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Spurs take advantage of sloppy Suns in turnover-happy game

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It's not pretty, but it's different

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Game 14 Vs. Phoenix: Spurs 98, Suns 84  Rec: 11-3  1st in Southwest, 2nd in West   Streak: W-2

The Spurs played the Suns for the first time since facing them in an non-televised preseason game on Oct. 20. That one was a sloppy affair, as you might expect, and afterward I wrote a really cranky, jerky recap that was much more critical than warranted and not nearly as funny as I wanted it to be. Not at all like this one, this one's going to be really good or your money back.

I bring that game up because while once again the Suns gave the Spurs some issues with their defensive tenaciousness --San Antonio finished with 21 giveaways compared to the 19 they had in the exhibition game-- they were even sloppier themselves, with a gob-smacking 28 turnovers of their own, by far the most of any Spurs opponent in a long time.

How long, you ask? We'll get to that.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, who wasn't wrong when he declared that "I mean 28 turnovers... you're not going to beat anybody with 28 turnovers," wasn't in as much of a charitable mood to the Spurs as his players were, saying "I thought most of our turnovers, at least in the first [half]... at one point, I think we had 15, I counted 11 of them were unforced. Turnovers, when they make a good play and you get a turnover, then so be it. I don't know what we were doing. Just throwing the ball, soft passes, even when we tried to lob it over the passes were like five feet short of where it was supposed to go."

Indeed the first quarter must have set some kind of morbid record for fruitless giveaways, when the two teams combined for 16 turnovers but only managed two points between them resulting from those miscues.

The first quarter, summarized:

Take the ball.

I couldn't possibly.

No I want you to.

Nah, I wouldn't feel right about it.

I'm telling you, what kind of host would I be if I didn't offer you this ball?

And I'm telling you, what kind of guest would I be if I didn't bring you a basketball as a housewarming present?

But it's not a present. You are just re-gifting me the ball.

Look, man, I don't want your stupid ball.

It wasn't all bad in the first quarter, however. Kawhi Leonard got off to a bright start, with 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including a three and a hat trick of mid-range jumpers. It was welcome production, not only because LaMarcus Aldridge missed a second straight game with a mild left ankle sprain, but also because nobody else had much going early on.

What was interesting, in a good way, about the first half is that Gregg Popovich employed some lineups we haven't seen before, and Aldridge's absence may have factored into that. The Suns personnel, featuring 7'1 backup center Alex Len and a ton of small-ball specialists, also probably had something to do with that.

Look, what I'm trying to say is that Boban played in the first quarter.

I repeat. Boban Marjanovic played relevant minutes alongside actual rotation players late in the first quarter and overlapping the second, and I offer you visual proof of such.

How did he do aside from those two plays, you ask? Not important!

What was important, however is that when asked afterward why he gave Marjanovic some early run, Pop replied "I wanted to give him a chance to play so that he doesn't die on the vine," and I will absolutely fight anyone who doesn't think he made that giant pun on purpose.

Even better, and more surprising, was a second quarter stint from Jonathon Simmons, who, like Marjanovic, saw the first first-half action of his brief NBA career. He also recorded his first field goal, on this nice spinning layup.

For two minutes at the end of the half Pop played a lineup of Duncan-Leonard-Simmons-Ginobili-Mills who might be my five favorite current Spurs (it's a toss-up between Mills and Green) and I thought I was about to pass out. The Stampler lineup! Who knew! It produced magic like this because of course it did how could you ever possibly doubt that it was going to work?

Anyway that lineup outscored the Suns 10-4 in two minutes which works out to a net rating of like 144 points over a full game so what I'm saying is Pop needs to break it out against the Warriors in the playoffs and no I don't think it's too small of a sample size to draw conclusions on you're just a hater.

The Spurs led by 10 at halftime and got it as high as 18 after Leonard kept driving to the hole with impunity and Tony Parker, who had a quiet first half, started cashing in on some jumpers. Then both centers subbed out, Tim Duncan for the Spurs and Tyson Chandler for the Suns and this time neither coach countered with a backup big and there was a bunch of reserve micro-ball lineups out there with people like first Boris Diaw and then Kyle Anderson playing at the "five" and that went double minus un-good for the hosts. The Suns quickly cut it down to five with an avalanche of threes and uncontested layups, and only a steal and breakaway slam by Anderson ended a 15-2 Phoenix run.

"I can get Kyle in a footrace," joked Duncan afterward when asked if he was worried about Anderson being able to finish before a Phoenix defender could catch up to him.

Green hit a pair of threes in the quarter and already had his season-high of 13 through three quarters (he'd go on to finish with 18). The Spurs playing a ton of small-ball probably had much to do with it, but he got off nine three-point attempts from downtown and it was the kind of performance I thought was going to be the norm for him coming out of the gate, especially with the team having lost a shooter in the off-season in Marco Belinelli. The more open threes people create for him, the more efficient the offense will be in the long run.

"He's a confident kid and he does a lot for us," said Duncan of Green. "Obviously shooting the three-ball is one of them and people know that now so they're making him do different things and he's going to have to learn how to be effective when people are playing on his side basically and making him go to the basket."

The fourth quarter belonged to Parker, who was a monster, making all six of his shots --two layups, a teardrop and three jumpers-- to go with six assists. It was his second consecutive game with an 18-point half, and he took full advantage of the Suns not having any rim protector in the lane.

The Spurs shot 70 percent in all the final quarter and won going away, with all of Phoenix's turnovers rendering Markieff Morris' 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting to a mere footnote.

Now, about those turnovers... it was the most by any Spurs opponent since the Washington Bullets had 29 --in a game they won no less-- on Jan. 19, 1989, the season before David Robinson arrived. And lest you think that the 49 combined giveaways by the two teams is some kind of franchise record, it's not even close. Basketball-reference.com only keeps track of turnovers going back to 1985-86, but I still saw a couple of 60-turnover games on there. In fact, the Spurs had 40 (!!!) just by themselves in a loss to the Warriors a month after that Wizards game.

San Antonio did snatch a season-high 18 steals tonight, matching the most by Boston, Indiana and Houston previously.

"I think we're further along defensively than offensively," Duncan said. "We're still being really unselfish and moving the ball really well but people are still trying to figure out when and where their shots are and what's right and wrong in the offense and that leads to a little bit of hesitation."

There's no hesitating from me when it comes to the Spurs these days. They're a must-watch. They're good at times and oddly unpredictable, and that makes them interesting, no matter what. More of this, please.

Your Three Stars:

1. Kawhi Leonard

2. Tony Parker

3. Danny Green