Tonight was an object lesson in never taking anything for granted.
I was feeling like absolute hell all last night and today, a combination of being overworked and having a really bad diet. My body was shaking, I couldn't keep any food down, and I spent most of the day in bed. It was agonizing to even move. I came this close to begging off the game and asking JRW to find someone else to cover it.
To think, after a lifetime as a Spurs fan where before I would've given my left arm to get to cover them and to attend all the home games for free, after a dozen or so the feeling was already old hat and routine, to the point where I was dreading another one the schedule. Why can't they just take a day off and let me sleep or better yet go on an extended road trip for a couple of months? One four-game losing streak and I've already checked out, like I'm watching a team that's been long eliminated just playing out the string on the schedule. Pathetic.
As miserable as I was feeling, I could tell things weren't going to be normal fairly quickly. For one thing, Gregg Popovich spoke for 11 minutes in pregame, which was a bit unusual, and even took the time to give some thoughtful answers at times about Tim Duncan and other topics. For another, Pop revealed that Tony Parker would play after all, which was a major surprise. Parker had missed the past five games with a strained hamstring and eight of the past nine. Pop said that he'd play "a few minutes."
He wound up playing 33:46, second only to Duncan's 34:42, and led the Spurs with 26 points, on 11-of-18 shooting, because of course he would.
"It was very painful to watch the last five games," Parker confirmed, adding, "I don't even know when the last time it was that we lost four in a row but I was just trying to bring the energy and be aggressive and I was just happy to be out there."
His teammates certainly were as well, perhaps none more so than Manu Ginobili, who had the extra play-making role on his shoulders with Parker out, which wore him down by the time fourth quarters hit and had him operating on fumes by the overtime periods. Ginobili only had four of his 19 points in the second half against the Clippers --it was the first game he made more than half of his shots since Nov. 26 against the Pacers-- but helped put them away with six fourth-quarter assists as part of 10 overall for him and a season-high 37 for the Spurs.
"Of course having Tony in gives me a lot of plays where I play off the ball and it allows me to rest," Ginobili explained, "so it was hard to go and play it every time, especially when we play three overtimes, so down the stretch my legs were not responding and it was very frustrating and I was very disappointed after those games, so it's nice to bounce back with a good win against a great team."
Ginobili added that he usually fights with Pop to play on the second nights of back-to-backs, but he didn't so much as utter a peep when told he wouldn't make the flight to Dallas on Saturday. "I wasn't ready, my legs were messed up," he said.
Parker was worried about messing his hamstring as all, explaining that a pull would sideline him a further six weeks. He already rushed back too soon once from the injury, when he took the floor against the Lakers after missing three games, and wanted to make sure not to repeat the same mistake. "I came back a little early but I wanted to help my team," he said. "As a competitor you always want to come back fast so this time I took a bit more time to make sure I'm 100 percent."
Both offenses were operating at or close to 100 percent efficiency in a first half that saw six players (Parker, Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli for the Spurs and J.J. Redick and Glen Davis for the Clips) score more in the opening 24 minutes than their season averages per game. Popovich had said after Game 3 of the Finals that he didn't expect to ever see his squad shoot 75 percent for a half again yet it took all of 31 games that count for guys to pull it off, making 30-of-40 shots against a hapless Clippers defense that kept leaving shooters open, particularly from the corners. Seven Spurs in all his threes, where they finished 13-of-23 (56.5) while achieving season-highs in points (125) and field goal percentage (63.6).
As good as Parker was, he may not have even been the team's best Frenchman on this night nor Ginobili the best reserve. Boris Diaw was fantastic, hitting 9-of-11 shots and scoring 23 to go with six boards, while Duncan finished with 21 and 12, moving to within two of Karl Malone in double-doubles (812) and passing Reggie Miller for 18th on the all-time scoring list (25,288 points).
After a tough couple of weeks it was a welcome return to the "Neo-ball" Spurs that inspired YouTube videos in their honor and gained them fans all over the basketball world last summer. Even without Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills, they can still be brilliant every now and then. And they needed to be, as the Clippers, as ultimately flawed as the are, are no joke offensively. They had 24 points halfway through the first quarter with J.J. Redick torching Kyle Anderson and though they cooled off from that torrid pace a little, the fewest points the Spurs held them to in any quarter was 27, in the second. The Clips shot a relatively pedestrian 50 percent, but they made 10 threes as well and were far more prolific at the free-throw line, making 22-of-29. Redick finished with 21, Blake Griffin shook off a quiet first half to score 22 with six assists and Paul led them with 25 and nine assists to offset Parker in their rivalry.
The Spurs blew a 17-point lead in the game but three straight Ginobili assists to, in order, Danny Green, Duncan and Tiago Splitter helped open up a gap and the Spurs barely held on. It was looking dicey there for a minute. As brilliant as Diaw was, he was that bad in the final minute, fouling Paul on a three-pointer and missing both free throws on the other end. The crowd was in full groan when Ginobili missed his first free throw too, but he hit the second to keep the gap at four points with 22 seconds to go and the Clippers missed some threes after that, ensuring the Spurs first home win since Dec. 10 against the lowly Knicks.
All in all, a fun night at the AT&T Center, and I felt far better by the end, with some color returning to my face and a spring in my step. I'm not saying the Spurs healed me or anything, but it's remarkable the psychological effect that watching a bunch of strangers bouncing a ball up and down the floor can have. I'm already looking forward to the next game.
Your Three Stars:
3) Tony Parker (36 pts)
2) Manu Ginobili (29 pts)
1) Boris Diaw (20 pts)