Game 20, vs. Minnesota: Spurs 123, Timberwolves 101 Rec: 15-5 3rd in Southwest, 5th in West Streak: W-2
One of my favorite all-time movies is "The Zero Effect," about an eccentric private detective named Darryl Zero. In the film he's trying to solve a case while at the same time recording his memoirs and philosophies for the benefit of future generations. A part I especially loved was his philosophy about looking for clues.
When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you're only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them.
I thought of that line for some reason prior to tip-off Saturday night, in what turned out to be a wholly expected, by-the-script 123-101 Spurs massacre of the injury-ravaged Timberwolves at the AT&T Center. Gregg Popovich explained before the game that not only would Tiago Splitter (left calf) and Patty Mills (shoulder surgery) be out as has been the case all year, but that Tony Parker (slight left hamstring strain) and Manu Ginobili (left shoulder impingement) would miss the game as well.
Of course, those ailments would pale in comparison to what's going in with Minnesota, which Pop likened to a team-wide flu epidemic before the game. "If only," Flip Saunders would think at the notion. Their starting backcourt of Ricky Rubio (sprained left ankle) and Kevin Martin (fractured right wrist) are both out long term, behemoth center Nikola Pekovic (sprained right wrist) will be shelved a while longer and even longtime Spurs-killer Mo Williams was out with back spasms. Their whole team right now are kids. Talented kids, for sure, but still kids.
So that's the neat thing about being the Spurs. Even when two or three of your very good basketball players go down, you still have a bunch of other good basketball players. Even without two Hall-of-Famers in Parker and Ginobili, their best bench sniper in Mills and a top-notch rim protrector in Splitter, they still went to battle against the shorthanded Timberwolves with ONLY Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw and on and on.
The thing is, not only do the Spurs go a legit 12-deep, but those 12 guys have experience playing with one another. Marco Belinelli and Aron Baynes joined last year, but the other 10 have been together since at least 2012. That "corporate knowledge" is helpful in situations such as these, where missing major pieces seems to be the norm rather than the exception.
Cory Joseph wasn't supposed to be a big part of the puzzle, but he's been pressed into duty because Mills won't be ready until 2015. The hope was that Joseph could mind the store and be merely solid. He's been far better than that, building off his playing time in Parker's absence last season and having a better sense of his strengths and weaknesses. Already, he's pretty much put the three-pointer on mothballs since it's just not his shot. Instead, he's sticking to 18-footers, hitting them at a 53.8 percent clip; or just driving all the way to the bucket.
Joseph finished with a career-high tying 18 points and had four "and-1" layups, converting the free throw each time. He also added five assists and four rebounds and continues to improve as a playmaker as gets more playing time. The question at this point isn't whether Joseph is a credible NBA player or even worthy of being a backup point guard in the league but rather whether Popovich will really have something to think about when Mills gets healthy. The way Joseph is playing, especially in his own end, there doesn't seem to be a need to fix what isn't broken.
"It's definitely unfortunate that Patty is out, but I mean with him being gone, my name gets called, so I've got to perform," Joseph said afterward, adding "Of course I want to play, whatever minutes I'm given, I perform, but I've also played with Tony and with Patty before at either the point or the two-guard."
Popovich has at times played Parker and Joseph together when Belinelli was sidelined earlier in the season and will not hesitate to use all three of his point guards in various combinations if he feels that they all are giving him more than the inconsistent Italian. Belinelli had been struggling mightily, but he busted out of his slump against Minnesota with a season-high 20 --he had 18 at half-- and six assists, leading the Spurs in both categories.
"I think he is getting in rhythm," Pop offered. "He didn't come back (from a strained groin) in great shape. At this point, he is starting to feel pretty good."
Belinelli had an emphatic dunk earlier in the week at Philadelphia, so he's obviously feeling sprier, but you get the sense that everyone on the Spurs is feeling the pressure to bring it every night. The competition for minutes is real and there's only 240 of them to split between the team. It's gonna get even stickier when (if) the team ever gets whole. In all, the Spurs had seven scorers in double figures, and season-highs in points (123), points in a half (68) and assists (30). They're 12-0 on the season now when they record at least 25 assists and 10-0 when they score at least 100 points.
You don't want to take any of it granted, from Tim Duncan's 13, 10 and 5 in 18:38 to Leonard's 18 points, but it's just what they do when the machine is rolling. They barely broke a sweat in the second half and were downright sloppy at times, but it's hard to complain much when they shoot 57 percent. They lost defensive focus in the fourth, but not points off their lead because they just wouldn't stop scoring. Of all the really good basketball players in the world, the Spurs don't have all the ones they'd like available, but they still have quite a few.
The Timberwolves meanwhile, are hoping they find at least one young stud from their stable, but it's not out of the question they'll find more if they stay open-minded. Andrew Wiggins had a tough night but Kyle Anderson's former teammate at UCLA Zach LaVine was very impressive with 22 points and 10 assists and became just the fourth teenager to have a 20 point, 10 assist game in league history. LeBron James did it eight times, Stephon Marbury thrice and DeJuan Wagner once. Shabbazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett showed things too and maybe the injuries to their main guys will wind up being a hidden blessing in the long run.
Your Three Stars:
3) Tim Duncan (29 pts)
2) Marco Belinelli (3 pts)
1) Cory Joseph (16 pts)