Scan the box score of the Spurs’ 96-93 win over the Pistons and one word should jump out at you, screaming incredulously as if you’d just committed a mindless foul on Stanley Johnson at half-court: balance.
30 assists; seven players in double figures scoring; seven with at least three assists; three with 10 rebounds, 14 three-pointers made: it’s a snapshot of perhaps the Spursiest win of the season, and certainly the most impressive considering the opponent and that they’d played the night before in Oklahoma City.
While an inspired effort against the Thunder by San Antonio’s reserves came up just short, it was a different story on Monday, with (nearly) everyone in uniform and a veteran group on the floor in the final moments. After a Rudy Gay and-one wrested the lead away with less than four minutes to go, the Spurs showed why they’re currently the league’s most efficient team in the clutch with a number of timely plays.
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS SEQUENCE pic.twitter.com/Q3t6BImlV1— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 5, 2017
Manu blocked, Patty tips to LMA who slays it in. pic.twitter.com/9u9w5VTXPI— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 5, 2017
This pass from Rudy to LMA is so pretty it could win a beauty contest. pic.twitter.com/ryM3Td13Ng— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 5, 2017
It’s fitting that two of the three free throws the Spurs shot in the entire second half came on their final offensive possession, as LaMarcus Aldridge was fouled battling for a rebound after a desperate Rudy Gay heave failed to draw iron. The Spurs’ big man knocked them both down, and it was Gay who produced the coup de grace, getting his hand on a Tobias Harris three-point shot as the buzzer sounded.
When asked about those game-sealing plays, Pop took the longer view, crediting the game-long effort and execution his team showed in the win:
“It’s never one thing that’s the difference, but I thought we just kept playing for 48 minutes. We talk about that all the time — it’s a 48-minute game. We went down by nine a couple of times... The guys did a heck of a job to hang in and just kept playing. They trusted each other... a lot of people participated.
It also took the Spurs finding some way to slow down Reggie Jackson, who scored a game-high 27 points and found little resistance for most of the night during his forays into the lane.
“We did some different things in the pick-and-roll, tried to give him some different looks, make other guys make decisions,” Danny Green said. “We had to make sure he wasn’t as comfortable... put a little more pressure on him,” added Pau Gasol.
The Spurs’ struggles early on — in containing dribble penetration and going through their usual scoring droughts — will continue to be areas to work on, but one has to be optimistic with Kawhi Leonard’s impending return (now “much” sooner than later).
Spurs purportedly debated having Kawhi play tonight, but opted not to. After saying for weeks that Kawhi's would return sooner rather than later, Pop said Kawhi's imminent return is "much sooner." Don't be surprised if he is back this week.— Raul Dominguez Jr. (@Abrjsdad) December 5, 2017
As they look to continue to improve, the Spurs know what performances against opponents like Detroit mean, even in early December. You could see it in Gay’s dozen-or-so fist pumps after scoring that go-ahead basket, as well as in the praise effusing from Gregg Popovich following the victory:
[It was] a good physical game, and I’m just really pleased with their effort. I think they did a wonderful job... It’s a great win... Coach Van Gundy’s got them moving without the ball, they’re really hard to guard in that offense. They do a great job, so that’s why we’re so thrilled with the win.”
And some other notes...
Minutes before tip-off, Kawhi Leonard met with members of the media to (somewhat cryptically) discuss the status of his injury. Few details were gleaned, but the mere sign of him making an appearance and speaking is encouraging.
Prior to tonight's game, Kawhi Leonard met with media members. pic.twitter.com/ugy51QDWgT— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 5, 2017
Intoxicating ball movement, with a Rudy Gay chaser
Gay is still finding his way on the team, but he had far more highs than lows in his first start as a Spur, with 12 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. This first-quarter possession had all the makings of a typical Spurs play, albeit with a distinctly unique finish:
This is Spurs basketball. This is great ball movement. This is great decision making. This is ... a hellacious dunk from Rudy Gay. pic.twitter.com/9w3XGo2LtO— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) December 5, 2017
Another strong game for Davis
With Kyle Anderson down, the Latvian forward got another opportunity to show what he can do. Bertans scored 11 points in 16 minutes, the second game in a row that he’s gone for double figures.
“He’s been very aggressive,” said Pop. “We always know that he’s never seen a shot that he doesn’t like. Defensively, he’s worked hard in that area. He’s helped us and done a real good job both times.”
Said Green: “His number was called, and he was prepared. Everybody knows what he can do. He’s being active; he’s making himself open, finding spots and getting some good looks and getting into a rhythm and knocking down shots for us.”
Bertans is far from a one-trick pony, and he’s putting in work to shore up the parts of his game that have kept him off the floor in the past. He appears to be moving his feet and contesting better defensively, and his defensive rebound rate (a stat I singled out as one of the most important for him this season) has improved from 10.5% to 13.9%.
On Danny Green’s big-time blocks at the rim
Danny Green had three blocks on the night, including a couple at the basket which eviscerated seemingly-easy points for Detroit. His defensive plays were a common topic during post-game interviews:
From Tony Parker: “He was unbelievable — he had two (blocks), one on the fast break and the other one on Drummond. That’s Danny — he does all the little stuff to help win games.”
From Pop: “I think he did it twice tonight. He enjoys it. I don’t know where he got that — we don’t run a drill for that, but obviously he has a knack. He’s done it for several years.”
From Danny himself: “It was pure luck... I’m sneaky, man. If he knew I was coming, I’m sure he would’ve probably dunked the ball, but I don’t think he saw me coming weak-side.”