Old friend and current Hawks coach/general manager Mike Budenholzer was asked before the game whether San Antonio's defensive dominance and methodical style of play caught him by surprise and whether it brought back any memories of how the Spurs used to win ballgames at the dawn of the Tim Duncan/Gregg Popovich Era.
"Back to the David Robinson/Tim Duncan days," he recalled, with a chuckle. "I think it's interesting, I don't think that was what any of us around the league would've maybe thought was going to happen, we thought they'd be just as good offensively and maybe better defensively, and better in general. But they're doing a great job on the defensive end of the court and I do think sometimes that figuring each other out may take a little bit longer offensively."
Then he summed up his thought with, "they're winning a lot of games and at the end of the day that's all that really matters," which is important because sometimes when we're picking nits now and again on this site we forget that this has been, even with the inconsistent offensive showings, one of the better starts for a franchise that routinely cranks out over 55 wins annually.
We take the Spurs for granted sometimes, and I'm certainly as guilty of it as anyone, but even with a somewhat soft schedule it's awfully hard to dismiss 14-3, especially when it's got a shiny 9.7-point scoring differential attached to it. 14-3's don't come around too often, not even for the Spurs, so it's probably a good idea to appreciate them when they do.
As it turned out, the Spurs were quite proficient at both ends on this night, making "Coach Bud" look more prescient than he probably was hoping for. The Spurs hit 9-of-17 from downtown, tying a season-high for most makes from behind the stripe, and were also a very efficient 19-of-20 from the charity stripe. That's a lot of bonus points for a team that hasn't been accustomed to getting them this season.
It started well enough, with a pair of long pick-and-pop twos from LaMarcus Aldridge and a four-point play on a Kawhi Leonard wing three. A PUJIT from Green on the opposite wing got every starter on the scoreboard and the Spurs already had managed 17 points before Gregg Popovich turned to his subs. What followed was the only down period for the home side until garbage time, and a late flurry by Al Horford and Dennis Schroder gave the Hawks a 25-23 lead after one. It would've been worse if not for two Aldridge putback buckets while playing with the reserves.
The Spurs broke it open a quarter ahead of schedule, doing their damage in the second period with an 18-2 run to erase a five-point deficit and extending it to a 25-7 stretch going into intermission. They were particularly efficient during a 1:50 sequence where Pop broke out the "Five Hall-of-Famer Lineup," essentially the starting group but with Ginobili in Green's stead. That quintet came into the game with a 31.6 net rating over 31 minutes and improved upon it with a 9-2 burst in their brief time together, scoring on four of five possessions. Later, Leonard ended the quarter on a personal 11-1 run, where he sank another three, had a fast-break dunk and canned a half-dozen free-throws.
Oh, it's definitely a grown-up move, fearless leader.
There was no extended run in the third but the Spurs kept things steady enough to remove all suspense. Tony Parker was content to mostly set up everyone else in the first half but took advantage of a tiring Hawks defense to scoot for a pair of layups, make a circus and-1 floater and a mid-range jumper.
Leonard added a couple of fadeaways and his third triple in as many attempts. He came into the game sixth in the league in three-point percentage at .468 and is now a hair below .500. Dude's already the best defender on the planet and now it's just starting to look unsporting.
Oh, and Duncan had a mere eight rebounds in the quarter to give him a season-high 18 in a tidy 28:29 of work. He finished with a double-double, which makes it 835 now for his career and gets him one closer to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time list since he hasn't had any for a while. Also on the milestone front, Duncan and Parker became the quickest pair of teammates to get to 700 wins together.
The starters mostly had the fourth quarter off after the Spurs ballooned the lead to a season-high 30. The most interesting sequence was Pop giving Kyle Anderson the Danny Green Memorial "I'm-gonna-yank-you-for-that-terrible-brain-cramp-okay-you-made-a-shot-never-mind" maneuver, and that he summoned Green as the would-be sub for is what made it extra special.
Patty Mills nailed all four of his jumpers, including two from the distance and Ginobili added his first slam of the season on a pick-six. There was some Jonathan Simmons at the end that was good and some Boban Marjanovic which... well the crowd was happy to see him which is the main thing.
It's probably worth noting that this was a FOGAFINI for the Hawks. Their ball movement got them more open looks ---they still finished with an extraordinary 28 assists on 37 field goals-- than opponents typically have had against the Spurs this season, but they didn't have their legs underneath them to make those looks count. The Spurs are 9-0 at home, but their last seven foes at the AT&T Center have been on a back-to-back, and they're now 48-6 in that situation going back four seasons and change. San Antonio was on a SEGABABA themselves, as well as a TIGAFONI, but they were in an ideal situation with Duncan and Manu Ginobili not even making the trip to Denver and most of their top players not having to play big minutes against the Nugs.
The Spurs aced the home-heavy back end of their November schedule and now the difficulty setting goes up a notch, with visits to Chicago, Memphis, Toronto and a return engagement with the Hawks in the offing. Speaking of the Raptors...
If I'm not mistaken, that's the "hammer" to our beloved CoJo for the game-winner. At least one former Spur enjoyed his Saturday.
Your Three Stars:
1. Tim Duncan
2. Kawhi Leonard
3. Tony Parker