Despite winning nine of their ten games in February and posting the second best net-rating in the league over that stretch behind the Portland Trail Blazers, the Spurs haven't been playing particularly well lately. In their previous two outings they gave up 224 combined points to the Lakers and Suns, and while they won both games, it certainly didn't inspire any kind of great confidence in the team.
The Spurs are on pace to finish with the third best regular-season record of all time and currently hold a seven-game lead in the loss column over the Oklahoma City Thunder but something just isn't right about the Silver and Black. Perhaps it's just going to take some time for the team to readjust to Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard coming back. With Tim struggling to find his game since returning from a sore knee, Manu Ginobili's absence and eventual return also becomes worrisome. Will Gino come back with enough time to get comfy? Is Tim's recent play indicative of future performances or is his play just an artifact of an extended midseason break? As much as I like to think that those Tim and Manu share some kind of magic elixir to stave off the ravages of time, watching Tim play these last few games has been a little hard for me.
This game started off pretty ugly from both teams, with the Kings not playing particularly well but pushing the pace, and halfway through the first the Spurs had missed 8 of their 11 attempts and Sacramento held a 11-7 advantage, leading to a timeout from Gregg Popovich after the Spurs gave up a too-easy alley-oop to Rudy Gay. The best players for both teams combined for a statistically improbable poor start and at the end of the first quarter Kawhi Leonard and DeMarcus Cousins had missed all 11 of their attempts.
With Kawhi and most of the rest of the Spurs offense really struggling, Kyle Anderson picked up the slack, hitting his first five attempts and tallying a couple of helpers and a steal in his first 10 minutes to keep the Spurs in it early. After the game Tony Parker said that Kyle was "playing maybe better than anybody right now." Asked about his position, Anderson said that he didn't need one, that he was "just a hooper." Anderson finished with a nice line, 14 points on eight shots, eight boards, three assists, a couple of steals and is clearly benefiting from Manu's absence.
Kawhi found his groove in the second, scored seven straight for the Spurs and pushed San Antonio's lead to eight a little more than halfway through the period. By the half the Spurs had extended their lead to 11 and threatened to run away with the game and make it resemble so many other blowouts this season.
But the Kings had other ideas coming out of halftime, and had a 9-0 in the first two minutes of the third, which cut SA's lead to two before Danny Green (16 points, seven boards and three steals) stopped the bleeding. The Kings took a two point lead halfway through the quarter on Cousin's dunk (giving him 12 points in the quarter) and ended the session outscoring the Spurs 32-27.
In the fourth, the Spurs went on a 15-2 run and put the game out of reach. David West had a nice stretch, hitting a couple of buckets and assisting on a Kawhi Leonard corner three as the Spurs grew their lead from 8 to 17.
The Spurs cruised the rest of the way to their 16-point win, able to take advantage of Cousins needing a blow after his outstanding third quarter. It wasn't pretty, but it's late February, and with the Spurs coming to the end of their road trip I'll take the W and trust that they'll get it together over the last seven weeks of the "preseason."
For the perspective of the Kings' fans, check out Sactown Royalty.
- Tim Duncan played just 6 minutes in the first half, going scoreless and grabbing two boards. He played another 6 minutes in the second half, didn't add to the box and finished with a team-low minus-8. I'm the last guy who'd doubt Timmy, but something doesn't feel right and I guess I'm actually concerned about the Stone Buddha for the first time maybe ever. Not crazy concerned, but, you know, concerned.
- DeMarcus Cousins finished the first half 0-for-10 from the field though he did grab nine boards. That sort of reversed itself in the second half where he went 8-for-13 and grabbed just one board. I like Boogie, I know he has issues (and he hurt his team a little tonight with repeated barking at the officials until he picked up a tech after having his attempt blocked and throwing a minor fit), but he is so good and so much fun to watch play. This game would have been a laugher had DeMarcus not come out of the break with so much energy. I'm not sure what that says about the Spurs but it made watching the game much more enjoyable.
- Kawhi Leonard had a nice, if not great, game after missing four games with a calf injury and finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals in 29 minutes. He didn't shoot the ball well, but I'm going to chalk that up to his recent absence from the court. The Kings shot 40% from the floor and it's certainly good to have Leonard back.
- Tony Parker had an understated, but very good game, finishing with a team-high 23 points and providing some timely scores for the Spurs.
The Spurs travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz, who have been playing well of late, on Thursday night. With it being a SEGABABA, there has been some talk of it being a scheduled loss, but the Spurs are 12-0 in SEGABABAs this season and I don't think it would surprise anyone if the Spurs pulled out another win on the road. Maybe Pop was saving Tim for the Rudy Gobert matchup.
The Spurs then have a day off before they conclude the RRT on Saturday in Houston. 7-1 is certainly still in play for the good guys on their road trip.