Change isn't easy.
The concept of change is something that I've tried (unsuccessfully) to accept. It's an inevitable part of life -- as constant as life and death and taxes itself -- but it doesn't make rationalizing difference any easier.
For what it's worth, I lived in San Antonio for my entire childhood, went to the same schools and supported the same basketball team with the same head coach with the same core players that won the same amount of basketball games - a lot. Even in sports, changes in my life have been few and far in between.
There is good change. There is bad change. For the glass half-full guy, adding LaMarcus Aldridge in the fold would only extend the Spurs' championship window, while allowing the Big Three to take a necessary backseat as their ability diminishes. For the glass half-empty guy, losing Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli, Cory Joseph and Aron Baynes would drain the Spurs of its valuable corporate knowledge. There's two sides to everything, after all.
In this instance, perception is perhaps the most important factor, not the change itself.
The "Beautiful Game" Spurs are not completely dead, but reincarnated in a different form that will take awhile to get used to. Gone are the days where the Spurs will do, well, this on a consistent basis.
Don't get me wrong, the Spurs of old still exist - just in spurts. (When Pop inserts five holdovers from last year's team, the ball movement we're used to springs to life.) But with Aldridge, a ball-dominating scorer who can beat any defender on the left block, the Spurs offense fundamentally changes. It's what Gregg Popovich wanted. It's what Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili needed to alleviate shot-creating burdens. He's the running mate that can pick up the torch from Duncan and continue the Spurs machine. Aldridge will make Kawhi Leonard's life easier. In general, Aldridge adds more to the table than he detracts.
As the Spurs offense finds a way to subsume Aldridge and incorporate his basketball gifts, it's come at the expense of the free-flowing offense that once led the Spurs to a title two years ago. The ball isn't whipping around the court at a dizzying speed and stretching the defense to its physical and mental limits nearly as often. There's more designed plays, rather than constant ball movement until the defense withers and breaks, ceding a high-efficiency shot attempt.
Aldridge changes what the Spurs do - probably for the better.
But I also can't help but remembering what the Spurs exchanged to make everything happen.
Let's give the game ball to Mr. Tim Duncan. There were plenty of players to choose from, though. Kawhi Leonard had his first double-double of the season, outplaying another All-Star on both ends of the floor. Parker chipped in an efficient 16 points. After a 0-4 start from the field, Aldridge settled down and finished with a team-high 19 points.
But the game belonged to Duncan, who did a little of everything to fill the gaps. There's Duncan's line for proof: 16 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal. Digging deeper, Duncan contested a team-high 10 shots at the rim and the Knicks only converted three chances. He passed the ball 50 times, second to Parker, and routinely created points for his teammates regardless of where he was on the floor.
It was a throwback performance for Duncan, who can still dominate a basketball game at 39 years old.
POP QUOTE(S) OF THE NIGHT
"It's just a historical fact like Columbus didn't discover America in 1492."
Gregg Popovich on The Big Three winning its 541st game (via Jeff McDonald)
"Why would I wanna go to a baseball game when I can go to dinner and relax? Sports are boring."
BY THE NUMBERS
- 954. Tim Duncan won his 954th game with the Spurs, passing John Stockton (953) for the most wins with one NBA franchise. Duncan tops a prestigious list including Stockton, Karl Malone (913), Kobe Bryant (823) and Dirk Nowitzki (816). If the Spurs win 46 more games this season - which is definitely realistic - Duncan will be the only player in NBA history to win 1,000 games with one team.
- 5. That's the amount of NBA franchises with fewer wins than Tim Duncan. Those franchises, in order: Charlotte, Minnesota, Toronto, Memphis and New Orleans. Tim Duncan is forever.
- 56. San Antonio scored 56 of 94 points in the paint, while limiting the Knicks to 32 points in the paint. It doesn't take a basketball genius to understand that creating more high-efficiency opportunities than the opponent leads to success.
