Not only do the Basketball Gods exist, but those jerks have a sick sense of humor.
What started out as unwatchable, sluggish, sloppy vaguely basketball-like substance between two exhausted teams who looked like they'd rather be on the dentist chair during New Year's Eve than the court turned, over the course of the fourth quarter, and, inexplicably another overtime into the latest December Spurs classic. Only this time, just to zig when you thought they'd zag, the Spurs won, just when their circumstances looked the bleakest.
It turns out they've been doing it wrong this whole time. The key to winning one of these games is to be the team that's trailing a tick before regulation time ends. Though the Spurs led for most of the night, with just slightly better execution and less horrid shot selection than their Pelicans counterparts, New Orleans nevertheless crawled back into the game, led by a season-high 14 from Jimmer Fredette (speaking of Zags), all of which came in the second half. It didn't help matters any that the Spurs starters --Gregg Popovich mixed it up, starting Matt Bonner and Kyle Anderson alongside Tim Duncan, Danny Green and Cory Joseph-- were completely wretched for three quarters, totaling 21 points between the five of them. Pop mostly tried the hockey-style five-man substitution thing again, and the Manu Ginobili-led bench crew was very effective, repeatedly giving the Spurs a cushion only for the starters to hand it right back.
The Spurs had a 3:43 scoring drought late in the fourth, allowing the Pelicans to retake the lead for the first time since Patty Mills' corner three with a second to go in the opening period and trailed 76-73 when Ginobili tied the game with his fifth three of the night with 4:07 to go. The two sides squandered some chances until Tyreke Evans gave the Pelicans an 82-80 lead to go, only for Duncan to tie it up seconds later with a floater over the hulking Omer Asik. Another heartbreaking loss seemed in the offing when human pterodactyl Anthony Davis slammed home a wild Evans miss off the glass with just 0.7 seconds left. The Spurs only chance to tie was a miracle lob, which is exactly what they got, courtesy of Asik, who scored an "own goal," tipping in the errant entry pass and helplessly watching it trickle in.
"Uh, suuuuure," was Duncan's deadpan reply when asked if he got a hand on the ball at all, adding, "That's my answer and I'm sticking with it."
Replays were inconclusive, but this isn't soccer so he got credit for the bucket regardless. Meanwhile, a snarky JRW suggested that I should give Asik an honorary YTS point for his hand -- wonk wonk -- in the victory, and I would have too if he wasn't my home boy.
This still being December of 2014, barely, the Spurs immediately squandered their good fortune and fell behind by five a couple different times in overtime, but rallied with a pair of layups and a free throw from Ginobili and a go-ahead freebie from Green after he blocked Evans at the rim and got fouled on the rebound. Davis gave the Pelicans one last lead on and-one bucket, but missed the ensuing free throw, and perhaps Pop caught them off-guard, electing to not call time but rather hustle into a play after the miss. Ginobili got it to Duncan, who darted it right back to him on the back cut give-and-go to put the Spurs up one. Evans being Evans, he shot a three-pointer when all that required was a two. Duncan got the rebound, his tenth, to give him his 814th career double-double, tying him for fifth all-time with Karl Malone. (Earlier in the game he passed Walt Bellamy for tenth on the all-time rebounding list.) Duncan missed the second free throw on purpose, per Popovich's instructions, and some timekeeper shenanigans still gave the Pelicans one last shot to tie with a lob of their own, with 0.3 seconds to go. To the surprise of literally everyone in the building, Davis couldn't quite tip it home, and the Spurs had their win at last.
"I'm just really proud of the guys," said a relieved Popovich afterward. "I can't imagine a better group to have done what they did this month. The 18 games and seven back-to-backs, and the quality of opponents is ridiculous. I don't think that anybody else is playing 10 or 11 playoff-type teams in one month, in addition to the back-to-backs. I think these guys persevered really well, and we probably could have won a few more games... but exhaustion got us several times. It looked like it did it again when we were down five with two minutes to go in overtime, but that's why these guys are a fantastic group, they just hung in there and just kept on playing."
In all, while it will certainly will be an impossible month to forget, with five overtime games (in which this was the only victory) and nine overtime periods in all, the Spurs will do certainly do their very best to do just that. They went 8-10 in December, their worst record for a full month in the Tim Duncan Era, and two more losses than their previous worst. Ginobili for one, who was so tired by the end that he asked to sit rather than stand for the media throng greeting him, wanted to put the month behind him immediately, and he was the star of the game.
"I think so," replied Ginobili when asked if tonight's game could serve as a psychological boost for the team, "Nobody can tell if we're going to be better, but the last ten days were sort of a drag."
Indeed the Spurs have gone 3-7 against playoff-caliber western competition and a talented Wizards squad is on tap for Saturday, but at least the team will get to enjoy a couple days of respite in 2015 first. They're going to need it, since Kawhi Leonard, and possibly Tony Parker, still won't be ready to aid to the cause anytime soon.
Whatever, they'll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. For now it was nice to end 2014 with a win, however they got it. Lest we forget, the fellas won quite a few games this calender year, and some of them didn't even require tips at the buzzer that may or may not have touched the hand of a basketball god.
Your 3 Stars
3. Tiago Splitter (5 pts)
2. Tim Duncan (54 pts)
1. Manu Ginobili (41 pts)