After a largely positive homestand in which they showed progress on both ends, the Spurs went on the road to face an opponent that had already beat them in San Antonio earlier in the year. It was a chance to show that the improvement that we saw over the past six games was real.
The team seemed more than ready for the test. Not only did they blow out the Magic 129-90 in Orlando but did so while playing some of the best basketball we’ve seen from them all year.
Sometimes determining what gave a team an edge on a certain matchup is complex. It wasn’t the case on Wednesday. This one clearly came down to outside shooting. The Spurs were scorching hot, seemingly making every shot they took no matter how difficult. Bryn Forbes started the onslaught early on, with three first-quarter three-pointers. Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans and even Derrick White would also contribute to the long range attack during the first half, combining to give the Spurs a ridiculous 10 first-half makes from beyond the arc. For context, San Antonio averaged a shade over nine makes per game coming into this matchup and has made fewer than 10 for the whole game 15 times this season already.
The offensive output was clearly a outlier, but the defensive competence the Spurs showed in that first half was familiar. The improved defense we’ve seen over the past few home games traveled to Orlando. Without ever looking special on that end, San Antonio has showed that it can be solid when the effort level and focus are there. The Magic found that out when they casually tried to muscle their way inside or moved the ball without purpose. More often than not they ended up either forcing tough shots or falling for the trap of taking the type of shot the Spurs wanted them to take. It was exactly the kind of smart defensive game plan the players had a hard time executing in the past, but have slowly started to master.
The lead was 22 at the half and the Spurs had played well on both ends, yet a comeback didn’t seem completely out of the question. It might have been the fresh memories of the collapse against the Bulls or the uncharacteristic nature in which the offense had cooked earlier, but when the Magic quickly trimmed the deficit to 16 to start the third quarter, it felt like they could still make it a game. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the win was how San Antonio reacted next. They cleaned up the mistakes on offense and regained the aggressiveness on defense that allowed them to confuse Orlando earlier. Instead of falling into old, bad habits they kept executing until the lead exploded to 31 points in the third quarter, sealing the victory.
It would be foolish to take too much from this game. The Spurs won’t likely go crazy from three again and their opponent won’t look as helpless on offense as the Vucevic-less Magic did while facing a great team defense comprised of vulnerable individual pieces. One of the team’s few constants this season has been inconsistency, so declaring that a corner has been turned after any win seems foolish.
Let’s hedge and instead say that at least for one night the Spurs played to what’s likely their full potential, and that version of the team looks good enough to make the playoffs and is also fun to watch, to boot. The more this iteration shows up going forward, the more realistic the dreams of reaching the postseason will become.
- LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay got their numbers despite not playing the entire fourth quarter. They combined for 51 points on 30 shots to go with 17 rebounds and 14 assists. The shooters opened the game up, but the stars were big in the blowout win.
- Speaking of shooters, it’s great to see Marco Belinelli playing well. Marco was arguably the Spurs’ biggest free agent addition this offseason, but he really struggled earlier in the year. Not anymore. In the last 10 games he’s shot 50 percent from the floor and 43 percent from beyond the arc. The bench now has another shot-maker to pick up the slack when Patty Mills is cold.
- The starting backourt of Bryn Forbes and Derrick White showed why Pop keeps insisting on trying it out. Bryn hit the shots he needed to hit to space the floor while Derrick gave the team a jolt of energy on defense and offered some nice playmaking. I still don’t love that starting White means having two questionable shooters at the wing, but on Wednesday it didn’t matter, so I can’t complain too much.
- DeRozan almost dropped our old friend Jonathon Simmons with a crossover. Nasty.
- Jakob Poeltl and Davis Bertans have the best and second best net rating on the team, respectively. I can’t remember the last time either of them truly played poorly. We’ve come a long way since the days of Dante Cunningham getting 30 minutes a night and the team desperately missing Pau Gasol.
- Nikola Vucevic’s absence really exposed the lack of reliable scorers in the Magic’s roster. Orlando might be hoping to trade Vooch, since he’s having an All-Star caliber year and his contract expires after this season, but they might not have enough firepower for their playoff push without him.
Up next: Vs. Timberwolves on Friday
The Wolves destroyed the Spurs at the end of November, in arguably the worst game of the season for San Antonio, but have struggled lately. Payback time?