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Spurs vs. Kings is a study in contrasts

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San Antonio's defense gets well against the league's 3rd ranked offense.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

If Sacramento were a kingdom, it would be one filled with conspirators - whisperings of front-office personnel vying for power in order to make their claim to the Kings throne. It's an NBA drama in the guise of a Game of Thrones episode; after eight straight playoff appearances under Rick Adelman, the organization has been hobbled with instability, hiring and firing eight coaches in the last nine seasons with no winning records and no playoff appearances since 2006. Minority owners are planning a coup against Vivek Ranadive, citing cluelessness.

Like the Kings' front office situation, the game didn't start off very smoothly. The two teams scrambled up-and-down the court, with the usually cautious Spurs (23rd in pace) happily agreeing to the fast-paced, George Karl style offense (averaging third most points in the league, and 1st in possessions per game). Sacramento's first quarter fast-breaks resembled football scrimmages -- lobbing the pigskin to the end zone of the lane. The Spurs front-court combined for 0-9 before Aldridge ended the streak with a tip-in.

During their first 44 games, San Antonio held their opponents to 89.8 points a game; over the last 11 games they've been giving up almost 103. But that trend stopped against Sacramento, as the Spurs improved their defensive performance, winning 108-92. It helped that Kawhi was back, returning after a three-game absence from a strained calf.

San Antonio's defense was incredible in holding DeMarcus Cousins without a basket in the entire first half - as he tallied only a single free throw through two quarters. LaMarcus Aldridge did a great job on Boogie, constantly applying pressure on the block. He was joined by one or two defenders to befuddle Cousins in the paint and on the wings, resulting in turnovers and forced shots. A sudden increase in energy from the Kings in the third led to easy shots and trips to the free throw line, as Cousins ran out on Sacramento's rebounds, grooved from the elbow, and slammed in the paint.

During the fourth, San Antonio went on a 15-2 run that made Sacramento look like the struggling club they are. The San Antonio offense shifted into cruise control and finished the game shooting 51.8% from the field while holding the Kings to just 40.6%.

After the defensive issues in the last 11 games, San Antonio seems to be regaining their form, but it remains to be seen whether their performance is anything more than a one-game wonder.

MVP

Danny Green

He's certainly keeping up with his New Year's resolution to make more shots. Green finished with 16 points (6/9 fgm, 4/7 3pm), seven rebounds, and three steals. On the defensive end, the former Tarheel was all over the place - staying aggressive on the boards, harassing ball-handlers like a pesky fly at a picnic. I loved the David and Goliath battle whenever Green caught himself mismatched with Boogie off the screen. Instead of backing down, he rose to the challenge, batting at the ball and disrupting Cousin's offensive rhythm.

He must have known it would be a good night, because he was dancing on the court before he canned a single long distance bomb:

Media Notes

  • I did not enjoy watching Tim Duncan as he spent most of the game on the bench tonight. It feels like the end of The Big Fundamental era in San Antonio. What if this is it for arguably the greatest power forward in history? While Kobe struts though his 82-game, October to April retirement extravaganza, Duncan might be having his own private farewell tour.

  • Rajon Rondo looks much better in Sacramento than he did during his disastrous stint with Dallas last year. However, the point guard still has no jump shot to speak of. At one point, San Antonio was giving him wide open looks from the midrange and beyond. Rondo finished with a lackluster seven points (3/10 fgm), but went ham facilitating 18 dishes to his teammates, grabbing eight rebounds.

By The Numbers

22: the jersey number of Sacramento head coach George Karl as a former Spurs player. Karl was a shooting guard with San Antonio for five seasons, and retired to become an assistant coach with the team. He currently ranks fifth all-time on the most wins list by an NBA coach with 1,166 victories.

1: the number of bizarre halftime shows in Sacramento. A man stood in the center of two poles running parallel to each other, sandwiched between four Michael Jackson marionettes. Probably the most disturbing thing I've seen since Puppy Monkey Baby.

16: the amount of turnovers the Spurs had. The lack of ball security lead to 15 points off turnovers. The Kings coughed up 14 turnovers and nine points off their gaffes.

3: the total games Kawhi Leonard was out with a calf injury. As noted by editor-in-chief J.R. Wilco, the Klaw definitely found time to exercise his upper body during rehabilitation. Those are some serious gains:

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