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Morning Rehash: I'd Like to Thank the Supporting Cast

In what appeared on paper to be a trap game, the Spurs did their job and controlled a Timberwolves team that clearly is in search of answers.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden Globes were on last night, along with a Spurs game. The Golden Globes are a strangely important movie and television awards show presided over by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, itself a minuscule (less than 100 people) group of working journalists. It has garnered a lot of respect because in the past it was noticed that the winners of the Golden Globes often lined up quite nicely with Academy Award Oscar winners, which I guess is something that should be celebrated. The Globes are boozy, star-filled and frequently surprising, as the HFPA seems to always love jumping on newly arriving TV shows (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a perfectly reasonable if unremarkable sitcom, took home Best TV Comedy) and supporting A-List movie stars in performances that might not garner them critical appreciation elsewhere (although they did hit the sweet spot with Leonardo DiCaprio's f-bomb fueled performance in Wolf of Wall Street).

While I would never say an awards show that feels like it's trying to impress the people it invites to the tables, and not the other way around, is more fun than a Spurs game, I will say that the Spurs' thorough handling of Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves was nothing if not satisfactorily perfunctory. The game itself was not without its dramas, and at times it seemed like the sheer mass of Nikola Pekovic was going to drive Tim Duncan apoplectic (he did get a tech, after all). But for the most part the Spurs seemed well in control of a team that has given them fits over the past few seasons.

That control is a good thing. A great thing, even. The Timberwolves are not a great team. On paper, they should be fantastic, with a Top 10 big man (Love), a Top 25 big man (Pekovic), a point guard with unreal passing skills (Ricky Rubio) and a wing rotation including one of the most dead-eye shooters in the league (Kevin Martin). Yet watching the Wolves, it's clear they're a mess. Rick Adelman, whose greatness does not need to be reinforced here, spent quite a lot of time in the first quarter focusing on trying to punish Duncan and starting power forward Boris Diaw with post-ups of both Pekovic and Love. Duncan, who hasn't had to bang with a bruiser like Pekovic in a long time thanks to the helpful size of Spurs defensively amazing Tiago Splitter, was the victim of a brutal attack by a listed 285 pound man who could definitely be pushing 300. Duncan, listed at 250 but is probably ten pounds or so less, has become quite a skinny big man in his effort to extend the lifespan of his knees. When giving up 60 pounds to a formidable and talented post player, things are going to get ornery.

Diaw fared much (much) better. While Jeff Ayres and Matt Bonner would fill in at times guarding Love, Boris Diaw proved once again why he is such a special and unique basketball player (one that I hope the Spurs don't cut ties with, but more on that in a minute). Diaw frustrated Love into one of his worst performances of the year (14 points, seven boards on 3-14 shooting), mostly through aggressively fronting the post and never allowing Love an inch. After torching the Spurs for 42 points a little under a month ago, Love was stymied largely through Gregg Popovich's analysis and adaptation to the way Adelman uses Love.

But back to control. With a team like the Timberwolves, second in the league at drawing turnovers as a team with 16.8, unconditioned or unfamiliar offensive lineups could've doomed this game to an unfortunate injury loss. The Spurs are still adapting to using a platoon of Diaw, Bonner and Jeff Ayres as replacements for Splitter, and with Manu Ginobili resting his left hamstring after his magical performance against the Grizzlies last week, Pop was forced to go with some uncommon and potentially dangerous lineup alterations. This danger was only exacerbated when Danny Green sprained his left forefinger early in the second quarter and was shut down.

Yet in a testament to the way Pop runs his practices and trains the players under him, the wily and undersized Patty Mills and Cory Joseph plugged themselves into a system which had previously not utilized them as they were used tonight. After a shaky second quarter that saw the bench players getting used to an adapted rotation and play-calling scheme, the Spurs found themselves in the dangerous territory of taking the court in the third quarter against a Timberwolves team that was not going away easily. Yet the second half saw a complete effort from the Spurs that for moments made you forget this was a team missing three of their best seven players. Matt Bonner took advantage of Minnesota's godawful closeout speeds on shooters and drained 4-5 from three point land. Patty Mills had an energy off with the unconscionably unwatchable J.J. Barea and came out way on top, single-handedly nearly putting the Wolves away in the fourth. Jeff Ayres gave twenty solid minutes and, despite skying a would-be put-back dunk nearly twenty feet in the air off the rim, showed Spurs fans why they shouldn't be so disparaging of the man; he's basically the big man Patty Mills. Ayres never stops hounding his man on defense, and while he's learned not to look for his shot when in the offense, he is also learning exactly how he can get himself in position to do what he does best - throw it down. He had three dunks in this game, and one of them might've been the biggest Spurs dunk since Kawhi Leonard massacred Mike Miller in the Finals.

