Game 23, at Utah: Spurs 100, Jazz 84 Rec: 19-4 1st in Southwest, 2nd in West Streak: W-4
Two weeks ago if you told me that Gregg Popovich would send Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard to Utah, let alone play them some semblance of their regular minutes, I wouldn't have believed you.
The Spurs boss may lean toward liberalism when it comes to his worldview, but he's been an arch-conservative when it comes to babying his graybeards the past few years, particularly Duncan and the oft-injured Ginobili. Naturally I thought a brutal stretch of the schedule, with the Spurs playing their fourth game in five nights and in the midst of seven in ten nights, including "complicated" affairs at the Clippers and the Warriors, set up for Pop to give his main guys the game off.
It turned out I was wrong, for one reason I hadn't considered and another I couldn't have planned for. First, the Jazz game was the first of a four-game road swing for the Spurs. I believe if their next game Monday night happened to have been at home instead of in Los Angeles, then Pop very likely would've elected to rest his main guys and attempted to beat a very poor Utah squad with his B-team. Obviously there was the option of resting the vets and having them join the others Sunday afternoon in LA, but I believe that The Big Three have made it known to Pop that they are strongly against this tactic, almost as much as David Stern is, because they don't want to be held above their teammates in such an obvious fashion.
The other factor though had to be, at least on some level, Tiago Splitter's calf strain. I believe if he was healthy then Pop would've been less willing to hear Duncan's protests about wanting to play. With Splitter on the mend and Baynes iffy though, Pop apparently gave in and let his meal ticket play.
What if there's more to it though? What if, even though he'd never admit to it without a truth serum IV strapped to him, that Pop does keep an eye on the standings -- if not in relation to the Pacers necessarily, then at least the Heat, the Thunder and the Blazers? Is it at all possible that the playoff disappointments of the past few years have either consciously or subconsciously altered Pop's approach in the regular season? How many elimination games on the road against foul-drawing superduperstars must the team suffer before the lesson sinks in? It's really hard to win to those do-or-die games on the road, even when you have the better team on paper.
I don't care what the Spurs record is compared to Indiana's, but man do I want it to be better than Miami's and Oklahoma City's. I want no part of a potential road Game 7 in those places. Is a seemingly innocuous thing like deciding to play his regular guys in a December game at Utah a subtle sign that Pop agrees with me, or am I reading too much into things?
Don't answer that.
Regardless, it was nice to see the guys have a relatively clean, quiet, uneventful win against the woebegone Jazz. Energy was in short supply throughout as the Spurs totaled just six steals, one lone block and allowed Utah to leak out to the tune of 21 fast break points. Despite that, the team marshaled up the collective will to dominate the boards and offensively they never had to get out of third gear to put away a Utah team that never met a screen that couldn't befuddle them in their own end.
These four games went about as well as we could've hoped, but now comes a couple of earnest tests with the Clippers and Warriors. The ironic thing about earning home-court advantage is that you have to win some tough road games along the way to do it.
Standard Duncan Quote:
"It was a very good win against a young team that is starting to play better. We respect them and did a good job of playing horn to horn."
By The Numbers:
19,330: The paid attendance at the ironically-named Energy Solutions Arena. The actual attendance wasn't close to that if the TV shots in the lower bowl were any indication.
.565: Belinelli's league-leading three-point percentage after Saturday's 3-of-3 effort from downtown.
3: Number of field-goal attempts for Diaw, in 23 minutes. He must've been tired or bored.
+23: Then again, Diaw led everyone in plus/minus.
1: Blocks by the Spurs for the game. Yes, energy was an issue.
34-26-11 In the past 24 hours, 37-year-old Tim Duncan totaled 34 points on 14-of-28 shooting with 26 rebounds and 11 assists. I'm calling that a triple-double.
4: Four wins in four games for a FOGAFINI for the geriatric Spurs. Not too shabby.
8: Eight straight games the Spurs have cracked 100 points. Just 6-2 in that stretch though.
1: The Spurs have reclaimed the NBA regular-season championship belt for one day. Let's see how long they hang on to it this time.
Sequence of the Game:
With 2:30 to go in the third quarter Ginobili got a rebound and tried to fire a long outlet pass to Diaw who had leaked out, but the ball didn't have enough steam on it and Jeremy Evans of the Jazz caught up to intercept it. Moments later, guarding Gordon Hayward at the top of the key, Ginobili poked the ball away from him from behind right to Marco Belinelli, who lobbed it over to a streaking Ginobili for the uncontested dunk. Immediately making up for a dumb turnover is the trademark of Manu's career, I think.
Tweets of the Night:
Even the players look bored out of their minds.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) December 15, 2013
Bill and Sean have already resorted to "Wings on the Plane" Talk. Struggling here, people.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) December 15, 2013
Manu Ginobili is just ricocheting off of Enes Kanter— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) December 15, 2013
Literally zipped over his mouth RT @danmccarneysaen: Leonard did his entire postgame interview last night, all 30 seconds, w/ his hoodie up.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) December 15, 2013
Tim Duncan: "I sucked so bad the first 20 games or so, it wasn't hard to play better."— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) December 15, 2013
I knew Ty Corbin was an awful coach, but seeing the Jazz in action tonight really drove the message home in overwhelming fashion. Yes, Kanter has been somewhat disappointing so far as a pro and doesn't look at all like a star in the offing. Still, he's a better player both now and in the future than the fraudulent Marvin Williams, who's been a joke of a player his whole career and is extremely fortunate to still even be in the league, much less starting. Why the Jazz would elect to play small with Williams rather than play conventionally with two legit bigs is beyond me.
Your Three Stars:
3. Tony Parker (32 pts): He had a better stat line by far the night before versus the T-Pups, but Parker was more composed from start to finish here and got his teammates involved early on, even though Duncan fired a few blanks. Once Ayres was off the floor, Parker and whatever lineup he was piloting clicked just fine.
2. Aron Baynes (6 pts): Consecutive second-star appearances for The Big Banger, who missed two games in between with a sprained ankle. As with his initial strong showing at Toronto, Baynes showed an ability to rebound and to finish authoritatively close to the basket, unlike the hapless Ayres. Even when Splitter returns to the lineup, Baynes is giving Pop something to think about for the second unit.
1. Tim Duncan (44 pts): Started just 2-of-7 in the early going but made seven of his final ten shots and finished with 22 and 12 in a strong 29 minutes while doing a fine job on Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter on the other end. A very impressive performance from him considering that he played 35 minutes the night before.
Next Up: @Los Angeles Clippers (16-9), Monday, Dec. 16: A successful FOGAFINI behind them, the Spurs get to enjoy a day off in la-la land before embarking on another grueling TIGAFONI, where the competition will be a significant step in class, with two playoff teams and potentially three to face over the next four nights. The first test (the kind the Spurs have failed all season thus far, it must be said) comes against a most unlikable Clippers team, featuring Chris Paul, who's coming off a monster 38-point, 12-assist performance in a 113-97 thumping of the lowly Wizards, and his pair of lob buddies in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, both of whom are among the league's rebound leaders. The Clips will be marginally different from when we lost saw them since Doc Rivers is their head whistle, but at least the Spurs catch a break in that J.J. Redick will be out with a broken hand. In his stead, however, should be Stephen Jackson, who's still looking to knock off the rust since signing on with LA a week ago. So far he's made 1-of-8 shots (0-of-6 from downtown) in 43 minutes over three games. He probably still thinks he's better than Manu. I'm thinking this will likely be an L due to the fatigue of the last week and the step up in competition, but hopefully I'll be wrong. If it's close Pop could always elect to put Jordan at the line, and that's an excellent strategy to catch up.