The Spurs came into Wednesday’s game against the Suns with a 4-2 record but boasting the point differential of a 2-4 team. They beat mediocre opponents on close games that could have gone either way but lacked a convincing win. Facing their first truly bad opponent, they had a perfect opportunity to get one.
They did just that by dismantling the shorthanded Suns in a matchup in which the result was never in question. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan led the way to the 120-90 win by combining for 49 points on just 25 shots despite resting the entire fourth quarter.
The Spurs couldn’t afford to lose this one. Coming into the season many wondered how Western playoff contenders were going to get easy wins in a conference in which most teams are at least decent. The Suns are one of the few opponents left that can be penciled in as W, so beating them is a must for a team like San Antonio. They are also exactly the type of young, undisciplined squad that the Spurs have feasted on in the past, which is why this matchup felt more important than your typical October game against a bad team. The win shows that even in their current state, the Spurs can take care of business against inferior foes.
The difference in talent level was obvious from the start. Without Devin Booker, there was no one on the Suns’ perimeter that could break down the defense and set up others. The Spurs took away easy inside passes to Deandre Ayton and lived with the tough makes Phoenix got early, knowing that they would eventually turn into misses. The starters couldn’t really create separation in the first few minutes of the game, but when the bench checked in and the ball movement improved, San Antonio quickly found itself up by double digits.
The Suns never found a way to make a comeback. With Ayton in foul trouble the Spurs attacked the bucket relentlessly. DeRozan led the way in the second quarter and Aldridge in the third, providing steady scoring to keep the lead growing. Coach Igor Kokoskov turned to his veterans for answers at one point, but Jamal Crawford, Tyson Chandler and Ryan Anderson struggled as much as their much younger teammates, especially on defense. The Spurs were up 28 points going into the final period, which allowed Pop to give his stars a much deserved break en route to an easy win.
Good teams blow out bad ones. Smart veteran teams typically have no problem out-executing young, inexperienced ones. The Spurs did both on Wednesday. That bodes well for the future and makes this victory over the lowly Suns as impressive as their close ones against better opponents.
- DeMar DeRozan is an incredibly smooth offensive player. One of my favorite things about him is how easily he backs down smaller defenders. It’s effortless. He starts in the perimeter, turns back, takes a dribble towards the baseline, then turns back again, takes a dribble towards the middle and boom — he’s in the low post. He never tries to power his way in, instead choosing to move in a way that prevents his man from establishing good position to push him out. It reminds me of how Boris Diaw used to back down opponents. Beautiful.
- LaMarcus Aldridge had another quiet night on the boards, getting his hands on just three of them. Yet the Spurs out-rebounded the Suns and allowed only five offensive boards on 43 Phoenix misses. Aldridge played a huge part in that by logging a game-high 11 box outs. He ranks second in the league in box outs per game, so even when he doesn’t pull the rebound down himself, he still helps the team control the boards.
- Rudy Gay looked spry, getting a couple of big dunks and soaring for boards, until hurting his toe in the third quarter. He didn’t want to sub out, which means it’s probably not a big deal. He’ll have two days of rest to get back to full health, so he should be fine.
- The good thing about blowouts is that they allow you to notice smaller things, like Davis Bertans diligently running back on defense as soon as a shot goes up. The Spurs allow over three fewer fastbreak points per 100 possessions when Davis is on the court. It’s not a coincidence.
- Pau Gasol keeps the second unit’s offense going with his passing, but he rarely connects with Marco Belinelli in high-low passes. It’s bizarre. My current theory is that Marco doesn’t have great body control after contact, which is required for the play to work.
- Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills picked the perfect time to have quiet scoring nights. They were not challenged by the Suns’ rookie point guards on the other end, either. Bryn did set a career high with seven assists, with five coming on the first half, so that’s definitely commendable.
- Dante Cunningham appears to have permanently earned the starting power forward spot. I like Pop’s decision. At least early in the season, he needs to have reliable team defenders out there and Dante is exactly that. Similarly, I like how he’s been giving some minutes to Quincy Pondexter, who also has good awareness on defense. In the long run, Q-Pon likely shouldn’t be in the rotation, but for now he should get a handful of minutes to help on defense.
- The Suns’ roster makes very little sense, which is why it’s not surprising their general manager got fired before the start of the season. Their two cornerstones, however, could be special. Booker is a deadly offensive player and Ayton has the tools to be a top-five center in the league. They also have other intriguing young complementary players. They just need one more blue-chipper and will likely have the chance to pick one in next year’s draft.
Next up: vs. Pelicans on Saturday
Anthony Davis played on Wednesday against the Warriors but didn’t look like himself after missing a couple of games with an elbow injury. He’s expected to play on Thursday’s back-to-back against the Trail Blazers. If he’s back to normal by Saturday, the Pelicans’ front court could pose a big challenge for the Spurs’.
For the opponent’s perspective, visit Bright Side of the Sun.
Update: This article originally stated that five of Bryn Forbes’ seven assists had come in the second half. It’s since been corrected.