Game 76 Vs. Toronto: Spurs 102, Raptors 95 Rec: 64-12 Streak: W-3
Lately it seems that teams are attempting to give Gregg Popovich and the Spurs a dose of their own medicine.
As you know, Pop is notorious for bringing less than a full deck of stars to road games, even if they're ostensibly healthy enough to play, because he values rest and his bench guys getting experience more than relatively meaningless regular season wins and losses.
We've seen a lot of teams rolling into the AT&T Center bringing less than their best. More often than not, it's because guys are actually banged up. The entire Pelicans roster was out the other day with a broken everything. But we've also seen opposing coaches play it cautious in games here too. Anyone who's 50/50 and nursing some boo-boo, they get scratched against the Spurs. What's the point? Rest up for the next one.
The Raptors were only two losses behind the Cavaliers for the top seed in the East, but coach Dwane Casey still opted to rest his starting backcourt, with All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both sitting this one out.
"It's a back-to-back," Casey explained. "It's called rest. We wanted to rest the guys and we may do it again. Again, our goal is to be fresh, getting the rhythm right before we go into the playoffs."
We've heard Popovich offer similar explanations --when he's cared to elaborate-- countless times by now and will no doubt see it plenty more.
So yeah, it's possible the Spurs took Toronto's perimeter triumvirate of Cory Joseph, Norman Powell (wasn't that a war general who ran for president a while back?) and James Johnson a bit lightly. Or maybe their focus wandered after a fairly productive first half in which they rang up 55 points on 53.8 percent shooting while compiling 19 assists on 21 makes. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge were studs, combining for 32 points on 13-of-21 while the others chipped in here and there, but the Spurs let Toronto hang around despite their missing personnel. Jonas Valanciunas muscled his way inside for 10 in the first half and their bench popped four threes, including one from Jason Thompson which, man... what?
San Antonio's new "Big Two" scored their final 21 points of a 29-point period, which is a bit weird, but everybody else counted for just 3-of-8. Where things really went haywire was in the third quarter, where the Thunder-esque streak between them extended to 37 points as they were literally the only two to score in a 16-point quarter in which their teammates shot 0-of-12, with Danny Green in particular taking an 0-of-5 collar. The Raptors, meanwhile shot 50 percent in the quarter but were held to 20 nonetheless thanks to five turnovers, only one made three and just one free-throw. Uncharacteristically, the Spurs were saved by the charity stripe tonight, sinking 27-of-30, including a perfect 18-of-18 between Aldridge and Leonard, while the visitors only got 10 attempts.
A rocky five-point lead after three quarters never got closer than three. Kyle Anderson of all people ended the Aldridge/Leonard run, with an early 20-foot jumper and gave the squad some good fourth quarter minutes, adding a pair of assists. Tony Parker --who was noticeably outplayed by Joseph it must be said-- hit a jumper and drove for a layup down the stretch and Patty Mills had a couple buckets of his own.
It was Leonard and Aldridge who were the story though. Aldridge was a monster, with 29 of his 31 through the first three quarters, and he was as aggressive as we've seen him all year, not always settling for the jumper, driving, drawing contact or shaking loose for easy dunks. Leonard settled into the game slower, really ratcheting up his activity from the second quarter on, and he scored 14 of his career-high 33 in the fourth quarter, including a couple of jumpers in the paint to ice the game. What was especially impressive about him though was his passing, which has not always been the case this season. Instead of just passing to bail out when he was in jail, he actually looked to make plays for people, Aldridge and the others, and tied his career-high with seven assists as well.
It was the first time two Spurs scored at least 30 in the same game since Parker and Tim Duncan turned the trick in a 122-116 win over Houston (Manu added 23!) on Dec. 28, 2012. Also, it was the most points two Spurs teammates have combined for since Ginobili (43) and Duncan (23) totaled 66 against Orlando in a 112-100 win six years ago to this day. That's one of those games I remember more vividly than most of the ones I've watched in person this season.
Leonard, as you may imagine, wasn't too caught up in his accomplishments afterward. "It wasn't very consistent tonight," he said of the team's overall performance. "We had a couple leads, 10, 11, dropping down to two, four. I think we just got to keep being consistent, executing on offense , and when we have those leads by 10 or 11 really punch those teams in the stomach and really blow it into a 20-point lead."
The Golden State Warriors got punched in the stomach by Boston at home on Friday, blinking at home before the Spurs have, and now San Antonio stands all alone with an unblemished 39-0 home mark, two away from an unbreakable record. They've not only set a new franchise record with those 39 home wins, besting the 38 they had in 2004-05, but they've also set a franchise record with 64 wins overall, with a half dozen left in which to improve upon it.
Oh, and I know that I'm the only one that cares about this dorky thing, but for the second year in a row the Spurs have at least one win against everybody. It's not that common, I swear. Before 2014-15 they hadn't done it since 2004-05.
Popovich noted afterward that he made a point of getting the minutes up for his main guys (Leonard played 40:07, Aldridge 38:26, Duncan 28:44, Parker 27:36 and Ginobili 21:19) going practically to a playoff rotation in this one, so that probably offers a hint about how the road trip will go. It wouldn't be shocking to see some guys stay home once again.
And then it'll be the Spurs skipper who offers the quotes about the importance of resting guys.
KAWHILIGHTS: Career-High Editionhttps://t.co/lzn99wtPG0— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 3, 2016
Non-punny highlights! (You gotta watch it just for the ending, totally worth it I promise.)
Your Three Stars:
1. Kawhi Leonard
2. LaMarcus Aldridge
3. Tim Duncan
Up Next: At Utah Jazz (38-38)
In what might be a first-round preview, the Spurs visit Salt Lake City on Tuesday to take on a Jazz club who is 7-3 in their past ten and by most measures the best team in the West outside of the top four. They're not fully healthy. Dante Exum has been out all season with a torn ACL and Alec Burks has been gone since late December, but at least they've got Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors back. The Jazz also are the only team in the West besides the Spurs allowing opponents fewer than 100 a night, so their defense usually keeps them in games.
Their problem, however, is that the Spurs seem to be a terrible match-up for them. They're 0-3 vs. San Antonio and a 96-78 home loss on Feb. 25 was by far the closest of those games. Leonard usually swallows up Gordon Hayward in their head-to-head duels. The Jazz would be better off tanking to the eighth seed. They haven't beaten the Warriors this season either, but their games have been nip-and-tuck at least.