Notice that I've barely brought up Tim Duncan or Tony Parker's name. That's not an accident. Both had pretty great games. Duncan willed himself to a 15-8 against Pekovic and Parker, who early in the first quarter looked to be in whiny, "why aren't you giving me any calls" mode, took a step out of the lane and started showing Ricky Rubio what a point guard with a jumper looks like. He also netted ten assists for the first time all season. So the Spurs win, and ultimate control of the Wolves, was not without the aid of the Big Two tonight.

But it's the supporting cast who deserve the lion's share of the credit for taking an adverse injury situation and turning it into a trifle. Never was this more clear than in the early fourth quarter, when Adelman and Pop pitted nearly all-bench lineups against each other: Barea / Alexey Schved / Chase Budinger / Dante Cunningham / Rony Turiaf vs. Mills / Joseph / Leonard / Ayres / Bonner. The Wolves bench is not without it's talent; Budinger is a very good player, and I personally think Schved is a great energy 7th man waiting to happen. But the way Adelman uses them - putting them all in and taking all the starters out - mitigates what could be great about Wolves bench players and makes them look, well, like scrubs. Nobody on that line is a good passer, and really none of them are fantastically good one-on-one scorers. They need help, a starter's help. The Spurs' bench unit tonight got starter's help from Leonard (whom we will absolutely get to in a second), but more than that, they seemed to understand how to play with each other to get the best results on the floor. That's hard to do with bench players, many of whom frequently are just looking for contracts or more playing time.

The injury bug has hit the Spurs a little bit. Ginobili may make his return tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans, but Danny Green has missed the trip. Tiago remains out. Spurs fans would be justified in worrying about a rough upcoming schedule coupled with those injuries. But games like this are what reminds me how excellent a coach Pop is, simply because he has managed to get superlative efforts from players that on other teams might be struggling. It is games like this that I think of Gary Neal. I harbor zero ill will toward Gary, and want him to succeed whatever team he hops around to. Listening to some of the quotes he's given about playing time and the malaise of being on the worst team in the league (the Milwaukee Bucks) makes me very sad. But at the same time, it makes me appreciate just how special the Spurs organization is for getting the contributions it does out of its role players. Golden Globe winners often rush through thanking the crew and producers that helped make their movies, yet they are frequently the people who facilitate those special moments with actors or directors. We, as Spurs fans, should go out of our way to thank the Spurs Supporting Cast for keeping this team alive through thick and thin.

Standard Pop Quote

What you got?

to beat reporters, with a deck of playing cards and a suit in hand.

Coyote (erm, I mean, Fan) Watch

It was a slow night for the Coyote (got to see a redux of that amazing Road Trippin' with the Spurs HEB commercial though). So I'm going to use this section to highlight some of the loudest cheering I have ever heard for a timeout break dance segment, and a slight apology to @spursdj. I've been tough on the guy, because I more than anything don't have any idea why he exists, but tonight he mitigated one of the greatest dance offs in sports history. The competitors? The twerking Baseline Bum who frequently dances right next to @spursdj vs. a mother in a pink Manu Ginobili jersey. It would be a crime to try and accurately describe some of the moves that were pulled off, but I will say one thing about the danceoff; the mom, at one point while trying to get her daughter more screen time, accidentally knocked over her other daughter. What did she do? She kept dancing.


Game MVP

Kawhi Leonard - 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks and 2 turnovers on 8-11 shooting (1-1 from three) in 37 minutes

I find it difficult to understate exactly how elated it made me watching Kawhi Leonard make an absolute mockery of Corey Brewer in the third quarter of this game. He was the recipient of an amazing pass from Fast Break Point Guard Tim Duncan. He showed remarkable awareness on the offensive end to know exactly whose hands to put the ball in and when, at one point being involved in a madcap offensive set that featured at least a half-dozen passes and ended in a Bonner three. He was a typical force on the defensive end, and had his close to patented coast-to-coast off the steal. Basically, this game was (hopefully) a preview of exactly what Spurs fans might be getting from an older, more mature Kawhi Leonard for many years to come. He was in command of an offense in which he was frequently the best player, which is a feeling he should get used to as Tim, Tony and Manu age.

Plus, again... it's REALLY hard to say enough of how foolish he made Corey Brewer look.

Game LVP

You know what guys... I got nothin'. This was an impressively even-keeled effort, and as much as I'd like to rag on the Timberwolves for really not seeming like they talk to each other at all on or off the court, I think I'll keep the positivity rolling for now.

Well, no, really quick though...

J.J. Barea - just because he's the worst.

Seriously. The worst.

