I usually don’t write about individual games a day after the fact —Chris did a fine job as usual with the recap— especially random ones against crummy teams like the Phoenix Suns, but Wednesday night offered an object lesson on why Spurs fans should never, ever, ever sour on what might look like a blah match-up on paper. Like most of you, I suspect, I wasn’t expecting too many noteworthy moments, especially once it was announced that Kawhi Leonard would miss the game with a stomach bug, but what we wound up getting was if not the most thrilling or competitive game of the year, then certainly the most entertaining.
We have to break down the highlights into four separate categories in the interest of organization:
1) In-game stuff
2) Sean Elliott being Sean Elliott
3) Manu Mania
4) Pop gives up
There’s no way to sugercoat this. Boy howdy the Suns are terrible defensively. The Spurs would’ve scored 140 or so if they didn’t miss so many bunnies at the rim.
So...hopefully the Spurs don't miss Kawhi too much tonight. pic.twitter.com/1c9qs5ZW88— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
In a related story, Tony Parker had seven driving layups last night.
"I'll just take this little elbow jumper. Wait, no I won't. Layup's easier." pic.twitter.com/DvBdziuxen— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
Tony Parker, practically coast to coast. pic.twitter.com/HqdZQlrnip— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
I couldn’t sworn I was looking for Steve Nash in this clip:
Probably Tony Parker's best drive/layup from Wednesday's game against the Suns. pic.twitter.com/iW7ADjvS7h— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
When’s the last time Parker had that many layups in one game? It has to be a couple years, right?
Then there’s the recent reemergence of LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s sunk 25-of-32 shots the past two ballgames. He mostly blitzed the Bulls with long twos on Christmas, but I was overjoyed to see him brutalize undersized Suns rookie Marquese Chriss in the paint over and over instead of simply settling for jumpers.
LMA making it happen in the post. pic.twitter.com/lknu00Tirr— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
And here’s Dragan Bender, like Chriss, a first-round pick for Phoenix, catching some work from LMA.
LMA continuing his work inside. pic.twitter.com/VD2sPsQ8Ht— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
Finally, here’s Aldridge giving Alex Len the business.
I just love it when LMA gets aggressive like this. pic.twitter.com/3WuBwt0dRC— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
The remarkable thing here is that the Suns couldn’t force Aldridge into a single miss, yet he had only nine shot attempts with five minutes remaining in the game, a fact that no doubt drove Gregg Popovich bonkers. (As we’ll see below, Pop was not lacking for reasons to be frustrated on the evening.) Nonetheless, more aggressiveness from Aldridge going forward, especially against smaller lineups, would serve him and the Spurs well, as would, obviously, Parker rediscovering his vroom.
Sean Elliott being Sean Elliott
Oh, Sean. If you only knew how many times I’ve defended your (ahem) slightly-biased analysis on broadcasts to non-Spurs fans. I’ve argued that you’re really sharp with diagramming and explaining plays. I’ve explained your enthusiasm sounds over-the-top and homerish only because it comes in stark relief of the national broadcasters hammering you over the head about how “machine-like” and “methodical” the boring-old-Spurs are for the one billionth time. I flip out on people who —often— misspell your last name. I’ve been on your side, Sean Elliott, and anyone who says otherwise is a filthy liar.
That being written, you can’t be ripping Matt Moore’s popular story about how the Spurs haven’t defended well with Kawhi Leonard on the floor when it seemed to me that you never actually read it. Bill Land made a halfhearted effort to try to put some context in there (“Well, he was trying to say the numbers don’t add up”) but was swiftly dismissed.
C’mon Sean. You’re not Dominique Wilkins. You’re not Clyde Drexler. You’re better than this.
What prompted Elliott to go on his jag, of course, was the Spurs playing woeful defense in the first half, allowing 64 points to the Suns on 67.6 percent shooting. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear a peep from him when the Spurs allowed only 34 second-half points and the Suns finished the game with an Offensive Rating of 98.4, a figure that would rank 29th in the league over a full season.
Oh, and late in the broadcast Elliott, in complete seriousness but without actually saying the name, compared Dejounte Murray to a young Russell Westbrook.
Alright, let’s get back to the cheerier stuff. Manu Ginobili, 39, was just a vintage wrecking ball against the Suns, the team he’s tormented the most throughout his storied and decorated career.
First, there was the steal and slam midway through the third quarter. (And be sure to catch the elbow in the chops to Eric Bledsoe. I’m not saying Ginobili is exactly John Stockton out there, but for all the punishment he’s absorbed taking those charges, he’s given as good as he’s gotten through the years with sneaky knees and bows. ... Okay, I remembered the thing with Ryan Anderson last year. Perhaps he has suffered a bit more than he’s meted out.)
The crazier thing than Ginobili’s old-man dunk was that he had three swats in the game, tying the second-most of his career. Oddly enough, he had four in a game last season in just 19 minutes against the Jazz.
Here are the blocks, in order.
First, victimizing Brandon Knight, late in the third quarter at the end of this crazily epic string of weird plays:
One of the craziest sequences in the season so far for the Spurs. pic.twitter.com/a7569puIcP— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
Then chasing down T.J. Warren at the start of the fourth:
Finally, against Chriss, who at this point must be wondering what he did to piss the Spurs off so bad.
If you noticed, all three blocks resulted in Spurs ball. Tim Duncan would’ve been proud. Ginobili now has 297 blocks in his career. Three more and he becomes only the fifth Spur with at least 400 steals and 300 blocks, joining Duncan, David Robinson, George Gervin (!) and Danny Green, who reached that lofty company earlier this season. Manu also got an outside shot at passing Robinson for the franchise’s all-time steals record, needing 87 more, but he’d really have to go nut and stay totally healthy to do it. Speaking of Green, this leads us to our final and best category of the game.
Pop Gives Up
As you’re likely aware, Verde has not always been the best decision-maker with the ball in his hands. Look at Pop’s reaction on the bench after this awry lob pass intended for Pau Gasol...
Green with those two TOs that made Pop so angry last night and set up that hilarious moment later in the game. pic.twitter.com/4kK1AJ5s4v— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
But Green somehow makes an even worse pass immediately after. I swear I thought Popovich was going to strangle him right there in front of 20,000 people.
Fed up with the sloppy play of Green and Patty Mills in particular, Pop finally almost literally resorted to tackling Ginobili in order to get the team to settle down.
Pop lost it with Manu wanting the ball slowed down. pic.twitter.com/Gfw9gHdAeX— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
“Danny, I don’t get it. Every other player in the league would be thrilled to be told they can shoot whenever they touch the ball and you want to be Chris Paul out here.”
This is about as funny as the Spurs bench gets. Pop cracks Green up as Murray tries to figure it all out. pic.twitter.com/wraoHQbXBF— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
“15 years and you guys still don’t listen. I quit.”
Pop has heard enough from Manu and can't even fight him any more as Tony cracks up. pic.twitter.com/RulEYcKAVf— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 29, 2016
That was a fun game.
(Thanks to J.R. Wilco for all but one of the videos and to Project Spurs for the other.)
While I can’t share the joke JRW sent me as we texted about The Wee Frenchman’s exploits, let’s just say you’d all be floored it came from him and not me, and I’ve never been prouder to work for him.