatest QBs ever had he played football. Thank Shammgod he chose hoops.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 23, 2013
(Typical Manu NFL season: 8,931 passing yards, 84 percent completions, 78 touchdowns, 43 interceptions.)
KG/Pierce are so bad they should be traded to Boston to help them get Wiggins.— John Ledesma (@JohnnyNBA) November 23, 2013
Kansas is winning a basketball game 48-16. College basketball is so dumb.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) November 23, 2013
(I BEEN SAYIN' THAT FOR YEARS)
Kawhi makes rebounding an art form. Not sure that can be said for many players.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) November 23, 2013
We found Duncan's jumper! Splitter had it.— Jesse Blanchard (@blanchardJRB) November 23, 2013
I don't like Tony Allen. I can't put my finger on why... but if someone put their elbow on it, it may become clear. Just sayin'. #GoSpursGo— VanessaMacias (@VanessaLMacias) November 23, 2013
(You know Tim's gonna nip this stuff in the bud quick)
I accept that Tiago Splitter is awesome against the Grizzlies. It's a fitting punishment for my sins.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 23, 2013
Your Three Stars:
3. Tony Parker (28 pts): Parker was struggling miserably through three quarters with just nine points (on 4-of-8 shooting), three assists and four turnovers, reminiscent of his crash-and-burn in the first round against the Grizzlies in 2011, but he took over in the fourth as has been his custom, with 11 points and two dimes to put away Memphis for good.
2. Tiago Splitter (4 pts): If you ever needed proof that my Three Stars system is faulty -- and God help you if you didn't -- somehow I've only awarded Splitter one third star and one second star through 12 games, even though in some respects he's been the team's most consistently good player on both ends. Anyway, he had 17 against the Grizzles, bottled Z-Bo pretty well and even showed Duncan how to hit an 18-footer.
1. Manu Ginobili (9 pts): At long last, Gino gets the nod for the top spot, and he earned it with an all-around brilliant game with 15 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds. He was the principal figure for a bench run early in the second quarter, had the clinching three late and led the team with a +18. He's the seventh Spur so far to earn first star status, but ironically it still hasn't come yet for the Land Walrus or Sparkles.
Next Up: Vs. Cleveland (4-9), Saturday, Nov. 23: Man, am I looking way wrong about the Cavs so far. I thought they'd challenge the Knicks for the fifth seed. Well, come to think of it, they do have a better record than New York so far, so maybe I'm not that far off. Cleveland is on a SEGABABA just like the Spurs though, they're 1-7 on the road and they blew a 12-point lead with 4:28 to go at New Orleans on Friday night, allowing the Hornets to blitz them 23-7 down the stretch to steal that game. It's not a surprise that a Mike Brown-coached team is struggling offensively, but the Cavs have been atrocious through 13 games, with just about everyone outside of Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving giving them nothing. First overall pick Anthony Bennett has been historically bad and free agent acquisition Jarrett Jack has been mostly a disappointment, though he did breakout somewhat against the Pelicans with 19 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) and four assists and it figures he'll heat up just when the Spurs are on the schedule... Andrew Bynum, who didn't have a rebound in 18 minutes against New Orleans, may not play because of the SEGABABA situation and Anderson Varejao still hasn't found his groove. I like the Spurs, as long as Dion Waiters keeps his hands to himself, to keep the win streak going.
MORE FROM Pounding the rock
- Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
- Reviewing the Spurs' first 10 games of the season
- Spurs survive vicious Grizzly attack, Davy Crockett their way to nine straight
- Why you'll never appreciate Tiago Splitter if you just go by the box score
- What the Spurs should do as long as Tim Duncan shoots poorly