In the basketball world, the month of March is supposed to be a time for madness. State high school tournaments are wrapping up. Colleges have their conference tournaments, and then the Big Dance. NBA teams begin to make their playoff pushes.
The stakes are higher this month, which leads to higher intensity in games. Teams and individual players want to compete at the highest level, and compete for championships, so they try as hard as humanly possible. Two things can result from that: Teams play even better, or they crack under the pressure and play drastically worse.
The NCAA tournament is maybe the best illustration of this. Every year, there are a couple individuals that shine brighter than others, and take their teams on a run. On the other hand, there are players that press too much, and make bad turnovers, miss free throws, and get lost defensively; all of which can get a team knocked out in a hurry. The combination of these two extremes creates a frenetic pace, with peaks and valleys similar to a mountain range.
If March Madness creates drama all through the basketball world, then the San Antonio Spurs serve as a perfect antithesis to it. While the rest of the nation follows the highs and lows of a basketball thunderstorm, the Spurs are at peace, quietly running through nearly any team that comes before them, and preparing for the battles that lie ahead in April, May, and if they're lucky, June. It's not that they're boring, games just haven't been crazy. The Spurs play hard, play well, and make calculated decisions that put them in a position to win.
This game against the Portland Trail Blazers was no different. Both teams played hard in the first half, then San Antonio made proper adjustments at halftime, and ended up blowing Portland out of the water thanks to some sharp shooting.
San Antonio is historically good in the month of March. This year is no different, as they are 8-1 so far in the month, with the one blemish coming to a good Indiana Pacers team. Since then, they have passed several tests. They are currently on a 5-game home stand, and have racked up 4 straight victories against playoff teams (The Bulls and Blazers are only in the playoffs by a game or so each, but both teams are very solid).
There is darkness on the horizon, though. The final test in this home stretch comes against none other than the league-best Golden State Warriors. As good as the Spurs have been this month, every positive thing said about them can also be said about the Warriors, and they're deserving of even more flattery. Golden State is not only currently the league's best team, but they're also on pace for the best NBA regular season record of all-time.They have the best player in the world, who also happens to be the best shooter ever, running point, and players that fit perfectly around him to form this sort of basketball Voltron. Golden State is a boss-level boss for any NBA team, and that goes without saying that the first time they played the Spurs, they win by 30.
With that being said, Spurs fans still have a lot of room for optimism. The Spurs are a different team now. LaMarcus Aldridge has found his groove, as has Patty Mills, who is looking more and more like the x-factor he turned out to be during the Spurs' 2014 title run. Danny Green has started to warm up and hit shots again in the past couple games, which would be huge considering how poorly the Spurs shot from deep in that first Warriors' game. It's also in San Antonio, and, as we know, the Spurs are just as unbeatable as the Warriors are at home. Defending Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and company is obviously a nightmare of a task; but if there's a group that can figure how to slow them down even the tiniest bit, it's one with Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, and Danny Green.
For the most part, March has been mellow for the Spurs, but it's about to pick up in a hurry. The Warriors have set an impressive benchmark in the NBA, and it's time to see if San Antonio can reach it. In all likelihood, this matchup will have the electricity, pressure, and yes, madness that has captured the attention of basketball fans everywhere else.
Kawhi Leonard - 22 points on 8-11 shooting, 4-4 from 3, 3 blocks, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
LaMarcus Aldridge - 22 points on 9-14 shooting, 6 boards, 1 assist, 1 block, 1 steal
Tony Parker - 18 points on 7-13 shooting, 16 assists, 2 steals
I know what you're thinking. The title for this section says "Game MVP", not "multiple Game MVPs", but you know what? This is my rehash, and I'll do things to my liking. These 3 made it impossible to choose. Aldridge kept the Spurs on track in the 1st half and 3rd quarter, and Kawhi turned up throughout the 2nd half, with Parker spoon-feeding them wide-open looks all through the contest. This was something special to watch, and shows that the Spurs' 3 best offensive players are clicking on all cylinders going into their Saturday night matchup versus the Golden State Warriors.
NUMBERS ON THE BOARD
50: San Antonio's percentage from 3-point land. They finished 8-16 on the night, with Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills combining for 7 of those 8 makes. When the 3pt shot falls, the offense flows freely.
39: Points the Spurs scored in the 3rd quarter. That's a lot. As a result, they had a 17 point lead going into the 4th.
16: Assists for Tony Parker tonight, 1 short of matching his single-game high. He was so important in feeding Leonard and Aldridge the ball in their spots, so all they had to do was knock down an open shot.
- In the first half, the Spurs shot well, going 50% from the field. The Blazers were able to stay with them by hitting the glass, as they had 15 second-chance points.
- Leonard only had 3 shots in the first half. He remedied that in the 3rd and 4th quarters, drilling 4 3 pointers, helping the Spurs run away with the win. He's on top of his game right now, and it's such a joy to watch. His confidence is sky-high, which you could see with every shot he took. Where he used to hesitate on his looks, Leonard now just calculates the best way to get a bucket, and then goes about his business on that possession. He's a stone-cold killer with the rock, and, when you add in his all-world defense, you get something truly special. There is little doubt in my mind that he's the 2nd best player in the league this year.
- Mills has had himself a very nice 2-game stretch. Against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Blazers, Mills has scored 15 and then 17 points, on a combined 57.1% from the field, and has shot 5-of-8 from 3. If Mills can keep up this hotstreak against the Warriors, it will pay big dividends. He's a key part of a San Antonio bench unit that should have and edge over Golden State's, and he has the power to make sure that happens.
- Parker and Aldridge were in sync all night. In the first half, they worked the pick-and-pop to get Aldridge open jumpers, and he knocked them down. In the second half, they went right back to it, and a couple Aldridge jumpers plus a thunderous dunk over Noah Vonleh gave the Spurs an 10-point lead just 3 minutes into the half.