With the team visiting OKC on Thursday, Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. With Ginobili out, that meant the Spurs were going to be without three of their leading scorers. I'm sure the idea was to give Tim Duncan the night off as well but with DeJuan Blair out with a stomach virus, Big Fun had to suit up. Fortunately, the Magic were the opponent and they are, simply put, not a good basketball team. It's obviously by design since they are rebuilding. Jacque Vaughn has had his guys playing hard but they are not particularly talented and on this contest, they were missing all their veterans.
It could have easily turned into a trap game if the Spurs didn't feel the need to approach the Magic "with the appropriate fear," as Pop likes to say. Fortunately at the start of the game that didn't seem like the case. The team was energized and active on defense, especially Nando De Colo, who got the start this time. They were moving the ball and taking turns on offense instead of giving De Colo all of the playmaking responsibility. Duncan and Jackson started off poorly but with Gary Neal sniping away en route to eight first quarter points, it didn't seem to matter. The Spurs managed to score a very good 28 points in the first quarter but couldn't pull away as they allowed 23 to the visitors.
Neal stayed hot to start the second quarter and with a lineup that included Gary, Danny Green and Matt Bonner it seemed the Spurs were going use Tiago Splitter to pick and roll Nikola Vucevic and the Magic to death. Instead the Spurs continued to run their usual sets, which shows a lot of discipline and confidence in the system. But as the minutes passed, you could see the Spurs were starting to get overconfident on both ends, and that resulted in turnovers and mediocre transition defense, which the Magic took advantage off. Those 13 fast break points the Magic scored, plus their seven second chance points, boosted their terrible offense to keep it close going into the break. After two quarters the Spurs led by five, 51-46.
Pop decided to sit Duncan for the second half, with Splitter in his place. Things weren't looking good when the Magic kept running and cut the Spurs' lead to one, but Pop called a timeout and the Spurs got a Danny Green corner three off a set play. With the Magic hanging around but not really threatening the win, Pop started emptying his bench. Aron Baynes got some serious minutes and a three point guard lineup got some run in all permutations. Tiago Splitter and Stephen Jackson didn't return. It definitely seemed a little premature considering the Spurs hadn't really pulled away, but it appeared as though Pop didn't want to tire his core guys and was curious to see what the end of his bench could give him.
I'm not going to lie, there were some rough patches and the offense was hard to watch. But the scrubs held their own. We know what guys like Neal, Bonner and even Nando De Colo can provide but the deep bench, Patty Mills, Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph (aptly named PB&J by Chajamamama) showed why they are on an NBA roster. Joseph is a good floor general that gets the team into its sets, Mills is a ball of energy, and Baynes is a proper big man that can muscle his way into rebounds. He even flashed a semblance of offensive versatility by hitting a turn around, fade away jumper in the post
We had to wait a little longer than would have been ideal, but the Spurs went on a 10-0 run with 7:37 to go in the fourth and never looked back. This game was simply the appetizer and the Spurs knew it; the main course is tomorrow's meet up with the Thunder. But with Pop giving us a glimpse at what Baynes can do and using quirky lineups, at least this weird little game had entertainment value for those completists watching.
I'll keep these short since you can't really draw conclusions from a Spurs-Magic game in which the majority of the stars/veterans were not playing.
- Not a good game for Captain Jack, who couldn't get going offensively. Instead of settling for jumpers he tried to get to the rim but ended up forcing things. Worst yet, Vucevic stepped on his ankle and he'll have to get an MRI. He's not traveling to OKC with the team. Bummer.
- Everyone outside of Danny Green and Gary Neal struggled from outside, but those two guys were all the Spurs needed. Neal went 4-8 and Danny Green went 4-7 as the two combined for 36 points.
- Tiago Splitter almost got a double-double in less than 17 minutes and Diaw collected seven boards and four assists. Aron Baynes had nine and five in 17 minutes and Matt Bonner had a stabilizing presence on the team when the lineups got really weird. (Yes, you read the correctly.) We could say all the bigs had good games.
- I have no idea what tonight means for the back up PG spot race, if anything, but everyone got some run. De Colo started up really, really well but then sort of fizzled. Mills wasn't particularly efficient but he was definitely aggressive. Neal doesn't bring a lot to the table but when he's hot, he can change a game. And Joseph looks like a very disciplined guy that takes care of the ball. They all looked OK but it was against a shorthanded Orlando team after all. I doubt this game influences how Pop sees any of them.
Tomorrow the Spurs visit OKC in a game with serious seeding implications. If the Spurs beat the Thunder, keeping the first seed becomes a bit more believable. But if they lose, it's almost certain that they will fall to the second spot for good. I expect Parker, Leonard and Duncan to play tomorrow. It's going to be fun.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the excellent Orlando Pinstriped Post