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Spurs Win Thriller in Milwaukee to Stay Perfect on the Road

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San Antonio extends their road winning streak to 12 wins to start the season.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Game 21, @Milwaukee: Spurs 97, Bucks 96 Rec: 17-4 1st in Southwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference - Streak: W-3

An Alley-oop Fiesta. The Brouhaha in Brewtown. A game-winning...goal-tend?

The San Antonio Spurs keep finding ways to win away from home. Undefeated thus far, the Spurs have now won a dozen straight on the road to open the season, tied for the second longest streak of its kind in NBA history (the record is 14). At the quarter point of the season, the Spurs still have yet to succumb on the road, though not for a lack of trying.

After a pathetic first half, reminiscent of the garbage basketball played in the second half against the Magic last week, it seemed like I may, personally, be some kind of curse when covering the Spurs this season. But this game against (reigning Eastern Conference player of the week) Giannis Antetokounmpo, was certainly the story of two halves.

"If the ball doesn’t change sides of the court, we might score 74," Gregg Popovich said before the game in regards to Milwaukee's "remarkable length," with Jabari Parker, Greg Monroe, (Kawhi's high school teammate) Tony Snell, and John Henson in addition to "the Greek Freak."

The game opened promisingly enough, with the Spurs executing Popovich's gameplan of moving the ball and shooting well against the Bucks length, though there were noticeable moments when they passed on open shots due to the threat of hyper-athletic, ultra-lanky closeouts. The Spurs assisted on eight of their 10 made baskets in the opening quarter, with Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge combining for 16 points. Manu Ginobili couldn't extend his run of closing quarters as he missed both of the two-for-one opportunities to extend the Spurs' meager 26-24 lead.

The second quarter is where it got ugly for the good guys. The Spurs average 13.5 turnovers per game and they nearly squeezed that number in the first half alone, going into halftime with 12. It wasn't simply a sloppy quarter – the Spurs were also utterly ice cold shooting the ball. Only three Spurs made field goals in the period, and there were enough bricks for a Spuran Spuran reunion cover of the Commodores: Patty Mills was 0-5, Leonard 0-4 and Aldridge 0-3. The Spurs managed one field goal out of their first 16 attempts over a 7:53 span and went into halftime with a season-low 35 points, shooting 31.1% and trailing 35-48 after a 9-point quarter.

Tony Parker, the only Spur to make multiple shots in the second, went down with 8:44 left in the third and did not re-enter the game. Down 42-53 after a Parker jumper and assist to Danny Green, Nicolás Laprovíttola entered the game for the Spurs. Pau Gasol went on a crucial eight point run on his own for the Parker-less Spurs. Then Nico asserted himself with an open three pointer. All told, it was an 11-1 Spurs run to get the score back to five. Laprovittola also found his Argentian National teammate Ginobili on a beautiful cross-court pass for an open three. He would finish the quarter with 5 assists and 3 points in less than 9 minutes.

Three additional things happened in the third quarter that would change the trajectory of the game (and in the latter two...history?):

First, at some point, the Spurs switched to a 2-3 zone sensing that the Bucks didn't have the shooters to exploit it, and it allowed them to hide weaker Spanish defenders. I'll name no names.

Second, the Spurs remembered that dunks can be both fun and a viable form of collecting points – and like Jackie Moon and the Flint Tropics discovered against the Spurs all those years ago, there is no better way to place the ball through the hoop than the alley-oop. The Spurs had three alley oops...in a row. The San Antonio Spurs scored six consecutive points on oops that were alleyed. First Nico found Jonathon Simmons on an inbounds play that may be the dunk of the season. He then found Dedmon. And finally, out a timeout no less, Pop ran a 4/5 p&r between Bertans and Dedmon.

