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Suffocating defense leads Spurs to rout of Hawks, 103-78

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Despite a sloppy performance with 23 turnovers, the Spurs easily defeated the Hawks tonight behind suffocating defense and solid games from Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but tonight you probably needed a pair of the thickest beer goggles to correct your vision enough to be attracted to the basketball game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night. A tired Spurs team routed a discombobulated and listless Hawk squad that couldn't hit any shots or rebound to save their lives.

Both outfits looked lethargic to start the game, and why not? The Spurs had arrived in Atlanta at 3 AM the night before, and seemed to sleepwalk through the first couple of minutes.  But it wasn't just the Spurs-- also the Hawks and even the timekeepers at Phillips Arena were overcome with the listlessness that hung over the beginning of the game.  When the ball was inbounded with 10:07 left in the first quarter, no one at the scorer's table was alert enough to start the clock and two entire possessions were played before Sean Elliot yelled audibly from his position at the broadcaster's table for the timekeeper to start the clock. In an unusual statistical oddity, the game stats note that both teams scored points at 10:07 of the quarter.

The last thing this game needed was extra time added, but an extra 36.5 seconds (per J.R. Wilco's stopwatch) were added to the game. With the clock running again, the Spurs started to wake up a bit. Tony Parker, who sat out yesterday's game against the Lakers for rest, and Kawhi Leonard, who is an athletic freak, looked pretty good from the start for the Silver and Black.  But Tim Duncan, despite defending well, missed a couple of bunnies. Manu Ginobili came in late in the quarter and opened up the offense for the good guys by moving the ball and hitting a clutch three-point shot. It looked like the Spurs were going to keep the Hawks to single digits in the first quarter, but Al Horford took advantage of the extended quarter and dropped in two quick two-point shots in the last 45 seconds to make the score 22-13 at the end of the first quarter.

The Hawks only shoot 23% from the field in the first half, and not all of that was due to Spurs defense. They just seemed out of sorts, and nobody could hit a shot.  I composed a short poem about this:

I didn't mean to single out Korver, the rest of the Hawks, except for Paul Millsap, were doing just as poorly. Atlanta should have had some good opportunities to make up ground with turnovers created by sloppy Spurs ballhandling, but they couldn't take advantage of the opportunities.  The Spurs defensive rebounding was outstanding on the night, and the Hawks would take just one shot and be done. Patty Mills made a great steal late in the quarter and outran Kyle Korver to the ball, flipping it over to Tim Duncan for his first basket of the game.

In the second half, the Spurs cooled off a bit, and the Hawks picked up their defensive intensity. The Spurs, despite picking up an impressive 26 assists, were often stagnant on offense.  But Jonathon Simmons brought energy and Kawhi continued to easily beat any player the Hawks assigned to guard him.

The Hawks scored 30 points in the 3rd quarter, easily outpacing their output in the first half, but the Spurs scored 32, to extend the lead to 79-55.

The Hawks started the fourth quarter a little angry and played with some intensity, opening with a 9-2 run behind contributions from Lamar Patterson, Dennis Schroeder, and Kent Bazemore.  Even Tiago Splitter got into the act. Pop brought Kawhi Leonard back into the game and the Spurs responded.  Rasual Butler hit back to back three pointers, and whatever faint hopes the Hawks had of mounting a comeback vanished.  Both teams emptied their benches for the last 6 minutes and Kyle Anderson got some playing time.

Notes:

  • The Spurs outscored the Hawks in each quarter.  As I've noted before many times, there's a very strong correlation between outscoring your opponent in each period and winning the game.
  • Danny Green showed signs of breaking out of his slump.  He shot 2-3 from beyond the arc and 4-8 overall.  Hard to tell yet if this is a trend, but if it is, it's a welcome one.
  • Tim and Tiago looked to be having a great time talking to each other at the scorer's table. You can tell that they really like each other.
  • There were some odd calls, especially one involving an inadvertent whistle that led to a jump ball at midcourt. Neither coach was happy with how the game was officiated.
  • 7'3" Walter Tavares got some burn late in the game for the Hawks but was deprived of the opportunity to play someone his own size by Coach Popovich's unpopular decision to make Boban Marjanovic inactive.

Your three stars:

  • Kawhi Leonard
  • Tony Parker
  • LaMarcus Aldridge

Next game:

The Spurs are currently 20-5 and second in the Western Conference.  They will play the Utah Jazz Monday at the AT&T center at 7:30 PM CT.