It was an ugly performance but the Spurs are going to the All-Star break as winners. After trailing by as many as 14, San Antonio staged a comeback late and beat the Magic 98-96. Kawhi Leonard led the way with 29 points, including the game-winner, while LaMarcus Aldridge had 21. Evan Fournier had 28 for Orlando, which probably deserved to emerge victorious but couldn't close the game.
Wednesday's game had "trap" written all over it. It was following a win against the Heat in the first game of the Rodeo Road Trip on Tuesday and just before the All-Star break, so a combination of exhaustion and disinterest was inevitably going to be there. Yet the Spurs were focused -- if not sharp -- early on. Leonard and Aldridge led the way on offense and San Antonio put together a 29-point first quarter to get an early six-point lead.
The Magic are a tough matchup for the Spurs so expecting a blowout was misguided. Midway through the second quarter, however, that's where the game seemed to be heading to. After a sloppy few minutes by the bench the starters came back in. The offense started to click, as Duncan and Aldridge punished the Magic with high-low passes, and the defense got better.
San Antonio led by 10 with just under three minutes to go and looked ready to end the half on a high note. Unfortunately the Magic got hot from outside, locked down on defense and ended on an 11-point run that surprisingly had them up by one at the break.
The Spurs' starters didn't let that stretch get in their heads. They got back to work in the second half and regained the lead despite some sloppy play. Once the bench checked in against Orlando's starters, however, the game changed completely. The Magic became the aggressor, making plays on defense and riding Fournier on offense to a 19-7 run to close the quarter after being tied at 60.
San Antonio could have gone away quietly, chucking up the loss to the absences of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and heading to the All-Star break with a great record. Instead, the Spurs used a small lineup to chip away at the deficit until they were back in the game. Aldridge was huge in that stretch, scoring six straight points to get the lead back with a little over a minute to go. Patty Mills also came up big with a steal on a inbound that allowed the Spurs to stretch their lead to three.
Just as it looked like the Spurs were going to steal a game they had no business winning, a miscommunication resulted in an open Fournier corner three, which went in. Overtime was the last thing San Antonio needed but it was a real possibility, even though they had the ball with 13 seconds left. Fortunately, Kawhi Leonard had other plans.
kawhi winner pic.twitter.com/5FyQyILdkh— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) February 11, 2016
The Magic had one last chance to tie as Elfrid Payton got away from Aldridge and Mills, but he couldn't make a tough reverse layup. The Spurs escaped Orlando with the second win in as many games in the RRT.
- I don't like it when coaches give the ball to a star, let them dribble out the clock and take a shot at the last second. I prefer set plays that provide more options than a simple ISO. That being said, that Kawhi dagger was so pretty. Here's another look.
- Once again Leonard and Aldridge carried the offense. Kawhi's evolution into great first option was hard to predict but this is exactly what the Spurs had in mind when they chased Aldridge. He's the type of player that the team can go to for three straight possessions on a close regular season game and get results. Aldridge still has to prove that he can make a difference against a contender while wearing a Spurs jersey but he's been a fantastic addition who should only get better as games go by.
- Tim Duncan returned after missing eight straight games and posted a very 2016 Tim Duncan line: five points, seven rebounds, five assists and three blocks in 20 minutes. He will now have a full week to rest, as the Spurs don't play again until next Thursday.
- The time off should also benefit Parker, who was sorely missed. Ray McCallum gets the team into its sets and gets out of the way, mostly. That's good because it means he knows his limitations, but also means that the Spurs are often playing 4-on-5 on offense. This time they were fortunate enough to have Mills step up and finish the game with 17 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals, but Mills is nothing if not streaky. Parker doesn't have impressive numbers anymore but he's still important. Games like this one are a good reminder of that fact.
- The bench outside of Patty was bad in this one. The Simmons-Anderson wing duo lacks shooting and West and Diaw still struggle at times on defense, as neither is really used to taking on the role of rim protector. They are still providing solid depth most nights but it's a great thing that Duncan is back and Ginobili should be good to go in March.
- Danny Green was a train wreck at times but had some huge plays late in the game. We'd all love for him to be more consistent but that's not going to happen. We should just appreciate him and the fact that no matter how bad things get, he keeps doing what's asked of him and more often than not makes up for his deficiencies.
- The Mills - Green - Leonard - Butler - Aldridge lineup did fantastic against the Magic. I'd love to see the Spurs go small more often with Aldridge as the only big man.
- The Magic have a bunch of exciting young players that I like but my favorite is Aaron Gordon. He has the potential to be a lockdown defender, a Draymond Green-esque nightmare who can guard perimeter players but has the bulk and the length to hold his own inside. He still has a long way to go before he can be a major piece on a contender -- and might never get there if he doesn't develop a shot -- but his upside is huge.
Rest. Lots and lots of rest. Aldridge and Leonard will play in the All-Star game but the rest of the Spurs will get a week off. Then next Thursday, they will face the Clippers on the first game of a Los Angeles back-to-back. That should be a good one.
For the opponent perspective, visit Orlando Pinstriped Post