Third and finally, Davis Bertans asserted himself as the enforcer that we all wished Matt Bonner knew he could be. After DeWayne Dedmon secured one of his many second half rebounds, Greg Monroe took umbrage with the fact that he had been bested and then cleared out (and probably tired of being ooped upon repeatedly), and lashed out at Dedmon. The Latvian Ninja was having none of it, and responded with a modest, but swift brush-back. This resulted in the lamest "hold me back" between Michael Beasley and...the group of people who happened to be standing calmly nearby. Minutes went by, I tried to get the name "Brouhaha in Brew City" trending, and ultimately sweet Davis Bertans was relegated to the locker room as the first non-Popovich ejection in probably a decade. The net result? Dedmon won the jump ball and Aldridge hit a jumper to make it a two-point game.

The fourth quarter of this brawl was dominated by two players: Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Down by as many as 15, the Spurs kept the energy from their 36-25 third, with their All-Stars combining for 22 of their 26 fourth quarter points. Leonard showed the superstar trait of being able to shake off a poor shooting night (2-for-10) to score 16 in the final period. Aldridge showed the superstar trait of being able to elevate all aspects of your game in winning time, playing lock-down defense, fighting to get positioning for an offensive rebound, putting up the game winning shot and securing the game winning defensive rebound.

Oh yea. That game-winner? It was goal-tended. Because of course. This game needed just a bit more drama. I don't know exactly what this Spurs team is, but they sure are fun. They are doing things I've never seen, and it seems to be working.

Game Notes:

  • Bucks came in hot on a 4-game streak, including dismantling the Cavs
  • The Spurs began a three-game midwest roadtrip... They have won 12 of their last 13 games overall and are 11-0 on the road, where they'll play seven of their next 10 games.
  • The Spurs had 35 points at halftime. They scored 36 points in the third quarter alone.
  • The NBA record for best road winning streak to start a season is 14 and the overall record is 16.
  • ...But the Spurs had three losses at home by at least 12 points in November - something that hasn't happened since before Tim Duncan arrived. So odd.

Observations:

  • The Spurs came in ranked 28th in rebounds per game, compared to the Bucks 7th best ranking. With the length and athleticism, that is not a surprise. And there was a point that Greg Monroe had 9 rebounds in 9 minutes, echoing the silly 18 rebound performance Marcin Gortat had against the Spurs on Friday. However, the Silver-and-Black ended up outrebounding Milwaukee 46-43.
  • If I told you that the Spurs would score 35 in a half, shoot 20 fewer free throws, shoot 29% from 3, shoot 64% from the charity stripe and somehow win, you'd think "I need to see that game." And you should. I'm sure there will be an NBATV replay. It was a wild one.
  • The Spurs bigs (Gasol/LMA) were 3-for-3 from deep. The rest of the squad was 5-for-25. Big night for the bigs.
  • Kawhi Leonard has scored 26 points in the past two fourth quarters and been absolutely clutch.

  • Pau and Danny Green may actually be literal polar opposites in transition. Danny Green has stopped everyone from LeBron to Westbrook to Harden to Durant in transition. Tonight on two separate occasions he impeded or flat out stopped the scariest transition offensive specimen in the league in the Greek Freak. Pau Gasol was the lone defender on at least two occasions and I think I actually cringed. What is the opposite of doppelgänger?

  • I wonder if any Spur got caught out shooting the breeze with Jason Terry? Probably not.

What's Next:

The Spurs improved to 17-4, on pace for 66 wins a quarter of the way through the season. They remain a half-game (but a glaring point differential) behind the Warriors for the top spot in the NBA. They'll continue the road trip SEGABABA tomorrow at 7:00 pm CST in Minnesota. They'll take on the third head in the "young guy besides Kawhi people would take to start a franchise with" with Anthony Davis and the aforementioned Antetokounmpo: Karl-Anthony Towns. Along with KAT, the Wolves also feature Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, two additional young talents who make this team fun to watch and not so fun to play against. Coached by Thibs, this team is bound to start putting it together at some point, and will hope to get their first consecutive win of the season after beating Charlotte in OT on Saturday.