One of the main reasons we watch and care so much about sports is the unpredictability of it all. You know every game offers you a chance to see something new, whether it's a fantastic play, some broken record or the a seminal moment in somebody's career.
While the Spurs game versus the Sixers unfolded basically in the ugly, grimy fashion one might have expected without the services of Kawhi Leonard (upper respiratory infection) and Manu Ginobili (adductor strain) and there weren't many spectacular highlights to be found, there was still a few noteworthy things that happened to keep us coming back for more.
For one, they won, which is the most important thing. Even without Leonard and Ginobili, who've probably been their two best players to date so far this season, a home loss to the heretofore win-less Sixers would've been unforgivable. I literally would've never gotten over it, and I'm not even a fan. (ahem).
The first half was forgettable to say the least. The Spurs showed good ball movement at times, and then there were stretches where it was stilted. A good opening flurry from Tony Parker, with a baseline teardrop, a mid-range jumper and a couple of successful trips to the line got him to eight points early on, but the rest of the squad was 5-of-23 in the period. The Spurs wasted a chance to jump on the ice-cold Sixers --who had played at Oklahoma City the night before-- and led by just eight after the first quarter, with Lamarcus Aldridge, Danny Green and Patty Mills all missing multiple open jumpers.
The second quarter wasn't much better. The Spurs shot a bit better, but attempted just one three and didn't get to the charity stripe as often. Jerami Grant had a couple of acrobatic drives for Philly and Hollis Thompson hit a pair of jumpers, and the Spurs lead was just four at intermission, 43-39.
Finally San Antonio gained separation in the third, and in truth it was the only quarter they played remotely well. The starters --with Kyle Anderson in Leonard's place-- combined for 28 of those, with the second-year man from UCLA hitting a pair of corner threes and Danny Green chipping in with one from the wing. They also knocked down 9-of-10 free throws in the period, and really their edge from the free throw line was probably the biggest reason they escaped with the win.
The Spurs led by as much as 19, but got cold again in the fourth with the deep reserves in the game and the Sixers chipped away slow and steady, continuing to battle as Gregg Popovich predicted they would before the game. Pop brought in Parker in hopes that he'd ice the win, but the wee Frenchman had sat too long by that point and admitted afterward that he already thought his night was over. He got the hook after two turnovers in 53 seconds.
Parker was very good for the first three quarters and playing with a heavy heart in light of the tragedy in his native land, and said he was touched by the team's gesture to play the French national anthem before the game in tribute.
Philadelphia had the deficit down to four with 3:07 to go but wasted a pair of chances to edge closer as Isaiah Canaan missed a three and T.J. McConnell turned it over, with Patty Mills deflecting his pass to Anderson and then streaking down the floor for Anderson to hit him with a football-style layup to stretch the margin to six. Brett Brown's undermanned crew wouldn't score again.
That Anderson had a hand in the winning play was significant and fitting. It was easily his best performance of the season, and he led everyone with a plus-20 in 31:09 of playing time. Popovich was satisfied enough with his decision making to play him over Green down the stretch. Anderson showed his all-around versatility, displaying some toughness on the glass in the first quarter, swiping a pair of steals in the second, nailing a pair of threes in the third and making the clutch pass in the fourth.
"I thought Kyle was really special in a lot of ways," Popovich said afterward. "He makes everybody on the court better. He makes great decisions. He is getting confident with his shot. He works hard on defense. He is just a fine young player.
We'll have to wait and see what this performance --again, it was versus the Sixers-- does for Anderson's confidence and if it will influence Pop's rotation when Leonard and Ginobili return. Anderson had lost his spot to Rasual Butler the past few nights, but who knows, maybe tonight's game will be the one we'll look back on someday as having been his breakthrough.
The "new" part of the night was Jonathon Simmons making his NBA debut, having been called up from Austin in light of the absences of two wings. Simmons looked far better tonight than in his preseason efforts, and finished with a pair of assists, a steal, a rebound and a couple of free-throws in 8:31 overlapping the third and fourth quarters. He looked lost in a few instances, rotating too close to another teammate to screw up the spacing, but didn't play too timidly and had one terrific drive and dish to David West for a layup. He's still probably heading right back up the road once the stars return, but it was a start.
Finally, there was the broken record, which is basically what Duncan has been in terms of consistent excellence these past two decades. He already broke David Robinson's franchise marks in points and rebounds and tonight he caught him in blocks, swatting away five Sixers shots, including one of Jahlil Okafor's to reach 2,955 for his career. The 19-year-old Sixers prodigy finished with 21 and 12 and revealed to reporters after the game that Duncan --with Brown serving as an intermediary to set it up-- was gracious enough to spend time offering him counsel earlier in the day.
"It was just really an honor to talk to him today and he was really great about it, me being a big fan of his," Okafor said.
Duncan probably wasn't too thrilled with the fact that he's been in the league as long as Okafor's been alive, but he taught the kid a couple of things on the floor too, and finished as the Spurs third-leading scorer with 15.
The Golden God didn't stick around to boast about his latest accomplishment, so it was to newcomer LaMarcus Aldridge, who led the way with 17 points and a season-high 19 rebounds, to do it for him.
"I told him I only saw two [blocks], so I think he got some home cooking tonight," said Aldridge deadpan and without missing a beat, showing the sense of humor that made PATFO think he'd fit in with the team's culture. "I only saw two blocks and I think the other three I had, so watch that film for sure."
If it's okay, I think I'll be skipping a re-watching of this one, but as ugly as the game was at times, it could've been much worse.
Your Three Stars:
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
2. Tony Parker
3. Tim Duncan