The Spurs got off to a good start on their annual Rodeo Road Trip. They beat the Heat 119-101 in the first game of a Florida back-to-back that will have them face the Magic on Wednesday, before the All-Star break. LaMarcus Aldridge led all scorers with 28 points while Kawhi Leonard had 23 to go with nine rebounds and four assists. Dwyane Wade had 20 in the losing effort.
It was hard to predict an 18-point win in the first quarter. Tony Parker, Leonard and Aldridge took turns taking contested shots after only a few passes. We've seen that type of stagnation from the starters too many times this season but it's typically paired with a stout defense, something that wasn't there early. Little mistakes made in secondary transition and defending Dwyane Wade cost them, as Miami took control. It wasn't until the bench checked in that the Spurs started to look more like themselves, but it wasn't enough to claim the lead.
Fortunately things turned around in the second quarter, courtesy of Aldridge and Danny Green. The Spurs fed the big man in the left block to get him going and it worked. He got whatever he wanted on Hassan Whiteside while Green punished the Heat with his shot on hand-offs. The defense still wasn't as great as it has been earlier in the year but the offense started to click, featuring more ball movement and shot selection. The result was a 34-point quarter that allowed the Spurs to take the lead and create some separation going into the break.
San Antonio would never trail again but it took a while to put Miami away for good, even after getting in a groove. The offense was flowing, Kawhi Leonard was scoring and the defense tightened up and started causing turnovers. It was one of those stretches in which the Spurs truly look dominant and they made the most of it by extending their lead to double digits. Unfortunately, the Heat refused accept defeat, staying within striking distance all along. A couple of Gerald Green three-pointers late in the quarter made it a game going into the final frame.
After hammering away at the rock for the first 36 minutes, it finally broke on a couple of blows. A frustrated Whiteside, who was being outplayed by Boban Marjanovic, threw an elbow at the rookie center following a free throw.
Patty Mills was at the line at the time completing a four-point play after being fouled on a made three-pointer. Whiteside was ejected, Marjanovic hit the free throw from the flagrant foul and Kawhi Leonard hit a turnaround jumper after the Spurs inbounded. San Antonio went from being up seven to getting a 14-point lead in a matter of seconds.
Immediately after that Chris Bosh had a monster dunk but Danny Green was fouled after a broken play. He hit the first, missed the second, stole the rebound and hit a three to get the lead to 16.
That was it. Wade and Bosh tried to rally their teammates but the Spurs made timely plays to close the game for good. On a night in which at times things weren't working, San Antonio showed poise and was rewarded with a valuable road win.
- Offensive rebounds kept the Spurs in it early when the offense wasn't working. It's great to have the opportunity to get extra possessions, especially some that often result in made baskets on putbacks or close shots. The Spurs have traditionally preferred to get back in transition than crash the glass but they have good offensive rebounders now and they are taking advantage of that edge.
- Aldridge and Leonard combined for 51 points on 33 shots. There are times in which they simply take turns on offense, which doesn't look anything like Spurs teams of the past, but they are both special scorers worth the occasional eyesore. It's also great that they are not getting in each other's way. When Leonard was cooking in the second half, Aldridge was happy to let him work. Those two are a killer one-two punch.
- Danny Green had a fantastic night, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. He was aggressive in the second quarter and opportunistic the rest of the time on offense but it was his all around game that made a difference. The Spurs' bigs kept their men off the glass and it was the job of the wings to grab rebounds, which Green did. He played good defense and moved the ball as well. It's great to see him play well after the early season struggles.
- Tony Parker had a poor shooting night (3-for-10 from the field) but notched five assists to zero turnovers. His floor game is arguably his greatest asset right now, at least on a nightly basis. He also made some plays on defense to fuel the run in the third quarter. A solid game for Tony.
- Every time the Spurs get off to a slow start, I don't get too worried because I know the bench can come in and change the game. That was the case on Tuesday, even without Manu Ginobili. Patty Mills and Boris Diaw are proven commodities at this point but the other two bench contributors had a bigger impact against the Heat. Jonathon Simmons' energy and athleticism jump started the offense early and Marjanovic held his own on both ends. Great stuff by both rookies, who are providing unexpected quality depth.
- Hassan Whiteside's free agency will be so entertaining. Reports have surfaced recently that claim the Heat are not planning to bring him back because he doesn't fit their culture. He's gone through several situations like the elbow to Marjanovic in his short career, so no one can blame them. Yet he's so obviously talented that some team will convince itself it can change him and throw an eight-figure salary his way. My money right now is on the Lakers. It's been a while since such a high-risk, high-reward player has been available.
The Spurs will face the Magic in Orlando on Wednesday in the second game of the RRT. Since it's a back-to-back right before the All-Star break, it could be a trap game. The Spurs need to come out ready to play.
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