The San Antonio Spurs have already shown this season that in order to beat them, the opposition must have all of their hands on deck. But to defeat the Spurs in San Antonio, teams need all of their hands, their feet, their mom's hands, and the hands of everyone they've ever met on deck, and then maybe, just maybe, they can pray for a miracle that will still likely never come.
The Phoenix Suns were without their do-everything point guard Eric Bledsoe (gone for the season with a torn meniscus) and his back-up Ronnie Price (sprained toe) also sat. Fresh off of firing two assistant coaches, and with embattled coach Jeff Hornacek dealing with rumors about his job security, the Suns welcomed back towel-thrower specialist Markieff Morris from his two-game suspension - so at least there was that. For a team that is already performing below expectations this year, a visit to San Antonio didn't appear to be the cure for what ails them.
And if you only watched the first quarter of this game, you knew how this story would play out.
With Tim Duncan sitting his third consecutive game to rest his ailing knee, the Spurs jumped all over the Suns in the first frame. By the time LaMarcus Aldridge had finished scoring on an array of mid-range jumpers, most of them with no Suns' defender in his general vicinity, and with David West mean-mugging his way around the paint just for fun, San Antonio grabbed a 32-12 advantage by the first quarter.
Sean Elliott mentioned in the telecast that West is looking like he has been in the Spurs' program for years now, and for all of the hand-wringing about the fit of West in the team's big man rotation - he's too small, Diaw and West together will get killed on the boards, there is no true back-up center - he has shown that toughness, intellect, and a we-before-me attitude can make up for a lot of these potential shortcomings. There is just something about his four point, five rebound performance that really did it for me. This dude is carved from stone.
And how many superlatives can we continue to use about this defense? Hands everywhere, passing lanes non-existent, shots contested, players funneled precisely to where the Spurs want them to go... this defense is so freaking good at making the opposition do things that they don't want to do. When defending San Antonio asks the opposing offense questions that have no right answer. The Suns' 79 points was their lowest total of the season, eclipsing (declipsing?) their previous low of 84 scored on Nov. 23 against, you guessed it, the San Antonio Spurs. Manu Ginobili looked like Kawhi Leonard, getting his mitts on seemingly every errant pass in his vicinity and then punctuating by putting his Manu stamp on them:
The Suns only turned the ball over 15 times, but it felt more like 115. San Antonio made them pay.
I am loving Jonathon Simmons. I'm not going to jump on the "Sit Danny Green" train, but Simmons is earning Pop's trust, at least as much as any 26-year-old rookie on a championship-caliber team can be trusted. He's flashing his unique skills on a fairly regular basis. Whether or not Danny works his way out of his extended shooting slump, quality wing depth is of paramount importance in today's NBA, especially with a guy like Simmons who can defend either the 2 or the 3. And the handle that he displayed in the summer league is becoming a legitimate tool at the NBA level with plays like these:
Line of the Night:
I'm going to go away from LaMarcus Aldridge's 21/12 line to look at Kawhi Leonard's odd evening:
29 minutes, 19 points, 2 assists, 0 rebounds, +24 +/-
The zero rebounds marks just the third game in Kawhi's career in which he failed to gather a single board, the first time since February of 2012. But you can't argue with the +24 point differential in 29 minutes - as Bruce Bowen proved time and time (and time) again, box scores and traditional counting stats do not always do a player's performance justice. And he got those 19 points on just 10 shots.
Disappointment of the Night:
Giving up the first bucket of the night to the Suns to quickly fall behind 2-0, a deficit the Spurs spent, I don't know, 20 seconds climbing out of. The aura of invincibility at the AT&T Center was in serious jeopardy.
By the Numbers:
0: The number of Spurs who played over 30 minutes. This is a good thing.
20: Points off 15 Phoenix turnovers. As mentioned above, the Spurs will make teams pay dearly for their mistakes.
13: The number of steals the Spurs had, continuing the trend of devastating results for the Suns.
60.6%: The Spurs free throw percentage on 33 attempts. This was disappointing, if only because it harkened back to the 2000-era Spurs who forced me into early-onset baldness with their forays to the line. I like the good free throw shooting Spurs better.
The Spurs are off for the rest of the year, and kick off 2016 by welcoming the Rockets to San Antonio on Saturday night. Stay safe this New Year's Eve, £ers, and as always - Go Spurs Go!