Move over, Celtics, we have a new front-runner for most impressive Spurs road win of the season!
Not only did the Spurs beat someone worthwhile away from the AT&T Center, but Thursday night's game was their best performance to date from the standpoint of most guys on the team playing well at once. San Antonio has now led by at least eight points in all 20 of their games, held opponents to below 50 percent shooting in all 20, led by double figures at some point in 17 of 20 and held foes to below 90 in 13 of 20, with a perfect 13-0 mark in such occasions.
They might be pretty good, and still have plenty of room to get better, especially if they have second halves like the one against Memphis, where their two max contract guys combined for 37 points, and Kawhi Leonard delivered his best Stephen Curry impersonation.
A rout for the good guys certainly did not look in the cards from the outset, what with a nationally-televised SEGABABA against a relatively hot Grizzles squad and all. The Spurs started 4-of-16 from the floor, forcing up a number of ugly, contested shots early on. LaMarcus Aldridge missed a bunny layup and then compounded that by basically barfing an 18-footer off the backboard trying to draw a foul. Leonard tried to score in the post against a Marc Gasol/Tony Allen double-team, which sounds like one of the worst combinations of humans to try that against. Tony Parker got a lay-up attempt swallowed whole by Mike Conley, and it led to a cherry-picking dunk by Zach Randolph at the other end.
The Spurs only had 10 points with four minutes to go in the quarter and trailed by a whopping... five points because, you know, Grizzlies.
Surprisingly, they found their spark from an all-reserve five-some of David West-Boris Diaw-Kyle Anderson-Manu Ginobili-Patty Mills, a lineup that has struggled mightily so far. They scored on five of their first seven possessions, and benefited from not having to work much in the half-court. West, Mills and Ginobili dug in to combine for four steals in that stretch and it led to fast break buckets. The one time they got in the half-court, they pulled off this beauty, with Anderson finding Ginobili, who had shaken free of Mario Chalmers.
Gorgeous. pic.twitter.com/NZxdpzVLxH— Chris Itz (@Chris_Itz1) December 4, 2015
Memphis led 21-20 after the first quarter, but the Spurs were coming on. Best of all, we were treated to a Craig Sager/Gregg Popovich interview, and it was definitely worth the wait.
Craig Sager interviews Coach Pop during the break. https://t.co/F8pvWnc4U1— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 4, 2015
To be honest, after seeing that I sensed enough good vibes to feel that the Spurs were finally going to break through on the road and win. I just didn't imagine it'd come quite the way that it did.
For a while, the game still looked congested, especially when the starters checked back in for San Antonio. Parker found his groove, knocking down four straight mid-range jumpers, but everything else was a struggle, even in transition.
On one play Leonard got the ball on the move and tried to euro-step his way to the hole, but Matt Barnes defended it well and forced Leonard to kick it back out to Parker wide open at the top of the key. "I don't shoot it from here," said the wee Frenchman and shuffled it off to Aldridge, who hesitated before stepping into a contested 21-footer that bricked out and was turned into a Memphis layup posthaste.
This sequence kind of typified the first half for the starters and it's a little something I like to call "every Spurs-Grizzlies game ever."
Anyway, Parker got a couple of layups near the end, to give 12 for the quarter and 16 for the half and then Leonard hit this weird half-hook thingy at the baseline that I've never seen before and the Spurs led 45-36 at half. The "Big Three" combined for 31 of those 45 on 14-of-20 shooting.
The only sour note in the first half, really, besides Danny Green staying frigid, was Aldridge shooting 0-for-6, mostly on forced shots. Tim Duncan helped to break his duck with a hi-lo layup, and then a couple possessions later, Parker found him for a similar play, after Aldridge beat Randolph down the floor and sealed him off.
You'll note that the play stared with Allen air-balling a finger-roll.
It continues to fascinate me how a couple of simple layups can boost a struggling players' confidence. From there, Aldridge was unstoppable in the second half. He pump-faked past Randolph for a layup...
... then the Spurs ran a neat little double-screen for Ginobili at the top of the key that befuddled Memphis' bigs and got Aldridge a wide open 17-footer.
Here's The LaMarcus Aldridge Solution For The Spurs. https://t.co/B6sLeoYOLg— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 4, 2015
And that further inspired him to go to the post and score on a sweeping pop-a-shot half-hook. Aldridge scored 17 in the second half, making 7-of-8 shots, with Ginobili finding him for an easy bucket early in the fourth and then Jonathon Simmons doing the same.
Aldridge ultimately became a footnote in the game, however, because no one on the Spurs, particularly Leonard, could miss. The visitors hit eight shots in a row late in the third quarter to break the game wide open, including this hustle assist from a 39-year-old to a 38-year-old.
Leonard, who came into the game fourth in the league in three-point percentage hit three of them in the third as part of his 11 point quarter, but he was just getting started. He nailed three more from the wing early in the fourth, all on lightning quick catch-and-shoots to blow past his previous career-best of five triples in a game. He hit seven bombs in a row before finally missing and finished 7-of-9 from downtown for the night, en route to a game-high 27.
Even the usually unflappable Duncan couldn't believe what he was seeing.
This GIF probably doesn't do it justice, but you get the gist.
The Spurs roasted Memphis for 58 points in the second half and wound up shooting 50 percent for the game after a cold start and making a season-high 10 threes. Even Rocket hit his first of the year. Leonard's ever-expanding offensive arsenal continues to inspire and amaze, and just goes to show a player can accomplish if they want it bad enough. Leonard was a 25 percent three-point shooter at San Diego State, with a closer line. His jumper was closer to Tony Allen's than Ray Allen's. He could've rested on his laurels and carved out a very nice, very lucrative career for himself as a defense-and-rebounding guy. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist just signed a four-year, $64 million contract for the Hornets. Leonard would've still been a terrific asset, a real difference-maker for the Spurs, just being that guy.
Instead, he's probably the fourth or fifth-best player in the world right now and climbing. He's ridiculous.
Kawhi Leonard may be the most serious athlete I've ever encountered, and he's still completely, totally, ridiculous.
Your Three Stars:
1. Kawhi Leonard
2. Tony Parker
3. Manu Ginobili