- 13. By adding Aldridge, the Spurs had to compensate somewhere. That somewhere is likely in the 3-point department. Through four games, the Spurs are attempting 17.5 3-pointers, down from 22.5 last season. Whether that is a reliable trend going forward or an outlier remains to be seen but it's worth watching down the line as Aldridge finds his footing in the system.
- 26.3 percent. Poor Carmelo Anthony. He joins Kevin Durant, former scoring champion, and Joe Johnson as the latest victims of the defensive black hole that is Kawhi Leonard. Per Jordan Howenstine, Durant, Johnson and Anthony have shot a combined 11 of 43 (26.3 percent) while Leonard is defending them. Keep in mind: These are no offensive slouches. Durant and Anthony are arguably the two best pure scorers in the league and Johnson wasn't paid $119 million because of his defense. He had four blocks, including three on Anthony, who missed 13 of 17 shots. My advice to NBA players? Don't bother dribbling, shooting or passing against Kawhi. It's a bad idea.
- Boris Diaw's butt has proven to be an underrated asset. When he's determined to score in the post, it's damn near impossible to defend Boris and his butt simultaneously, especially matched up against smaller defenders. The Spurs can have another offensive weapon if Boris continues to flash his natural man humps effectively. (I can't believe I just typed that sentence. I'll show myself out.)
- It's easy to forget about Tony Parker on this team, because of the other options. But for all the flack he's received, Parker delivered to the tune of 16 points and three assists while shooting 58.3 percent. At this point in his career, Parker is the third offensive option at best. Monday's performance was everything the Spurs needed from him - he didn't do too much or too little.
- For all intents and purposes, Pop went to a eight-man rotation against the Knicks, with David West and Kyle Anderson getting little game action. Anderson has been inconsistent on both ends and West seems a few steps slower than last season.
- Spurs have never lost a game (2-0) when Boban Marjanovic checks in. Just keep it simple.
- Allow me to say this one more time, if you will. SERIOUSLY WHY DOES ANY NBA PLAYER BOTHER DRIBBLING, SHOOTING OR PASSING NEAR KAWHI LEONARD?
- Kristaps "light in the shorts" Porzingis recorded his first career double-double (13 points, 14 rebounds) and in the process ended LaMarcus Aldridge's tenure with the Spurs prematurely (not really) with this dunk.
I died. I am a pile of ashes https://t.co/i2BajiTIM1— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) November 3, 2015
Kawhi = death
Small forwards against Kawhi Leonard this season: Kevin Durant: 6-19 Field Goals Joe Johnson: 1-7 FG Carmelo Anthony: 4-17 FG— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) November 3, 2015
Tony Parker flashing his French charm before the fourth quarter.
"Looking good tonight, Pop. New contract treating you nice?" "Stop it." pic.twitter.com/1V810RL5US— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) November 3, 2015
Next up, Chris Paul on December 18.
Kawhi Leonard's hit list Kevin Durant ✅ Carmelo Anthony ✅ LeBron James ◻️ Steph Curry ◻️ James Harden ◻️ Chris Paul ◻️— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) November 3, 2015
Daily reminder that Tim Duncan has been good at basketball for a long time. Also, he's old.
When Tim Duncan won his first NBA title here at MSG in 1999 Kristaps Porzingis was 3 years old. (I did the math all by myself).— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) November 3, 2015
Kawhi is (figuratively) hungry this season. Not a good sign for the rest of the NBA.
Players Kawhi Leonard has figuratively eaten for dinner this season include Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) November 3, 2015
You had a good run, Carmelo. No shame in that.
Here lies Carmelo Anthony, who was destroyed by Kawhi Leonard on November 2, 2015. He will be missed.— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) November 3, 2015
TACO BELL MENU ITEM OF THE GAME
(Moving forward this section will compare the game to a Taco Bell menu item. I'm a Taco Bell fan. You were warned.)
Monday's performance had to be a five-layer burrito. Nothing fantastic, but it gets the job done.