Earl Watson’s young Phoenix Suns team was able to keep pace with the San Antonio Spurs for almost three and a half quarters, but late in the game the veteran Spurs exerted their will and took the game away. Kawhi Leonard started the run with an incredible takeaway and score off a Tyson Chandler rebound, and newcomer Dewayne Dedmon made major contributions with spectacular defensive plays and high-flying dunks. But this was a night when everyone in silver and black played well, with all 13 active players seeing action and Davis Bertans the Spur without any points.
Marquise Criss opened the scoring for the Suns with an three-point shot from the elbow. After a couple of missed shots from the Spurs, a bad pass from Lamarcus Aldridge led to an easy dunk from Devin Booker. A rare three-point shot from Tony Parker cut the deficit to two. After a trade of baskets and a deep three from Eric Bledsoe, the Suns doubled up the Spurs, leading 14-7. But then the Spurs went on a run, scoring a quick four points before the bench entered with Dewayne Dedmon, Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili and scored 5 more. The Spurs had erased the deficit—leading by 2. But the Suns answered with a deep triple from Brandon Knight to once again retake the lead. After a few moments where nobody from either team could get the ball to go through the hoop, the Spurs began to hit, led by Dedmon’s high flying dunk. But the Spurs turnovers late in the quarter kept the margin close. After one quarter, the Spurs led the Suns 23-20.
A Pau Gasol put-back of a missed Patty Mills shot opened the second quarter scoring, and Jared Dudley drained an open three for the Suns in response. After Dudley evened the score with and uncontested layup, Pop called a timeout to get his team in order. Pop was rewarded with a Danny Green Tarheel triple, but a tricky corkscrew drive from Leandro Barbosa and a pullup three from Dragan Bender helped the Suns to regain the lead at 30-28.
Leandro Barbosa literally ran circles around Pau Gasol. pic.twitter.com/RJla9504P6— Jesus Gomez (@JejeGomez_PtR) December 16, 2016
Kawhi scored on a free throw and a drive to the basket, but the Spurs continued to shoot themselves in the foot with unforced turnovers allowing the Suns to regain the lead, surging to 39-33.
Finally, Kyle Anderson lofted the ball from nearly halfcourt to a streaking Dewayne Dedmon for dunk to end the Suns run. After Kyle Anderson scored, Earl Watson had seen enough and called timeout.
But the Spurs were rollign, and a Parker jumper tied the game, and after some spectacular defensive play from Dedmon, the Spurs tied it up. But they weren’t done yet, as they finished the quarter on a 18-4 run led by Dedmon’s defense and a return of 2014’s beautiful game and led 51-43 at the half. A trademark Kawhi steal and breakaway was the signature play of the run.
Gasol opened the third quarter with an elbow jumper to give the Spurs their first double digit lead of the game. After a pair of Bledsoe free throws, Gasol hit again, but then Devin Booker scored 7 straight points to cut the lead to just three. Pop called timeout, just two and a half minutes into the quarter. Coming out of the timeout, Eric Bledsoe cut the lead to one, but then Danny Green answered with a three. The two teams battled evenly for a couple of minutes and halfway though the quarter the Spurs led 60-56. Parker drew Tyson Chandler’s fifth foul with a crafty move to earn a pair of free throws. But Dudley and Barbosa kept the Suns in the mix.
After a ferocious Criss putback dunk, the Spurs lead was 72-67. After Dudley blocked a David Lee layup, Knight hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 3. After another Spurs turnover, Patty Mills hit Knight’s arm under the basket, and after the free throws the Spurs led by just a single point. Simmons was able to hit the last bucket of the quarter and the Spurs led 74-71 going into the final quarter. The Suns were hanging around.
Starting the fourth quarter, Leandro Barbosa lost his man and scored. Kawhi used a hesitation move to get to the basket, but a foul from Bender kept him from a spectacular finish. But the Suns kept pushing the ball, and Leandro Barbosa put them in front with a drive to the basket. But then a Kawhi alley-oop dunk and a Lamarcus and-one basket put the Spurs ahead again. After a Pau Gasol hook shot missed badly .. falling directly into Aldridge’s hands (it was a pass!), Aldridge put it back to put the Spurs up 83-77 with 9 minutes left.
Kawhi Leonard then missed a shot, but stole the ball from Tyson Chandler (he drank his milkshake) and put it back in. This was the moment in the game where you knew that the Spurs weren’t going to let the Suns win.
Pau Gasol hit a layup and once again the Spurs led by double digits, capping an 11-0 run. Dudley answered with a three, but the Spurs kept grinding. By halfway through the quarter, the Spurs led 93-80. Kyle Anderson kept the Spurs run going with pair of free throws, and Aldridge hit a runner in the lane to swell the lead to 97-80. With just over 4 minutes left, the Spurs had taken control of the game away from the Suns with a 21-3 run. After another exchange of baskets, Pop called a timeout and put in the reserves with just under three minutes left.
Nicolas Laprovittola made a layup just seconds after entering the game, and garbage time was on. But Spurs fans still had a treat coming as Dedmon continued to shine.
Dedmon with back-to-back brilliant plays: a clever layup off a feed from Kawhi, and a sky-high block. pic.twitter.com/n3JTchqSyy— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 16, 2016
Craig Sager died as he lived—with courage, passion, perseverance. Fearless and hopeful, a real hero. pic.twitter.com/lPzJUPevTE— Vice President Biden (@VP) December 15, 2016
- A talking stick is actually a pretty cool idea. Not sure about the resort.
- Lamarcus had a couple of phantom fouls called on him in the first half. Luckily he didn’t get any more fouls until late in the game.
- They replayed my favorite Craig Sager/Gregg Popovich interview at halftime. It felt like a punch in the gut to watch it for me.
- Kyle Anderson has been getting a few more minutes lately, and he’s been taking advantage. He still hesitates to take open shots, but his passing is on point and he always plays great defense.
- Go watch Arrival. It’s a great movie.
- David Lee is really good. The only bad play I remember is a bad pass over Pau Gasol’s head. It probably would have been a great pass if Dedmon was on the other end.
- The Spurs outplayed the Suns in almost every area, except for turnovers. You can overcome a 20 turnover game against a bad team like the Suns, but they’ll need to take better care of the rock to win against top tier teams.
In memoriam—Craig Sager
It’s hard to think about a game on a sad day like this. Craig Sager wasn’t just a guy in crazy suits who loved the game and got loved in return. He was more than that. He was a great broadcaster and an incredible inspiration. I’ll miss the hell out of him.
The Spurs have a couple more days off before they return to San Antonio to play the New Orleans Pelicans at 6:00 PM Sunday.
The Pelicans are an improving team, Anthony Davis almost led New Orleans to an upset of the Golden State Warriors earlier this week, but a missed call of a Draymond Green foul in the final seconds ended their shot to win the game. Gotta love those last two minute reports. I think it’s just great that the league lets teams know that they screwed up, on the next day when there’s no way to undo the damage. That’s extremely helpful.