In one of the more encouraging moments of the season, the Spurs won a physical game in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon with a healthy-ish roster by controlling the pace and controlling the paint. Despite a hostile crowd, an engaged LeBron James and early struggles from LaMarcus Aldridge, the silver-and-black played pristine basketball for a key stretch to start the fourth quarter, resulting in the win.
To start the second half, the Spurs made it a point to feed Aldridge down low and as a result, the game dramatically slowed down in the Spurs’ favor. He bullied whichever defender the Cavs threw his way, and he shrugged off a slow start in the first half to eventually take over the game through a series of jump hooks, fadeaways, tough finishes in the paint, along with several earned trips to the line.
During a big 16-0 run beginning with 35 seconds left in the third quarter, the Spurs eventually pushed out to a 13-point lead, and ultimately served as a cushion for the remainder of the game. Led by Dejounte Murray on both ends during that stretch, including six-straight points, the big run was the result of the Spurs flying around the court on defense and aggressively attacking the hoop in the half-court and in transition.
For much of the season, the Spurs have leaned a little too heavily on effective,but limited, role players to create good looks. In the long run, Sunday afternoon does not change the fact that the team is still short on elite shot creators, but it did serve as a nice reminder that a collective approach to filling the void left by Kawhi Leonard is not the worst way to win a ball game, especially when they are close to full health.
While Rudy Gay still works his way back from his heel injury, his isolation game is probably going to continue to look a little ragged, but he found other ways to be effective. He ran in the open court, he fought for offensive rebounds, and he used his length on defense to record a block and a steal and to bother players driving to the hoop. He is more than a serviceable utility player off the bench, but he has the ability to be quite effective in that role when he wants to be.
Danny Green was a force on both ends of the court, draining five 3s of all degrees of difficulty while serving as a mostly-effective defender against LeBron James. Though that didn’t stop James from putting up big numbers [33-13-9 on 14-25 shooting], he finished with six turnovers and found himself boxed in by long-armed help defenders and Green’s brainy on-ball defense. He is familiar with his former teammates’ tendencies, and he one of the best in the league at quickly moving around the court to beat James to his preferred spots.
Kyle Anderson drew long sessions defending James, and for the most part, was solid. He has mastered pickpocketing ballhandlers of all sizes, but against Cleveland, he also did a great job of contesting shots at the hoop and finished with three blocks. Anderson is extremely versatile and can quietly stuff a stat box.
Old man Pau Gasol is not very well equipped to defend the fearsome speed of the Cavaliers, but he managed well enough to have himself a nice game overall. Along with his rebounding, passing and scoring from the post, Pau put together some nice defensive sequences, using his length to cover passing lanes while protecting the hoop.
Off the bench, Bryn Forbes filled the spark plug role left vacant by an injured Manu Ginobili. He hit spot-up 3s, pullup jumpers, and continued his nice symbioses with Murray. He is quick, he plays hard, and he is a very valuable shot creator off the bench. He fills a much-needed role on the team as a two-way player capable of creating his own shot or knocking down a heavily contested one from deep. It will be interesting to see the role he plays down the stretch of the season.
The Spurs withstood some fierce runs by the Cavaliers at various points because they are a deep, versatile team. The team withstood physical Cleveland defense and finished with just nine turnovers and were able to successfully impose their will on an undersized defense.
The ceiling of the Kawhi-less Spurs is at least one tier below championship contender, but should the team stay relatively healthy and play to their strengths the way they did on Sunday, no team out West will look forward to drawing them in the playoffs.
- During the big run in the second half and continuing through the rest of the game, Dejounte Murray went to another level athletically, and no guard on the Cavaliers could match it. Still staying under control, he attacked in transition and repeatedly blew by Jordan Clarkson, George Hill and Rodney Hood on the perimeter. As he gains confidence, his ability to change a game with his athleticism is going to become clearer and clearer.
- Sunday against the Cavaliers was the full Danny Green experience. He made impossible 3s, he threw the occasional dumb pass, he played LeBron James in the fast break and on the drive perfectly, and he made some ill-advised shots that probably had Spurs fans pulling their hair out.
- Tony Parker had a rough go of it on the offensive end, but played two passing lanes well in the first half. It will be interesting to see if he can figure out a way to be effective if he is struggling on offense.
- Patty Mills struggled for a good part of the game, but he hit a big 3 late in the game and played under control overall. Nice job, Patty.