Coming off a heart-breaker the night before, this looked like a game that the San Antonio Spurs were ready to throw away when they announced they would be resting DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and Patty Mills against the second best team in the West. Unfortunately for the Phoenix Suns, who may have been a little complacent, the “resting” Spurs of yore came to play, controlling the game from midway through the first quarter and on with a full team effort for the 111-85 victory.
Rudy Gay led six Spurs in double figures with 19 points, while Devin Vassell scored a career high 18 points. The Spurs held Chris Paul and Devin Booker in check with just a combined 21 points on 9-28 shooting.
- Gregg Popovich gave a very Popovichian answer before the game when asked why Vassell hasn’t played the last two games: “We played other people”. Thanks, Pop, never would have guessed, although “person” would make more sense since it’s basically been Lonnie Walker who replaced him once he returned from injury, not multiple people. In all seriousness, Pop has never been one to give away what he’s thinking when it comes to his team, frustrating as it as at times, so I guess we shouldn’t expect anything different.
- On the other hand, Pop did finally admit some of his players were hitting a wall thanks to the schedule, hence his reasoning for resting players tonight. The first two of that group don’t seem to have hit a wall, but Mills has definitely been driving towards one over the last few weeks, and his goose egg against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday was the collision. Hopefully the extra day off will get him going again, because the Spurs need his three-point shooting and scoring off the bench.
- Drew Eubanks and Luka Samanic replaced the two resting starters, and neither looked out of place as they showed a high level of energy and provided a certain amount of switchability on defense that has been lacking at times. (Eubanks actually had yet another outstanding game this week with his second double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds.) However, it was the bench that stole the show in the first quarter. Gorgui Dieng made his return from a shoulder injury and immediately made his presence felt on both ends with five quick points, and Devin Vassell also contributed five points and his usual superior defense. (Maybe Pop needs to play him instead of just “other people” more?) Overall the Spurs’ bench outscored their Suns counterpart 14-4 in the quarter to spot the team a 28-19 lead.
- The Spurs remained red hot in the second quarter and got up by as much as 23 in no small part thanks to three-point shooting. In fact, they had hit eight of them before the Suns even hit their first (and only) three of the half midway through the second quarter. They also had an uncharacteristic edge on second chance points, 12-3, despite the Suns having significantly more offensive rebounds. Phoenix finally got more aggressive for a spell, with Chris Paul hitting a few buckets to wake up their offense, but they never got closer than 17 in the quarter, and the Spurs would take a 64-45 into halftime.
- This is closer to the type of performance that led the Spurs to success in the first half of the season: the starters play pretty much even (if not a little below their opponent) to open the game, and then the bench comes in and lays it on the other team, leading to that dominant second quarter team we came to know. The cushion they created often left just enough room for the Spurs to absorb a slow spell in the second half and still be able to win.
- Luka Samanic didn’t do much in the box score — he was the only Spurs who didn’t score besides Kieta Bates-Diop — but he continues to show good signs when given the minutes. He took the shots that were given to him, didn’t force anything, and for the most part was solid on defense. One time he showed that he’s still learning is during the third quarter, twice in the same possession he was forced to foul Jae Crowder after closing out to hard to the arc, allowing Crowder to easily sidestep him and start driving towards an open rim. Funny part is the Spurs got called for three total fouls on that one possession, but the Suns still failed to score.
- The Spurs may have gotten a little complacent after getting the lead as high as 27 in the third quarter as the Suns went on a 12-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters as the threes briefly started falling for them, giving Monty Williams enough reason to bring Chris Paul back in. The Spurs quickly responded with five quick points and later a 9-0 run to put things away and avoid a collapse against a Suns team that can be especially dangerous on offense.
- Not to keep harping on this, but Vassell (who admittedly was well rested) had himself a career night, which included 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals to go along with his with 18 points. Referring back to Pop’s pregame comments, it will be interesting to see if he continues to “play other people” and not his rising rookie the rest of the season.
- It remains extremely satisfying to beat the Suns on “rest” games. After two past incidents where Phoenix owner Robert Sarver clucked like a chicken at Pop from the sidelines for resting players, and another time he threatened to refund the fans — and the Spurs still won both times — it’s just fun to lay it on that guy, especially when they’re looking at potential championship aspirations while the Spurs are fighting just to stay in the play-in.
- Heading into the Spurs’ most difficult week of the season, fans likely would have accepted a 3-2 result with open arms based on the schedule. The process of getting there was unexpected (beating the Mavs and Suns on the road but losing to the Raptors), and it’s easy to look back and say it should have been 5-0 had they not blown double-digit leads in the two losses, but again, considering the FIGASENI, they’ll take what they can get.
For the Suns fans’ perspective, visit Bright Side of the Sun.
The Spurs are now headed to Indianapolis to take on the Indiana Pacers on Monday. Tip-off will be at 7:00 PM CT on BSSW.