The Spurs bounced back in Istanbul against Fenerbahce Ulker after a rather surprising loss to Alba Berlin on Wednesday. The European tour might not have been as successful as expected from a performance standpoint but watching those Turkish fans get into the game when their team attempted a comeback in the third quarter shows why it's worth it for NBA teams to makes these trips. Now, it's time for the Spurs to come home and refocus.
After largely sticking with the regular rotation against Alba Berlin on Wednesday, Pop decided to change things up and DNP-CD Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Marco Belinelli and Kyle Anderson started in their places and Austin Daye got the nod at power forward. The results were not particularly good. Parker and Duncan kept the team running but Anderson could not stop Emir Prezdlic and with the guards not helping on the boards and Daye at PF, Fenerbahce had the edge inside.
Manu checked in early for Slowmo but he started out completely out of sync with his teammates. As the minutes went by he settle into a nice rhythm and looked more like the Manu we know and love, weaving beautiful passes instead of committing cringe-worthy turnovers. But what really allowed the Spurs to build a buffer in the scoreboard was not the pretty ball-movement and great shooting we are used to seeing from them but their ability to get to the line. Just like against Alba, no one could stop Parker and Duncan and Ginobili use their wiliness to draw contact.
With both teams ice cold from outside, the gigantic 16 free throw differential the Spurs went into the break with was the biggest reason they led by seven.
We had an unlikely and fun duel to start the third quarter between Jan Vesely, who scored nine points in the frame, and Kyle Anderson, who scored eight. But aside from that entertaining curiosity the game grew increasingly ugly and sloppy, with turnovers and short possessions abounding. That type of play initially benefited Fenerbahce, which rode an Andrew Goudelock barrage into an unlikely comeback, at one point leading by one. But Tony Parker responded with 13 third quarter points and the Spurs quickly regained the lead. Then Manu was fouled on a three point attempt and converted all three and Parker followed with a couple more free throws to continue the huge advantage at the line. Those freebies allowed the Spurs to put a five-point gap between them and Fenerbahce going into the final quarter.
The first bucket of the fourth was scored by Fenerbahce and trimmed the lead to three. Memories of Wednesday's game were creeping back but the Spurs simply didn't let this one slip away. The defensive effort increased and the result was a double digit lead that they managed until the final minutes. Then with some pretty execution first on a Ginobili-Duncan pick-and-roll and then a high-low Duncan-Parker pass, they sealed the win, 96-90.
- The high minutes for the stars things is strange. For the second pre-season game in a row Duncan and Parker played over 30 minutes each and Ginobili was in the high twenties in this one. Is Pop trying to get them to build stamina? Giving an audience that might never get to see those guys play again a treat? Or is he simply mad at his subs for underachieving? I'm not sure. But I don't expect the Big Three to keep playing that much in the upcoming games.
- Daye and Anderson started the game playing pretty poorly and only Anderson got better as the minutes passed. He wasn't great but he looked like he belonged in the second half and Pop rewarded his improvement by having him out there with the usual closers in Kawhi's spot. Daye was a train wreck throughout, getting outplayed and outhustled by Jan Vesely while not making the opponent pay on the other end. It would be silly to overreact to a single pre-season game but Daye let a great opportunity to show his worth slip. His stock might be falling.
- Duncan and Parker combined for 45 points, 14 boards and eight assists. Tony was once again phenomenal, this time showing off his mid-range jumper and finding Tim for easy buckets. Duncan struggled once again with turnovers and he clearly misses having Splitter flanking him on defense but he looks like he's in great shape.
- In two games Manu Ginobili has taken only seven field goal attempts and committed nine turnovers. Still, he's moving well and has been getting to the line at will so there's probably nothing to worry about. And fortunately, there's time for him to re-calibrate his shot and get in sync with his teammates before the season starts. So don't sound the alarms just yet.
- You would think Boris Diaw and Aron Baynes would look sharper on the court than the other Spurs, since they competed at a high level recently. Not so. Boris is looking very pedestrian, not displaying the aggressiveness that helped the Spurs win the title. And Baynes has looked unfocused. Neither is playing particularly poorly, mind you. Just not excelling in any way. Hopefully they get better as the pre-season progresses.
- Marco Belinelli is 2-15 for the pre-season (0-7 from three). Marco needs to hit shots to have value and he's not doing that right now. I'm completely fine with him going through this slump in pre-season but the Spurs are going to need him to be sharp to start the season, especially with Mills out. Just keep shooting and break out of the funk, Marco.
- Speaking of Mills, his replacement in the second unit played well. Cory Joseph hustles, as we all know. And that sometimes goes a long way, especially on defense. Offensively I still don't like the fit but CoJo got to the line and moved the ball, so I can't complain.
- Some of the lineups Pop threw out there were so weird that JaMychal Green played the three on offense for a while. So, yeah. Maybe we shouldn't draw many conclusions from this game.
- Green was good, by the way. I like his energy and his athleticism but I still don't think he makes the roster. Matt Bonner, meanwhile, played 17 seconds and hit a three to finish with a +3 because that's what Matt Bonner do.
- Fenerbahce is loaded. It will take some time for all the pieces to fit together but Goudelock, Bogdanovic, Savas, Zoric, Erden, Predlzic, Bjelica, Hickman and Vesely is a really good nine-man rotation and Željko Obradović is the only coach with a more sterling Euroleague record than Ettore Messina, having won eight titles. They could make the final four if everything clicks and are arguably a much better team than Alba Berlin, for what it's worth.
The Spurs' European adventure is over and their record is 1-1, not that it matters. For the German and Turkish audience this was surely a great experience and the Spurs got a chance to do some sightseeing and play great teams they wouldn't otherwise face. Now they'll travel back to San Antonio where they will regroup before visiting the Suns in Phoenix for their third pre-season game on Thursday.