Game 13 @Los Angeles: Spurs 116, Lakers 107
Record: 10-3 1st in Southwest Division, 3rd in West Streak: W-5
Well, I certainly didn’t see this coming.
I figured the Spurs’ starting lineup would have to work out the kinks and take a couple weeks if not a couple months to get their chemistry down, what with Tony Parker and Danny Green missing most or all of the first ten games. Frankly, I had my doubts they would ever work well as a quintet, with Kawhi Leonard’s stardom demanding a high usage rate and wings of his quality typically needing their point guards to be spot-up shooters from the three-point line and little else.
Instead, with Parker and Green return to health, the starters are playing like they’ve been together for years instead of days. Passes are whipping around, everyone is getting their fair share of touches in their preferred spots, and most important of all, the ball is finding the bottom of the net with a measure of regularity. All five starters scored in double figures in San Antonio’s win at L.A., and they combined for 98 points. The Spurs had season-highs in field goal percentage (56.4) and assists (30) and knocked down 10-of-24 from downtown.
The Spurs needed that kind of offensive efficiency because they really didn’t play well in most respects. They got mauled on the glass, gave up too many fast break points, didn’t defend the three-point line at all and weren’t stout guarding the rim or aggressive in attacking it. They just happened to bury a lot of mid-range shots tonight. Indeed, it might have been a different story if D’Angelo Russell, who missed the game with a sore knee, was healthy; and for the life of me I can’t understand why Luke Walton started Jose Calderon in his place instead of elevating Jordan Clarkson into that role.
Obviously, as we saw Friday night the Lakers are no kind of defensive juggernaut, and to be fair neither was the Kings squad the Spurs eviscerated on Wednesday night. But what of it? The wins count the same in the standings in November as they do in March and you never have to apologize for them. The schedule just happened to work out where the starters are getting their first run together against a few malleable defenses and I’m glad that it did. Let the starters build up their confidence now and it should pay dividends down the line.
Going into the game you figured the Spurs were the prohibitive favorites, and indeed everything looked smooth from the get-go, with a quick 9-0 run to begin the game for San Antonio. You know the offense is clicking when even Green is making plays for people; he had a couple of helpers on their first two buckets of the game and finished with six of them on the night while Leonard tied his career-high with seven. The Spurs added a 10-1 run midway through the period, with Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili joining the fray and were up 26-16 after the first quarter. 10 of their 11 baskets were assisted and even though Parker and Leonard were misfiring early, they had six dimes between them.
Things kind of went to hell in the second period, though. The offense was still decent, with Leonard and Pau Gasol doing their thing, and it was hard to discern the difference on that end of the floor, except for the fact that they had six turnovers to the Lakers’ none and the underdogs used that sloppiness to fuel nine fast break buckets. Also, Luol Deng and Nick Young of all people just wouldn’t miss. 36-26, L.A. in the second stanza and off the two teams went into recess, the margin the same as when they tipped off an hour earlier.
Finally, the Spurs got serious and used a 23-5 run in the third quarter to re-take the lead and pull away for good. Gregg Popovich pulled Green just two minutes into the quarter after he committed a shooting foul —it was only Verde’s second personal so he wasn’t in foul trouble— and whattaya know, it turned out having five future Hall-of-Famers on the floor together instead of just four turned out to be the winning combination. Parker got going with a couple of pull-up jumpers, a driving layup and an and-1 floater. Ginobili chipped in with a pair of bombs. Oh, and the starting frontcourt merely added 20 points of their own. The Spurs blew them off the floor, making 14-of-19 shots and all eight of their freebies for 39 points and led 91-76 after three.
It was “The Beautiful Game” at its finest. Seven guys were in double-figures already and no one had more than 15 points. Leonard didn’t have to be the savior. He could just chill out and let Parker handle things or look to create for his others. It makes for a more entertaining watch and it’s nice to see the Spurs show that they’ve got this offensive versatility in them, even if it’s still reliant on a bunch of 18-footers.
Leonard and Aldridge carried them home down the stretch, with 18 of San Antonio’s 25 points in the period, and that’s fine. At least they didn’t have to do it the whole game. Leonard’s free-throw stroke sure was vital down the stretch and Parker had a huge jumper to ice it. The Spurs stayed perfect on road and Pop passed his friend and mentor Larry Brown on the all-time coaching wins list. He’s seventh now, with 1,099, and that’s not too shabby for a guy who only won 17 his first year and has a career 76-129 record as a Division-III college coach.
Now, if he could just figure out how to get the starters and bench to play well at the same time...
Up Next: Monday Vs. Dallas Mavericks (2-9)
The fellas enjoy the weekend off at home before taking on their cross-state rivals, the woebegone Mavs. If you haven’t been keeping up with Dallas, fear not, no one else is either. That’s why Mark Cuban pulled the press credentials of a pair of ESPN reporters, because he was peeved they’re not covering his team as regularly as before. Weird, for some reason fans would rather read and watch stories about the Warriors and Cavs than a squad who struggles to score 85 points most nights. Dirk Nowitzki has been out most of the year with an Achilles injury, and vets Deron Williams and Wes Matthews have been in and out of the lineup, so the Mavs have had to rely on newcomer Harrison Barnes to be their main weapon. It’s actually gone better than I thought it would for him, but they still stink.