Nobody on the planet is more relieved to get the 1,000 win milestone out of the way than Gregg Popovich because it'll mean that he won't have to answer any more questions about it. He'd probably rather field questions about Joey Crawford during the third quarter sideline interview of Game 7 of the NBA Finals than he would like to hear one more query about his personal accomplishments.
Now that this bit of statistical bookkeeping is out of the way, he can get back to the business of trying to improve his team for the stretch run without many distractions. Still, the win over the Pacers was satisfying and memorable, so here's a list of things I liked about the game.
1. I liked that it was ugly
So many of our recent Spurs memories involve blowout wins and beautiful basketball. This game was old school "pounding the rock" Spurs ball, the kind to make other fans turn the channel and infuriate league executives. The Spurs executed well for the first 18 minutes and then ground to a halt. Turnovers, wide open jumpers bricked, the usual second and third quarter malaise we've grown accustomed to. They wound up shooting 41.6 percent for the game, and a pitiful 24 percent from three. But they won anyway -- and on the road -- thanks to a stubborn defensive stand where they allowed just two points to Indiana in the final 5:35. It was glorious.
2. I liked that it happened on a Monday
No national TV game, no marquee opponent, it wasn't even at home to get the fans on their side. Instead, Pop got his 1,000th win in the most anonymous way possible, facing a nondescript Eastern Conference opponent without a single marquee player on the court, what with Paul George still rehabbing. You don't win 55 games every year and contend because you blow out every good team you play on ESPN and TNT with a million highlight plays. You do it by grinding out wins against the Pacers and Bucks on frigid Mondays in February when nobody can throw it into the ocean, nobody wants to be there, and everybody is looking forward to the All-Star break.
3. I liked that Tim Duncan was Tim Duncan
38-years-old and he still dominated the younger, bigger Roy Hibbert at both ends, blocking him at the rim on a would-be dunk, and then swatting him from behind late in the game after Hibbert had him beat to the hoop. Duncan finished with five blocks for the night and was fluid enough late to score a pick-and-roll layup to pull the Spurs within two.
4. I liked that Cory Joseph was prominently involved
Joseph was fantastic in the first half at Toronto, the biggest key in turning that game around, but for some mystifying reason Popovich didn't play at him at all in the second half and the Spurs went on to lose. Against the Pacers, Joseph didn't play at all the first three quarters but Pop brought him into the game at the start of the fourth quarter and Joseph scored a couple of buckets and was plus-6 in his six minutes to help trim the deficit.
5. I liked that Mike Brown was prominently not involved
Brown is a nice guy I'm sure and he helped the team win a championship as an assistant in 2003, but as a color commentator ... he's not my favorite. Please don't do that again, Spurs.
6. I liked that he rested a star player
It didn't matter that they lost the previous game or that the All-Star break is around the corner and it sure didn't matter the next win would be No. 1,000. It was still a back-to-back, and Manu Ginobili likely wasn't feeling 100 percent after taking a late shot to his quad courtesy of a knee from DeMar DeRozan. So he was rested. Ginobili's actually been really good this year on SEGABABAs, but it was fitting that Pop hit a milestone win without one of his best players, the way the Spurs have won countless games over the years at less than full strength.
7. I liked that involved a comeback
Face it, comebacks are just cooler to watch than games where your team wins by 30 or they nearly blow a big lead they've had the whole night but barely hang on. It's always more memorable when the best quarter you play is the fourth quarter rather than the first. The Spurs were down 14 going into the fourth quarter and still trailed by nine after C.J. Miles' layup with 5:35 left but closed the game on a 13-2 run. And the best part of it was that it wasn't one guy going all Superman either but rather six different Spurs scored in that final stretch. Kawhi Leonard had three points on a coast-to-coast layup plus the "and-1" and Duncan, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Aron Baynes and Marco Belinelli all had two points apiece.
8. I liked that random guys made the biggest shots
Duncan, Parker and Ginobili get so much credit for the team's success and deservedly so, but the Spurs wouldn't have the rings they do without contributions from guys like Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Stephen Jackson, Speedy Claxton, Robert Horry, Brent Barry, Fabricio Oberto, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley and all the fellas from last year's squad. The game-tying and game-winning baskets for Pop's 1,000th win came from Aron Baynes and Marco Belinelli. That's a trivia question nobody will answer correctly in ten years.
9. I liked that Leonard had the ball in his hands late
It was his only assist of the night, but Leonard made the right read when the Pacers defense converged on him and kicked it out to an open Belinelli for the winning play. A couple possessions before that, they ran the "hammer" set and Leonard executed it as flawlessly as Ginobili does, penetrating to the rim, drawing the defense and hooking a pass to the opposite corner for a wide open three-point look for Green. It missed, but Leonard did everything correctly and it speaks to not only his development as a playmaker, but also to the coaching staff's trust in him to put him in that role late in the game. Sure, Ginobili was out, but there were still a pair of Hall-of-Famers on the floor that Pop bypassed to give Leonard the nod.
10. I liked that it came against the Pacers
How's that for symbolism? Pop will never admit it in a million years, but the fact is that the Spurs and Pacers will be forever linked by that fateful draft day trade where San Antonio sent George Hill to Indiana for the rights to draft Leonard. It completely changed the fate of their franchise. Hill may be a wonderful person and Pop's favorite player, but the Spurs were a sinking ship with him and they desperately needed an infusion of youth, size and athleticism on the wing. Leonard has fit the bill and then some. Heck, Pop was probably sick about it afterward that Hill's attempt at the winner at the buzzer rimmed out, but it kind of told the tale of the trade, didn't it? Leonard made the game-winning play and Hill couldn't answer on the other end.
I've always liked Hill and I'm glad he seems happy in Indiana (his home state, just like Pop) and it's great that there are no bitter feelings there.
From Tony Parker's FB page. For some reason I love that Pop has his hand on Tim's shoulder. Also, G.Hill and Mahinmi! pic.twitter.com/kDyUOhlPE5— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) February 10, 2015