The Spurs matched up with a clearly inferior opponent in the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, and they didn’t mess around. They jumped out to a big lead early and stayed in control pretty much throughout. This was a relatively easy, straightforward win.
Every aspect of the Spurs game was firing on all cylinders here. The shots were falling, the threes were really falling, and the defensive effort continued to be great. The problem is that it’s pretty hard to couch this performance into any sort of context considering how bad the Magic looked. Missing their best offensive player in Nikola Vucevic, the home team seemed hapless on both ends for most of the night. It sometimes felt like the Spurs were running their game against a clever simulation of what an NBA team might look like someday. There were guys out there wearing jerseys with “Magic” on the front, but was there really?
You can only beat the team in front of you, and, as we’ve seen as recently as last Saturday, anyone in the league is capable of putting together a performance on any given night. The Spurs did well to not let that happen here. They played hard, they executed the game plan, and they came out with a comfortable win.
Even though we probably won’t be able to glean any grand, profound pearls of wisdom about the game of basketball based on what went down in Orlando, this game can still serve as a nice litmus test for the Spurs. They seem healthy right now not necessarily in an injury-sense, but more from a State of the Team sense. Guys are settling into their roles or blossoming into their new ones. People seem like they are trusting each other and having fun playing together. These are not small things!
Two weeks ago, right after they got steamrolled by LeBron James in the 4th quarter, this team seemed pretty down, and it was unclear whether or not they would be able to pull out of that particular tailspin in time. That bunch is unrecognizable with the group the we just watched put the clamps on the Magic. There was some worry that the disaster against the Bulls might lead to another unraveling, but no, here we are two very positive blowouts later, and we can probably put those particular worries to rest.
Are there plenty of other things to worry about with this team? Yes, but we can save those for another time. The Spurs are playing their best basketball of the season right now. They’ve won six of their last seven games, their “league worst” defense continues to hold opponents under 100 points, and they sit in 8th place in the Western Conference, which is only 5 games out of first place behind the...Denver Nuggets?
The state of the Spurs is good and the state of the League is weird. We should all try and have some fun with it while we can.
- How about those crazy, three-point shooting San Antonio Spurs? In the first half, they shot 10-15 from beyond the arc, and it almost felt like they couldn’t miss. (In Davis Bertans’ case, he literally could not.) The irony of this, of course, is that the Spurs actually only took 19 threes all game, which is about 4 less than their season average. Shoot, the Magic ended up matching the Spurs in total threes made with 12 so, the idea that the Spurs turned into some three-point maniacs all of a sudden is definitely an illusion. That three-point percentage though, 63.2, is much more indicative of the kind of success the Spurs want. Pop doesn’t want his guys to ignore the three-point line all together, but instead wants them to take advantage of it in high leverage situations. When they get open looks in transition? Take it. When the offense moves the ball and it results in an open guy in the corner? Take it. Attempting way less threes than the rest of league might seem crazy on it’s face, but it seems way less crazy when you watch it work like this.
- If you squint, you could see a version of the Spurs attack at it’s most potent in this game. The big three, for lack of a better word, of DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay only had 2 three-point attempts between them, and still they were able to get to their preferred spots on the floor and score almost at will. With those guys drawing the focus of the Magic’s defense, guys like Bryn Forbes and Marco Belinelli, and Bertans were free to operate at their own discretion. They took advantage of mismatches, hit wide-open threes, and they forced the Orlando defenders to pay attention to them. Very quietly, the Spurs have the sixth-highest offensive rating in the league and, by all accounts, can drop anywhere from 110 to 130 on anyone any given night.
- The defense continues to be great. Tonight’s task wasn’t particularly challenging, as we’ve noted here at length, but the team still attacked it with the kind of effort that we’ve come to expect during this little mini run of defensive excellence over the past six games. The next two against Minnesota and Houston will be fascinating tests to see whether or not they can continue to produce these types of results against more quality opponents.
- It should be noted, since we talked so much about the Spurs three-point shooting prowess in this game, that one of their made threes was a desperation bank shot from Quincy Pondexter late in the 4th quarter as the shot clock was running out. That doesn’t exactly jibe with my “The Spurs are ELITE high leverage three-point sharpshooters” hypothesis, but I think I’ve still got enough data to run with it.
- MARCO WATCH: This guy. Marco almost led the team in scoring last night with 18 points and continues to make play after play that defies the logic of gravity, time, space, and, if we’re being honest, good basketball sense. Far from being simply a spot up three-point specialist, he’s almost more dangerous with the ball in his hand because no one, least of all Marco, seems to know what he’s about to do with it. He’ll start to drive around a screen and just pull up with no notice. He’ll take shots where he actually releases the ball about four feet to the left of where he originally pulled up to shoot. It’s a fascinating display of creativity and shameless basketball id. My favorite play of his in this game came in the 3rd quarter. Belly receives a pass on the run, weaves his way into the lane, and jumps up into the air. At this point, he’s extremely trapped in his situation so he shoots the ball out to DeMar in the corner. DeMar fumbles the pass because of course, Marco was doing a no-look job and DeMar was surely thinking, “no way he would try to get it to me.” Marco then scrambles out to retrieve the ball and, with the shot clock careening toward zero, launches up a three before collapsing to the floor. It was a masterpiece.