Following their 120-107 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, a round of applause could be heard escaping from the Spurs locker room. It could’ve been celebrating the 33 assists (a season-high) they collected as the ball moved around with purpose, stretching their opponents’ ranks. Or maybe it was for their dominant third-quarter performance, in which they outscored LA, 40-21. Either way, it’s the kind of showing the team, now on a three-game winning streak, will be happy to build on in the coming weeks.
Appearing moments later, Gregg Popovich lauded the ball movement, pace, and the team’s ability to get more guys involved. That balance certainly showed in the box score.
In its losses, the team has struggled to find another player to complement LaMarcus Aldridge’s offensive production. On Tuesday, four Spurs had between 19 and 25 points, including Danny Green (24), Rudy Gay (22), and Pau Gasol (19). Aldridge once again led the way, but with the floor spaced better and the ball zipping around, he wasn’t dealing with his usual dose of double teams and physicality.
The offense regularly made the right reads, whether it was finding cutters or through skip passes, consistently exposing the Clippers’ poor rotations. And, as Pop noted, not missing helped, too:
“Making shots does make things simpler... (that) has been a problem for us in some games. We’ve got some guys that are shooting very poorly compared to their history. Tonight they shot the way they’ve shot for most of their careers.”
Sometimes shots fall and sometimes they don’t, but there’s reason to think the Spurs made their own luck on Tuesday. Through their first 10 games, they were dead-last in percentage of “open” three-point looks, and 25th in “wide open” looks. But peep the numbers on this game later, and you’re likely to see a much higher number of open looks that were generated by San Antonio’s passing. Or just watch a reel of all 15 three-point makes here:
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) November 8, 2017
Season-high 15 threes from the squad tonight! pic.twitter.com/I5IpRJSXxF
Once again Pau Gasol’s fingerprints were all over the place, scoring or assisting on 32 Spurs points while pulling down a team-high eight rebounds. Everything he brought to the table, whether it was pulling DeAndre Jordan away from the rim or keeping the offense well-oiled with his passing, was essential to the Spurs’ gameplan.
With the team still down its third big man in Joffrey Lauvergne, Gasol and Aldridge are sharing the floor less time than ever before. Against one of the league’s most talented frontcourts, that could’ve been a problem, but San Antonio’s small-ball lineups did a great job of limiting Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan’s impact in the paint and on the glass, with everyone from Kyle Anderson to Patty Mills getting in the mix.
Was it their best win of the season thus far? Pop wasn’t ready to say:
“Our defense still has to get better — and it’ll take some time with the new guys, and the combinations that are out there right now.”
The defense should indeed come around, and it’ll continue to be where this team hangs its hat on a nightly basis. If that coincides with better health and more offensive displays like tonight’s, the Spurs will have more cause for applause as the season unfolds.
Some other bits and bobs...
Could Danny get buckets on Danny?
That’s the hypothetical question we may want to start asking ourselves. The All-Defensive Second Team guard had his best offensive showing of the season thus far, dropping 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting. With Leonard gone, he’s been far more than a typical 3-and-D for San Antonio, taking the second-most FG attempts on the team while bringing his usual effort on the other end.
Also — his dunks, though.
How much better can Rudy Gay get?
Gay already has three 20-point games this season, which have all coincided in wins. Tuesday may have been the best he’s looked yet in a Spurs jersey. Lineups featuring him, Aldridge and Leonard will be scary good. Speaking of...
Tony progressing; still no timetable for Kawhi
Pop discussed the status of his two injured stars before the game. And while the news on Tony — who’s gone back and forth between ‘assignments’ with the Austin Spurs and is participating in 5-on-5 drills — has been positive, Kawhi’s situation remains hard to read:
“He’s just coming along more slowly (than Tony) for whatever reason. It’s just been more difficult for him to get through the rehab routine, so his body hasn’t reacted the same way. Tony’s at the point where he’s been going five-on-five, that sort of thing. He’s not totally confident — it’ll be a few more weeks — but things are definitely going in the right direction. So is Kawhi; it’s just been taking a little bit longer.”
It’s noteworthy that in crunch-time possessions, it’s still Manu that Pop trusts to make the right decisions with the ball in his hands. Ginobili had a relatively quiet night, but he had four assists, looked good in the pick-and-pop game with Gasol and, most importantly, didn’t absorb the amount of contact he usually does.
No surgery for Derrick White
The Spurs rookie fractured his right wrist earlier this week. The good news? He won’t need to undergo surgery. Said Pop: “He’ll have to have a cast for four or five weeks.”