By the Numbers

  • 0 - Number of minutes Aron Baynes and Nikola Pekovic were matched up against each other. I'd complain, but I'm fairly certain Pekovic trying to back down Baynes might result in an earthquake the likes of which we have never seen before. So... I guess good?
  • 2 - Points for Nando De Colo tonight. HOORAY.
  • 20 - Turnovers by the Spurs tonight. You will rarely see a game in which a team turned the ball over 20 times and won by nearly 20. Says something about the Timberwolves' inability to convert those turnovers into points.
  • 69.2 - Percent the Spurs shot from three (9-13). That is also why we won by nearly twenty.

Bird is the Word

Pun Gun!

Sequence of the night, no question. Three pick n' rolls, innumerable pump fakes... Bonner corner three splash.

Tina Fey, just an amazing human being.

Let's just rename them direwolves and get it over with.

More on this below...

Odds and Ends

  • Ok, we've all seen the Ken Berg blurb; the Spurs are being "unusually aggressive" early in NBA trading season. While it would be folly for any of us to possibly have an inkling as to what goes on in the minds of the PATFO, it's worth noting that unless the Spurs think they can get a huge piece, I can't see a trade happening. The Spurs have, effectively, three assets: their first round pick (not incredibly valuable at the low end of the first round), a bevy of role players on attractive contracts (Green/Diaw/Bonner/Ayres/Joseph/De Colo) and Tony Parker. Setting aside Parker, because who on earth thinks that's happening, I don't see how a deal gets done that significantly helps the Spurs win right now. Any deal would likely have to involve the pick + Green/Diaw and possibly a third player or another pick and frankly... I don't want to give up Diaw or Green. They are both system players that work well in the Spurs system, Diaw especially. I think we all high undervalue the things Boris Diaw brings to this team. It would be awesome to be able to snag Thaddeus Young away from the Sixers, but doing so at the expense of Diaw and our pick kind of turns my stomach. I think this is a classic case of the Spurs doing their due diligence, and after working ourselves into a tizzy, Spurs fans will likely find much the same roster as today after the deadline passes. I know it would be amazing to somehow snag Pau Gasol for Nando De Colo, but it's not happening.
  • And don't even TRY to post your fake trades getting us J.R. Smith. JUST. DON'T. DO. IT.
  • I continue to maintain Alexey Schved can be a very good player, and did the Spurs not have an army of smallish SG who can pass as PGs, I would be salivating over a way to get Schved onto the Spurs. He's an energy guy stuck in a bad system, and needs to be set free.
  • Terry Porter, Ime Udoka and a puffy-vested Bruce Bowen shared some nice chat time during pregame shootaround, which I thought was an interesting trio that I would never think to see together.
  • OK, So my friend Treye and I have an idea... the All-Star Game is coming up, and amidst my arguments with Matt Tynan on the likelihood of a Spur making it into the game, my friend and I thought up another wrinkle to the All-Star roster decision process. Other than colossal idiocy on the part of some NBA fans (Kobe Bryant leading the Western Conference in votes despite playing six games), I think the system works very well to reward deserving star players. But one area that All-Star frequently shirks is the importance and excitement of a great Sixth Man. So, what Treye and I propose is adding another fan-voted player at the expense of one of the Wild Card spots that would normally be chosen by the coaches. This would be known as the SIXTH MAN ALL-STAR. The Sixth Man All-Star would have to be a player that almost uniformly comes off the bench, but still qualifies with star numbers. Obviously we got into this discussion because of the unlikelihood of Manu Ginobili making the All-Star team, despite him being the best Spur for a month or so now. Ginobili would be a frontrunner for this, as would Jamal Crawford, Reggie Jackson, Jarrett Jack (last year), and the player selected from both teams would be the first sub in during the All-Star game. I think it's a cool wrinkle to add some spice to the always somewhat trite Wild Card Spots. I would obviously go with Manu in the West. In the East... oh god. There's nobody. Norris Cole?! Anyway.... thoughts everybody?

Going Forward

@ New Orleans Pelicans (15-21), Monday January 13, 7pm CST: Pop got some blessed time in the late third and fourth to rest Duncan and Parker, for they will be needed if the Spurs are to have any chance of surviving this banged up SEGABABA. Hopefully we'll see the return of Manu Ginobili, although if his tightness hasn't loosened, I'd rather have the man sit. Health is more important than a schedule loss to a non-playoff team. The Pelicans are in the midst of a 1-6 freefall, and can't get their defense straight despite having one of the already Top 10 defensive big men in the league on their team (Anthony Davis who, I should remind you, is not old enough to drink). I don't have extremely high hopes for this game, but the Spurs have been performing admirably on SEGABABAs this year, and considering the relatively short distance the Spurs had to travel, it's not out of the realm of possibility that a win is in order. I'll be on the mic at @poundingtherock for the game, come join me and voice your concerns about the Spurs active trade negotiations!