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Morning Rehash: Don't Ever Change

The Spurs shook off a terrible first half to beat Gary Neal's new gang, and in the process, they secure their 17th consecutive winning season.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

"This was real basketball... [I'm] happy to be in a situation to play in games like this, not doing whatever it is Milwaukee is attempting to do."

Gary Neal, via Dan McCarney

Sometimes, all it takes is a change of scenery.

When Gary Neal was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks in the off-season, most observers acknowledged that it was a strange fit. The Bucks had a glut of guards, a coaching change, and no clear direction for their roster. It was a confusing move for the team, but Gary Neal had worked hard and played well for the Spurs. Regardless of how odd the situation might have been, Neal earned his payday. Fresh off a great Finals performance, his shooting is a valuable commodity for any team, even one that had no legitimate competitive aspirations.

But as many players in this league learn, paydays only go so far. For a player who was leaving one of the best teams in the league and an organization that excels in player development, Gary Neal must have felt like the butt of a very cruel joke as he struggled to see daylight in Larry Drew's circus. Neal, who had been a quiet, focused player on the Spurs became a vocal critic on the Bucks, even going so far as to lash out at Bucks Center Larry Sanders.

So it must have felt like a release from prison when the trade deadline arrived and he found himself in a Bobcats jersey. Charlotte is not a contender by any means, but the team plays hard and has been coached well by newcomer Steve Clifford. And unlike the Bucks, the Bobcats are a playoff caliber team that is capable of hanging with any team in the NBA.

Friday night was a perfect example of that. The Spurs looked a step slow as the Bobcats' tenacious defense blitzed them in the first half. They cut off passing lanes, fought for boards, and contested just about every shot the Spurs tossed up. As expected, they did struggle to find a spark on the other end, but Gary Neal did an admirable job infusing the Bobcats' lineups with some offensive firepower, finishing with fifteen points.

But the Spurs are enjoying a change of scenery of their own. After beating the Pistons on Wednesday, the Spurs are beginning to find their late-game groove after returning home from the Rodeo Road Trip for the final push towards the playoffs. They seemed out of sorts against the Bobcats' attack, but by the third quarter, the Spurs had the Cats on their heels. And though Charlotte tied the game late in the fourth quarter, the Spurs found their footing in the game's final minutes, burying the Bobcats under a volley of efficient shots and lockdown defensive stops.

The last four minutes of the contest were enough to make up for the awful first half, as each of the players on the floor taking turns hitting big shots to put the game away. Sure, the final score brought back memories of the old, "boring" Spurs, as both teams struggled to reach the 90-point mark, but in the end, this kind of grind it out win was the perfect way for the team to grab win number 42. When the buzzer sounded, the Spurs could rest assured that this season would be just like the sixteen before it: hard-fought, and a well executed success.

Be sure to read Fred Silva's recap of the game if you haven't already.


"We play together like crazy."

Marco Belinelli, via Jeff McDonald




















Tim Duncan started the game looking generally out of sorts as he missed his first five field goal attempts, and it looked like he was going to be in for a long night. Then he made six of his next seven shots and finished with 17 points, 16 rebounds, and six assists. You could fill the Edwards Aquifer with all the dumbfounded shrugs that greet a 37-year-old who consistently puts up performances like this. You could power the Riverwalk for a week with all the headshaking from fans and opponents alike who can't quite grasp what they're seeing. At this point, there isn't any hyperbole available to adequately describe what is happening. It's quiet, calculated, brutal consistency. Remember when the season started and it looked like Tim Duncan had forgotten how to shoot? Yeah, me neither. The machine just keeps on humming.




















There was at least a 30% chance Gary Neal was going to end up in this spot. (Admit it. You were expecting to see him here.) But Neal had a really good game, hustled like crazy, and was clearly relieved to be on a team that's going somewhere. Unfortunately, the leader of that team had a terrible game. Fresh off an Eastern Conference Player of the Week award (Why is this a thing?), Kemba Walker couldn't continue his strong play against the Spurs' defense and posted one of the worst shooting nights of his season. He never seemed to find the flow of the game, and he was unable to provide his team with some scoring punch when it needed it down the stretch. The Bobcats play Oklahoma City, Miami, and Indiana in the next five days. There's a pretty good chance that Player of the Week award feels like a participation ribbon this time next week.


  • During the first half, I was positive this game was going to be a snoozer, so I turned on Photoshop and made something for my mom's fridge. Presenting: "(Steve) Clifford the Big Red Dog." _steve__clifford_the_big_red_dog
  • Tonight likely offered the last sighting this season of the camouflage alternate uniforms. Even if you kind of liked them, you're probably happy about that.
  • It feels weird to say, but Gary Neal is a really good fit on this Bobcats team. His role is limited enough for him to be effective when he's on the floor, and he's clearly excited about playing for a team that has aspirations beyond the draft. Good for him.
  • Apparently, Tim Duncan decided to hold his postgame presser at Cory Joseph's locker. Spurs writers were all over it, but 48 Minutes of Hell's Andrew McNeill got the best photo, perfectly capturing Joseph's confusion and helplessness. It's practically existential. Bhnvcewcaaazzjy
  • All signs point to Tony Parker returning Sunday night. If Parker does play, it will be the first time the Spurs have fielded a complete roster for a full game since January 2nd. Yes. You read that correctly. JANUARY 2ND. Get your #fullsquad posters ready.


  • 12: Tim Duncan's rank in the NBA's all-time rebounding list. He passed Hakeem Olajuwon during the game and needs 17 to pass the eleventh ranked player, Wes Unseld.
  • 17: Number of consecutive winning seasons the Spurs have notched. That's a crazy level of consistent excellence, but they'll need three more seasons above .500 to beat the Utah Jazz's record 19.
  • 19: Spurs turnovers in the game, 4.5 more than their season average.
  • 0: Number of free throws the Spurs missed (15/15). I know. I'm just as confused as you are.
  • 4: Number of three pointers Josh McRoberts attempted, of which he hit none. I confess I haven't seen the Bobcats play much this season, so the sight of McRoberts, Three-Point Specialist was foreign and jarring to me. But the guy averages 3.6 three-point attempts a game and hits 1.4 of them for a respectable 38.7% three-point shooting average. The weirdest part is that last year he only attempted one a game and posted an abysmal 24% average from behind the arc. What gives? Charlotte is a strange place, you guys.



For Tim Duncan: "Don't you ever change now / Always be the same now / No, don't ever change from the way that you were / Last night"

- from "Don't Ever Change," by The Kinks


Find their groove. With the season's final stretch ahead of them and (hopefully, finally) a completely healthy roster, this shouldn't be a problem. The Spurs kept their heads above water through a brutal rash of injuries, but the schedule doesn't afford them much room to exhale, especially with only 1 1/2 games between them and the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder. Sunday's game is against the Mavericks, who the Spurs would face in the opening round if the playoffs started today.