If nothing else, the Spurs are at least getting back in the habit of blowing out bad teams.
That's not cynicism or sarcasm, I swear. It's a legitimate sign of progress. For the better part of the season, the Spurs have struggled to emphatically beat anyone, much less do it twice in a row. Consecutive 27-point curb-stompings may have been routine for the 2012-2014 Spurs, but not this bunch, not with so many of their significant players slogging through sub-par years.
Consider this: The Spurs, including the last two games, have won just nine games all season long by 15 or more points and just seven by 20 or more points. Before these consecutive 27-point blowouts, their best back-to-back showing were wins by 14 against Portland and 20 against Utah, both at home, on Jan. 16 and 18.
Last season the Spurs won 27 games by 15 or more and 18 by 20 or more, not counting the playoffs. They had seven separate instances of winning consecutive games by 15 or more including two four-game streaks of doing so. These Spurs have been hard-pressed to even win four in a row much less win them all convincingly. By now hopefully we've all come around to understanding the statistical variance of what Manu Ginobili calls "coin-flip games." Lucky teams win a high percentage of close games. Good teams win blowouts. You can have your unicorn-chasing narratives about being clutch and mentally strong and all that. The best way to ensure victory is to dominate from the opening tip and not let up. That's what the Spurs did in the last postseason, more or less.
They didn't exactly do that against the Kings Wednesday night, trailing 27-26 after the opening quarter, but took control of the game in the second period once DeMarcus Cousins was whistled for his second and third fouls 45 seconds apart midway through on a pair of dicey calls. That Cousins didn't get T'd up after his foul after his profanity-laced protest to two separate refs was a telltale sign that the crew realized that they erred.
Not that Cousins was having a good game anyway, mind you. Tiago Splitter made his third consecutive start and set the tone early on with an emphatic block of Cousins at the rim, and he and Tim Duncan combined to limit Boogie to 3-of-8 shooting and three turnovers in the first quarter. Once Cousins sat with 6:39 to go in the half, the Spurs turned a 37-33 lead into a 54-38 advantage at intermission, holding Sacramento to 11 points in the quarter and 31.8 percent shooting for the half.
No one for either side stood out, really, with the notable exception of Kawhi Leonard, who singlehandedly prevented the game from being an unwatchable mess, setting a career-high for points in a half with 19 on 8-of-9 shooting, connecting on various mid-range jumpers in isolation, pair of threes and some damage inside. He added his usual carnage on the other end, with three steals and holding an overextended Rudy Gay to 3-of-12 shooting.
The Spurs had more balance in the second half, with 12 of the 13 actives scoring at least one bucket (all but Duncan, who played just 6:12 after half and did not attempt a shot, though he did hang around long enough to pass Nate Thurmond for ninth on the all-time rebounding list with 14,465 pulls). Leonard had just one bucket in the second half, and it was a slam right in Cousins' mug. The most encouraging sign, however, was Tony Parker scooting effortlessly wherever he wanted and being able to get his teardrop off and finish his layups. He made 8-of-14 shots in all, finishing with 19 points.
Overall the game reminded one of the 2013 Spurs. The starters dominated but the bench was up-and-down. Ginobili made 5-of-9 shots, but threw the ball all over the gym in the second quarter, finishing with six turnovers in 20:44. Marco Belinelli hit a couple of prayers, but still made just 5-of-12 overall, with worrisome shot selection. Contrary to what we've grown accustomed to with the bench, the garbage time crew in the fourth were actually quite good but the actual rotation guys were wobbly for the first three quarters. It was heartwarming to see Jeff Ayres bounce back with a strong showing after his personal nightmare at Phoenix, as he hammered home an and-1 dunk, grabbed seven boards and blocked a pair of shots in 10 minutes.
The next step for the Spurs is to string more of these games together, regardless of opponent. They had a bit of a scheduled win tonight in that not only are the Kings bad, but they were on a SEGABABA, having played at New York the night before. Gregg Popovich spoke before the game about wanting to see better, more consistent ball movement from his guys, and though he insisted that concept isn't mutually exclusive with force-feeding Leonard the ball in isolation and post-up situations, the two sure don't seem to go hand-in-hand when you look at it on the floor.
"I think for moments today we did it well," Ginobili said of the ball movement. "It doesn't feel like we feel the necessity of really moving that defense to score the way we did against Portland, Oklahoma City and Miami last year in the playoffs. We still have a [ways] to go."
However they did it, they managed to get Leonard and Parker to both play well in the same game for one of the few times all season. When both do, the Spurs are practically unbeatable, if they play any defense at all. When both do, we wind up being reminded of the team that used to blow out people with regularity.
Your Three Stars:
3. Tiago Splitter (18 pts)
2. Tony Parker (54 pts)
1. Kawhi Leonard (92 pts)
[Players are given 5 points for first star, 3 points for second star and 1 point for third star. The numbers in parentheses are their accumulated totals for the year]