This season it has been easy to forget just how beautiful the Spurs' play can be when everyone is on the same page and executing. All the injuries and all the games they dropped seemingly because they couldn't be bothered to give all they had never erased the memories of last season but certainly made them seem like glimpses to a bygone era despite those highlights being not even a year old. That's why the first half against the Hawks was such a joy to watch. It was so reassuring to watch San Antonio play on both sides of the ball at the elite level that got them their fifth title.
It was an unusually hot start that screamed "anomaly" and foretold regression. The way the Spurs continued to control the game even after some shots stopped falling was the most impressive thing about the 18-point difference they carried to the break. There were so few mistakes that Patty Mills leaving Kyle Korver open in the corner and Kawhi Leonard trying to dribble around DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap -- two of the league's best pickpockets -- stand out as egregious mishaps instead of footnotes. So many players showed their best level at the same time that a lead that seemed surprising and unsustainable looked appropriate the more minutes elapsed.
Marco Belinelli and Tiago Splitter spearheaded the attack early, with Splitter continuing to string great performances, all but confirming his struggles were injury-related. Tiago was a force on both ends, seemingly always being in the right place at the right time and showing off his nimble feet. Belinelli had one of those games when even his 28-foot three-pointers fall. Their 25 combined points on just 13 shots in the first half are exactly the type of contribution from role guys that had been missing so often early in the season.
The Hawks have not been as dominant as they were two months ago lately but a reaction seemed inevitable. The Spurs have been a train wreck in third quarters all season long so it wouldn't have been surprising for them to let Atlanta make it a close game. Instead, they got the lead up to 26. Kawhi Leonard did a perfect Manu Ginobili impression, throwing bullet passes and bending the defense with dribble penetration. The Hawks did make a push but instead of getting themselves back in the game they merely made the blowout not embarrassing. The lead was the same after the third period as it was at the half.
The most encouraging thing to happen all game came in the final quarter. Boris Diaw, who has been slowly waking up from hibernation for a while, had arguably his best stretch of play of the season, finishing the frame with 15 points and two assists and looking like that multi-talented walking mismatch from last year. With the starters peaking at the right time both individually and as a unit and Diaw getting back on track, all that's missing from last season's juggernaut is a sharp Patty Mills. But we might be getting ahead of ourselves.
The Spurs will have a tough schedule all through the end of the season. They passed the first test with flying colors but there will be others in the near future. Not long ago, the challenges would have looked overwhelming. While overreacting to a few games would be unwise, now it truly feels like the team is up for them and on its way to getting back to what made it special in the first place. Get ready for the stretch run, Spurs fans. It should be fun.
- The only negative from this game is the injury to Aron Baynes. The Big Banger suffered an ankle injury, went to the locker room and didn't return. Hopefully it's nothing major and he is available soon.
- Tiago Splitter scored a season-high 23 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out two assists while Diaw finished with 17 points on 10 shots. With Duncan still as reliable as ever, the three-headed monster that is the Spurs' big man rotation is starting to look scary once again.
- Parker picked his spots. His numbers don't look great and he struggled on defense at times but the team was better with him on the court. When others are playing well, a steady hand is all that's needed from Tony and against the Hawks he delivered.
- Danny Green and Marco Belinelli masked Ginobili's absence and Mills' inefficacy. They combined for 28 points and hit five of nine three-pointers. They also pitched in on the boards, which is a must against a team like the Hawks, which takes at least one big away from the paint.
- Confession time: I've been calling Kawhi Leonard's offensive game boring in conversations with other members of the PtR staff this whole year. The mid-range jumpers and pinch-post ISOs are not my cup of tea. Lately he's showed such great improvement as a passer that I'm mesmerized whenever he has the ball. Leonard's ceiling is impossible to predict so I'm going to just enjoy the ride from now on.
- Joey Crawford ejected Mike Budenholzer. Kevin Arnovitz said it best than I ever could.
You can run from San Antonio. You can find a new conference. But Joey Crawford can smell a Spur. He *will* find you.— Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) marzo 22, 2015
- The Cavaliers are surging and have a clear edge on terms of star power but the Hawks still look like the team to beat in the East, as long as Al Horford gets back to his normal level. Their execution is often flawless and their defense suffocating when they are all in sync.
The Spurs will visit the Mavericks on Tuesday. Dallas, not unlike Atlanta, is not playing as well as they can so it will be interesting to see if the Spurs can replicate their performance from Sunday against one of their biggest rivals.
For the opponent's perspective, visit our friends at Peachtree Hoops.