I can sum up the first half with two stats: 16 points off turnovers and 60% (9-15) shooting on mid-range shots for the Wizards. The Spurs can't afford to turn the ball over because they don't get offensive rebounds and don't create TOs of their own. That means every time they don't get a shot up the balance in terms of total possessions is going to tip in favor of their opponents. Including trips to the line, the Wizards had 46 scoring possessions to the Spurs' 39. And when a team gets more possessions and they are hitting the mid-range jumper, a shot the Spurs will readily concede, at that high a level, it's not surprising they went into the break up 14 after scoring a whopping 62 points.
Let's give the Wizards some credit here. They are good at creating and capitalizing on turnovers. The insanely hot outside shooting didn't seem sustainable, but John Wall, who took over and scored 14 first half points, can hit shots from the right elbow and they have good complementary pieces in Nene, Beal, Gortat, Ariza and Webster. When healthy, they are a better offensive team than the numbers suggest.
But the first half was not representative of Spurs' basketball at all, regardless of the quality of the opponent. The optimistic interpretation of the situation was that the Spurs could not possibly be as bad on offense as they had been early, and the Wizards simply had to start missing those outside shots eventually. That's what I decided to believe, anyway.
All of those positive vibes evaporated as soon as it was known that Parker was out for the game due to tightness in his back. It seemed that a ridiculously predictable Spurs' offense had lost its one trump card. But somehow the inclusion of Nando De Colo in the starting lineup, along with a more aggressive Joseph, gave the Spurs some punch. With the Wizards finally missing the hard shots that have fallen all game long, San Antonio managed to chip away at the lead until it disappeared.
After a great third quarter powered by the bench and Tim Duncan's perennial greatness, the Spurs were only trailing by one going into the fourth. Both teams traded buckets for a while, but with San Antonio over-relying on the three point shot, Washington took a small but seemingly commanding five point lead with 2:40 to go. Neither team could score until 1:30 to go when Patty Mills sunk a deep three off the inbound pass. The Wizards were still in control, up two and with the ball in their hands, but Nene missed a layup and after it seemed Patty Mills was going to turn it over, the ball found its way to an open Tim Duncan, who connected on a little floater to tie the game with 1:02 to go.
Both teams had chances to steal the game late. Bradley Beal missed but the Wizards got the offensive rebound. John Wall tried to attack Danny Green with the clock winding down but Green used his quick hands to poke the ball away and force a shot clock violation. On the other end, Belinelli attacked the bucket and threw up a runner that missed, only to be rebounded by Patty Mills, who instead of going all the way to the rim, pulled up for a close jumper. Splitter rebounded the miss but was too out of balance to hit the tip in. We were going to overtime.
That's when Patty Mills took over. Patty had not been particularly efficient earlier in the game, going 4-10 for 12 points. But when the Spurs needed a closer, Patty rose to the challenge, going 3-3 in OT. Fittingly, however, it was Duncan who seemed to put the final nail on the coffin with a ridiculous turnaround jumper to beat the buzzer and put the Spurs up six with 47 seconds to go.
But just as Mills and then Duncan had come through for the Spurs in the clutch, John Wall responded for the gritty Wizards. San Antonio froze and Wall scored eight straight points, including the tying bucket after stealing the Spurs inbound pass with ten seconds to go. The Spurs kept wasting opportunities and the Wizards seemed unable to take charge and get the win. The game just refused to end.
With all the momentum going for the Wizards in the second over time, it didn't look like the Spurs were going to pull through. But they clamped down on defense, even after Duncan fouled out on a rather questionable call. Neither of the two clearly exhausted teams could pull away. After Mills and Nene hit a couple of free throws each, the Spurs got a lead they would never relinquish when Marco Belinelli connected on a short jumper. Danny Green then hit a huge three out of a "baseline hammer" play to increase the lead to five and the Spurs wouldn't squander it this time. After a very long game against a very good squad, the Spurs extended their winning streak to three.
- First things first: Tony Parker's injury is obviously a cause for concern. If Parker misses time, the offense will likely struggle. Let's hope it was mostly a precautionary measure and he misses only a couple of games, if any.
- With that out of the way, what a game! I know I should be mad at the Spurs for their shoddy late game execution but they were without Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili facing a dangerous team that had beaten the Thunder and Blazers recently. The good guys still got the win. I can't really ask for more.
- Tim Duncan is a golden god. In 40 minutes on the court, Timmy went for 31 points (season high), 11 boards, five assists and three blocks. Yet the numbers don't do Tim's performance justice. Duncan refused to concede this game and his enthusiasm was clearly contagious. Mills' heroics and the unexpected boost De Colo provided will rightfully receive most of the attention. But the Spurs wouldn't have won this game without Duncan mocking Father Time once again.
- Green and Splitter were also huge for the Spurs. Green hit timely buckets, including five three pointers, and contributed on the boards. Splitter pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds and provided a great inside defensive presence, especially after Duncan fouled out. It's great to have them back.
- The Spurs' back up point guards all had their moments. Joseph, and especially De Colo. jump-started a moribund Spurs' offense in the third quarter. Mills went into video game God mode in the first over time. If Parker misses time, the Spurs will need those guys to keep up the good work. Let's hope they can deliver and that we can have discussions about who should get more minutes instead of who should be traded or released.
- The Wizards are clearly better than their record indicates. They've had a hard time staying healthy (sounds familiar?) but with all their pieces available, they are very likely the third best team in the East. For a while it seemed that the Eastern conference playoffs were going to be dull, but the first round match ups featuring the third to sixth seeds will be a ton of fun.
The Spurs will face the Nets, another team that is on the rise despite a deceivingly mediocre record, on a SEGABABA tomorrow. With Parker likely out and Duncan having played over 40 minutes in Washington, this screams "schedule loss." But this last one seemed out of reach after a dreadful first half and look how it ended. That's why they play the games, I suppose.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the fantastic Bullets Forever