I've tried to be detached and cynical about Summer League. I really have. The games are ragged and at times cringe-worthy. Many, many players out here flat out can't play in The League. Teams routinely finish with more turnovers than assists, which I associate with college ball, and veteran Pounders know how I feel about college ball.
Mostly, I'm aware of how veteran sportswriters feel about Summer League. They scoff at it. They dismiss it. They make jokes if they bother to comment at all. It has all the gravitas of the "celebrity" game that Kevin Hart hijacks every summer. The quickest way to expose yourself as a noob is to be the blogger who gives half a flip about Summer League.
All that being said, in spite of myself, in spite of my cold, black heart, I enjoyed Summer League.
What can I say? I've been a Spurs fan all my life. I like it when the Spurs win games. I'd probably smirk a little if Tottenham ever won the EPL (but nobody that Steve Nash roots for is ever gonna win a damn thing), and that's not even the same sport. OF COURSE it's cool that the Spurs won Summer League. You don't have to apologize to anyone for thinking so. You don't have to attach an asterisk to it or qualify it. The dudes on the team wore Spurs jerseys and they won a thing that was out there to be won, period. That's never a bad thing, unless it costs you the ping pong ball that turns into Tim Duncan.
If that wasn't enough of a reason to be happy, then consider the coach, who happens to represent the fairer 51 percent of the human population. Becky Hammon, a pioneer, made a historic coaching debut, and of the 24 teams in the tournament, the one she coached won. I don't care much of a hater you are, that's significant on a number of levels. It validates her, it validates Gregg Popovich for believing in her and it shows, or at least begins to show for the "old school" crowd, that gender isn't any more relevant in coaching than all the other silly, superficial ways we differentiate ourselves. It would be a great story on its own if she did it with any other team in the NBA. That it happened with the Spurs, that they were ahead of the curve in this the way they've been in so many other avenues, makes it that much sweeter. I couldn't be happier for her.
Will it mean anything in the long run? Probably not. Maybe the Spurs --the real Spurs-- found a rotation piece or two from this group or perhaps none of them will amount to much. The Sacramento Kings won the Summer League last year you know, and they wound up firing two coaches during the regular season. The fellow who won the MVP of the last Summer League Championship was traded to the Spurs for a second-round pick.
Who cares? If you're gonna invest the time to watch sub-Eastern Conference quality basketball in July, then the least the Spurs can do for you is win. That's just them being considerate more than anything else.
Now I've got six weeks to think of the right way to ask Pop about this.
Oh, right, the game. It was only fitting, in a tournament played in Las Vegas, that the Spurs paid homage to the ol' Runnin' Rebels, who ruled the college game in the early 90's under the late Jerry Tarkanian. (If you know your Spurs history, you know Tark coached the Spurs briefly after his UNLV days.)
Though the Spurs got more out of their halfcourt offense than the past couple of games, the reason they prevailed 93-90 over the Suns in the finale at the Thomas and Mack Center was because of all the live ball turnovers they forced and all the fast break points they scored from those turnovers. They had 14 steals in all, plus 13 offensive rebounds. That's a lot of hustle points created, and it made all the difference.
To win a championship at any level, even Summer League, you need contributions from your role players. On a night when Kyle Anderson (15 points on 5-of-13) didn't have his best outing and Jarell Eddie (8 points on 3-of-13) was downright poor, the Spurs got a lift off the bench from Treveon Graham, who scored 22 on 7-of-11 from the floor and from unsung hero Darion Atkins, who made quiet glue plays all game long. The bench scoring was 60-to-10 in the Spurs favor, which was just perfect. Sixth-man extraordinaire Jonathon Simmons led the way with 23 on 7-of-14 from the field and 9-of-12 from the line and was named Most Valuable Player for the game. Well-traveled point guard Mike James went off for the Suns with 32 points to lead everyone, but the game wasn't as close as the final score suggests as Phoenix hit a few bombs in the final seconds when the game was in hand for the Spurs.
Not that the night started very comfortably for the Spurs, mind you. They were down 23-17 after the first quarter and shooting miserably. You might say they looked like a team playing their tenth game in a fortnight. Their "big three" of Anderson, Simmons and Eddie were 2-of-11 combined in the period. Oddly enough, in a tournament where playmaking has been so hard to come by for the Spurs, four of their first five buckets in the quarter were assisted. The last hoop came on an alert backcourt steal and lay-in from Graham that happened so suddenly that the cameraman missed it. It came right before the quarter expired and turned momentum in the Spurs favor.
Simmons and Anderson then came to life in the second quarter to bring the team back from an early 10-point deficit. First, Slow-Mo got another one of his trademark awkward "and-1" circus shots to fall in.
Then Simmons hit two straight long twos, courtesy of devastating back screens by Atkins, who's been by far the best screen-setter on the team all tourney.
After that, it was time for some razzle-dazzle.
I know, you're thinking, "Man, if I had nickel for every Spurs alley-oop off of a pass from the tip-off circle..." but I still thought it was neat.
The next trip down, Anderson tried his version of the ol' Tracy McGrady play, only it wasn't quite so explosive.
Ah, nuts. Hammon lit into the troops after that one for being "too cute," which made me feel all warm inside for reasons I can't explain.
Nevertheless, Anderson finished the quarter with this beauty of a pass to Shannon Scott.
Kyle Anderson for life https://t.co/F3mBrITzJZ— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) July 21, 2015
I know he was named MVP of Summer League and all, but I've been pretty underwhelmed by Anderson's playmaking and floor vision during the tournament. He's averaged just 1.5 assists in Summer League. Tonight it was by far the best facet of his outing. He finished with four assists but could've had eight if people just finished off simple layups.
Graham got another breakaway steal and score before half and it was tied 39-39 at intermission.
The Spurs got some separation in the third quarter thanks to Anderson's one strong scoring burst of the game. First he backed his man down in the post with his right shoulder before deftly finishing with his left. Then he hit a step-back jumper from the left baseline. Finally, he had an impressive hesitation move on a lefty drive and slammed it home. On the other end he used his reach to poke a ball loose and fed Eddie for another jam.
Simmons got two more dunks off steals from Scott and Graham soon after that as the Suns continued to be careless with the ball, and then Simmons fed Graham for a bomb from the wing to put the Spurs up 65-59 after three quarters.
The Spurs put the game away with a 13-0 run in the fourth. Simmons found Graham for two more threes from the right side and Anderson had a nice full-court pass to Brandon Davies in between for another layup. The Spurs were up by 13 late before the Suns closed with some garbage time hoops.
Again, the Suns finished a close-but-not-really to the Spurs for an off-season prize.
C'mon guys, that's not funny. We should feel bad for them because first of all