Contrary to popular belief, the Spurs are not robots. They're flesh-and-blood human beings with independent thoughts and feelings and emotions. They laugh, they love, they feel pain, they cry, just like the rest of us.
And they're just as capable of being bored with their success as they are of inflicting bore on the unsuspecting public.
The Jazz came into Wednesday night's game at the AT&T Center missing not only defensive pillar Rudy Gobert but also Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Dante Exum, who's been out all season with a torn ACL. That's like four of their six best dudes, give or take. They were dead men walking and everyone knew it, and certainly Gregg Popovich giving Tony Parker another game off to rest a sore hip and LaMarcus Aldridge a breather too wasn't going to be enough to even out the talent for both sides, not with the Spurs still trotting out three future Hall-of-Famers plus guys like David West, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills, just for kicks.
Like the doctor told my mom almost 38 years ago, "This is no doubt this is going to get ugly, it's only a question to what degree."
So you'll forgive the Spurs then for letting up a bit on defense. It's only human nature. The better and more prolific their offense has gotten, the more their defense --which had been on a historic pace-- has relaxed. They gave up 98 in back-to-back games against the Bucks and Jazz, two clubs who definitely don't spring to mind as offensive powerhouses. You would've had to be a hardcore hoops fan to have heard of most of the guys the Jazz played tonight outside of Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke and perhaps Trevor Booker. For example, their big-man combo against the Spurs were Jeff Withey and something called "Tibor Pleiss." They combined for 18 points and nine boards. Nobody for the Jazz shot the lights out or anything --Burke led them with 21 off the bench on 10-of-17 and Hayward finished with 18, the most he's ever scored at San Antonio-- but they still shot a respectable 46.8 percent as a team, including 38.9 percent from deep and 17-of-18 from the free-throw line.
I honestly thought the Jazz would be challenged to get to 70 tonight, but that's just it, they scored a perfectly normal amount because they didn't represent a challenge.
Why is that, you ask? Because pretty much since December the Spurs have solved that whole "offense" thing. Their offensive rating from December on is an absurd 113.9. They're 21-1 when they score 100 points, per Basketball-reference.com, and the one loss was the season-opener at Oklahoma City which obviously doesn't even count because neither Jonathon Simmons nor Boban Marjanovic played back then and I feel like those guys are my family by now.
Maybe a better benchmark is three-pointers made. When the Spurs sink eight bombs or more --just two per quarter-- they're 15-1. They've gradually been taking and making more threes as the season's gone on and their assists as a team are trending upward too. They're up to second in the league now, shooting 38.5 percent downtown (you'll never guess who's first), second in assists and first in overall field goal percentage. They're still blowing people out --Wednesday was their ninth drubbing of at least 25 points of the season-- only now they're doing it offensively, with the defense middle of the pack so far in December.
It's a safe guess that Gregg Popovich has noticed the trend, and he even said that the Jazz "executed their offense better than we executed ours" which points to a lack of satisfaction on the defensive end of the floor. It's hard to nitpick about defensive rotations much when you're shooting 60.5 percent and hitting 9-of-21 threes, however.
Or when you see stats like this being flung about...
Best scoring margin through 37 games, NBA history: 2015-16 Spurs +526 1971-72 Lakers +516 1971-72 Bucks +493— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 7, 2016
When your squad is so sharp offensively that they set season-highs in first-half points (68), field goals (52), points in the paint (68, on 34-of-48 shooting), while finishing with 34 assists, 70 points off the bench and eight double-figure scorers...
well maybe if you're Pop you have to pick your battles about rotating properly and closing out on shooters. The guys probably aren't going to get locked in again defensively until they suffer a setback in the loss column or they face someone worthy of their attention, and the sooner the latter can happen is next Thursday against the Cavs, when there's three games between now and then.
Instead of worrying about what could go wrong, let's just enjoy some highlights. After going scoreless for the first time of his career last time the Spurs were at home, Tim Duncan came out decidedly frisky for this one, especially since Aldridge was in street clothes. He scored a couple of in close buckets early on the pick-and-roll and added a short banker and a pair of free-throws for eight early points, while also feeding Leonard for an easy one.
Kawhi got another on a breakaway and nailed a 15-footer and found Danny Green in the corner for a three.
Ray McCallum came in off the bench and scored on a zipper cut with Duncan hitting him from the high post and Manu Ginobili faked Withey out of his jock on a step-back three. Simmons bombed one from the wing off a pass from Boris Diaw and the Spurs had a double-figure lead they'd never relinquish.
The Spurs opened it up further in the second quarter with David West continuing to be automatic, McCallum nailing a couple of short jumpers that sort of reminded you of Cory Joseph and Ginobili scoring on a pair of drives and one high-range-of-difficulty floater. Marjanovic cleaned up around the bucket for a couple of hoops and the Spurs wound up with 10 assists and a season-high 36 points in the second quarter.
It was an odd defensive night where even their few hustle plays weren't rewarded. For example, this was called "and-1" by the refs.
But the offense was coming so free and easy that nobody seemed to mind. On the very next play, Simmons exacted revenge with "the hoop and the harm" of his own.
The Spurs were scoring through contact
and making ridiculous shots, that it was pointless to mind their sloppy defense.
Pop started a funky lineup in the second half, with Simmons, Kyle Anderson and McCallum in there for Leonard, Green and Mills, and naturally, it worked. Anderson was surprisingly aggressive and scored three baskets inside, Simmons threw in another three plus a ridiculous drive and Duncan led the way with eight, including his first jumper in forever.
It actually got worse once Leonard and Ginobili checked in, with the Jazz making a brief run, but no matter. By the time the dust settled Duncan (18), West (14 plus a season-high 13 rebounds), Anderson (13) and McCallum (10) all had season-highs for the Spurs in another rout. Leonard had the only basket for the starters in the fourth quarter, on a play executed just like Pop drew it up.
Even the Red Rocket got into the act by the end, courtesy of more Simmons awesomeness.
For a bunch of bored guys, the Spurs still produce a bunch of highlights. I think that's a good thing.
Your Three Stars:
1. Tim Duncan
2. David West
3. Kawhi Leonard
Up Next: Vs. New York Knicks (18-19)
The Spurs will try to tie their longest winning streak of the year and make it 22 straight at home against a Knicks squad that's more fun than it's been in years, due almost entirely to the presence of one Kristaps Porzingis. New York has won three in a row, including an impressive home-and-home sweep of the Hawks and then a conquest of the Heat at Miami in which Carmelo Anthony was really efficient. He was anything but in the first meeting with the Spurs at New York on Nov. 2, shooting 4-of-17 as the visitors won by 10 and Aldridge led four Spurs starters scoring in double digits with 19.