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Pau Gasol leads Spurs to a win, but a late run by the Kings becomes a teachable moment

The Spurs were cruising to an easy win behind Pau Gasol's best game as a Spur, but with a little over 3 minutes left in the game and a 18 point lead, Pop inserted an inexperienced lineup that led to a nail-biter down the stretch.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden 1 Center in Sacramento is home to one of the best big men in the league, DeMarcus Cousins and probably the only coach who can make him play hard every night, Dave Joerger. Unfortunately for the Kings, Cousins doesn't have a lot of help, and against a deep and well-coached team like the San Antonio Spurs the Kings don't have enough firepower to hang with them, at least most of the time. This became evident as the Spurs were able to build their lead to 18 points over the first 45 minutes of the game behind solid efforts from Pau Gasol and Kawhi Leonard.

But with a 105-87 lead and 3 minutes left, Gregg Popovich put in a lineup of Dejounte Murray, Jonathon Simmons, Kyle Anderson, Bryn Forbes, and Davis Bertans. Without a seasoned leader on the floor, the team was disorganized and allowed the Kings to close the gap to within 4 points with 7 seconds left. Fortunately for the Spurs, the clock ran out, and it turned into a valuable lesson for the young guys, and a confidence builder for the Kings. All the credit goes to Joerger, who didn't allow his team to let up and kept them competing until time expired.

Game Flow:

The first quarter was a brickfest for the Kings as they missed shots badly, perhaps because of the unfamiliar sightlines of the new arena, or maybe they were just rusty after four days off since their last game. The Spurs caught a break when DeMarcus Cousins fouled Pau Gasol on a jumpshot early in the quarter, and then fouled Kawhi Leonard just 3 seconds later battling for the rebound on a missed free throw. With 8 minutes left in the first quarter and two fouls, Boogie had to take an early seat and be replaced by Willie Cauley-Stein. WCS is a pretty good player, but he's not the threat that Cousins is on offense. The Spurs quickly raced to a double-digit lead, but the Kings fought back with a 9-2 run to end the quarter and the Spurs were up 27-22 after one.

The second quarter started with a beautiful Jonathon Simmons three-point shot ... that didn't count because of a David Lee illegal screens. It seems like the shots that don't count always go in. Meanwhile, the run that the Kings were on to finish the first quarter continued and Sacramento took the lead 28-27 on Garrett Temple jumper. Danny Green hit a transition triple to stop the bleeding, and the teams traded baskets for a while as neither team could gain separation.

But midway through the quarter, the Kings shooting went cold and the Spurs started to force turnovers, leading to easy baskets. With 5 minutes left in the quarter, Davis Bertans entered the game and almost immediately drained a deep three pointer. Ben McLemore hit some clutch shots to keep the Kings within range, but by halftime, the Spurs were ahead 57-46 after knocking down a blistering 57% of their shots in the first half.

The second half started with Cousins getting to the line, which became a recurrent theme as the game wore on. There were a couple of possessions where the Spurs played great defense, but the ball bounced to an open Kings shooter, and Arron Afflalo and Rudy Gay hit their shots to keep the Kings in it. By about halfway through the quarter, when DeMarcus Cousins grabbed a rebound, drove it the length of the floor and slammed it home over David Lee, the score was 68-58. But the Spurs continued to execute their offense which led to open threes for Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard. DeMarcus Cousins continued to score and he kept the game from getting out of hand for the home team. After three quarters, the Spurs led 84-71.

The Spurs continued to cruise into the fourth, as the defense tightened and LaMarcus hit a triple. The lead ballooned to 18 with 3:11 left after a pair of Aldridge free throws. Pop decided to close with his reserves, dishing out a lineup of Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Jonathon Simmons, Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans.

None of these guys are bad players, but they are usually on the floor with at least a couple of experienced players. This lineup, without experienced leadership, was more than a little shaky to finish the game. Dave Joerger kept his best lineup in the game, and they fought hard, cutting the lead to just four points with 7 seconds left. They were probably a few missed free throws from forcing Pop to bring back a starter or two to stabilize the bench group, but the youngsters played just well enough to preserve the win.

It was probably the sort of thing that makes a coach happy.  The team won, but they did enough wrong to give him plenty to talk about and teach his players what not to do.

Random Thoughts:

  • Cousins brings the ball up the court more than any other big man, except for maybe Anthony Davis. He might be the best ball handler on the team. He can take the ball from coast to coast and finish, and did that at least once tonight.
  • At the end of the game, Cousins perfectly executed an intentional missed free throw to get another possession. In the past, the only times I've ever seen that work seemed to be luck, but Boogie bounced the ball perfectly off the rim to where he could pick it up and get fouled. His skill level is off-the-charts-amazing.
  • I like that Pop let his lineup of young guys finish the game despite their near collapse. He let them be accountable for the bad play and they actually played a little smarter over the last few possessions after the undisciplined play which led to losing the big lead.
  • The Spurs missed Dewayne Dedmon, who has a sprained knee, especially for that last three minutes where the bench lineup needed better rim protection.
  • Davis Bertans had his best game as a Spur, but he still looked a little rushed and nervous at times. His defense was terrific, with two blocks. He missed a few of his open shots because he didn't take enough time to get set. He's definitely going to get better with experience.
  • Matt Barnes has the most ridiculous man bun outside of a Starbucks that I've ever seen.
  • This was Gregg Popovich's 1,098th win as a head coach, tying Larry Brown. Congratulations, Coach Pop!

Musical Interlude:

[Puddles reminds me of Cousins]

Up Next:

The Spurs record is now 9-3, and they are in the third playoff position in the Western Conference, behind the Clippers and some team with yellow and blue uniforms. On Friday, the Spurs head up to LA, where they play the more likable of the two teams that play at the Staples Center. The game doesn't start until 9:30 pm, Spurs time, so maybe you should take a nap when you get home from work. The Lakers actually have a winning record at 7-5 so far, and they're an exciting team to watch with a lot of young and talented players. It should be a quite a challenge for the short-handed Spurs.