The San Antonio Spurs now sit at third place in the Western Conference, 1.5 games behind the No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder. Considering the team had to do a lot of mixing and matching this week due to injuries and rest, a 2-2 week wasn’t so bad.
Points to take away from this week are that the Spurs bench can really score, and can step up when needed in place of a starter. Leading the league in bench points at 45.7 per game and dishing out league-leading 11.9 assists per game as well, the team has offensive production all across the bench. Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli and Manu Ginobili lead this bench and have done a great job of finding scoring opportunities.
Week in Review
Dec. 16 @ Los Angeles Clippers – Loss (92-115)
The Spurs started off the game efficiently and eventually developed a 10-point lead early in the second quarter. However, the Clippers went on a huge 19-0 run from there quickly and held a 40-31 lead just midway into the same quarter.
Gregg Popovich went with Marco Belinelli in the starting lineup over Danny Green to start the second half in order to find more offensive firepower. An 8-0 run by the Spurs later in the third quarter helped pull them within one, but that would be the closest they ever got to getting the win.
The fourth quarter was when things started looking bad for the Spurs, as Tony Parker went down with a right shin contusion that kept him from returning, and from the next two games. Just earlier from that point, the Spurs committed six straight turnovers, which contributed to the 37-22 scoring margin in the fourth quarter that knocked the Spurs out of this one.
Stephen Jackson, former Spur, didn’t make a huge impact on the game but did end with six points and the Clippers victory that made this night a little bit sweeter for him. Blake Griffin led all scorers with 27 points and nine rebounds, while Chris Paul scored 23, reeled in eight rebounds and dished out seven assists.
For the Spurs, Tim Duncan led with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Manu Ginobili scored 16 points off the bench. The team did itself in with 22 turnovers for the night.
Dec. 18 @ Phoenix Suns – Win (108-101)
Down a point guard, the Spurs gave the starting spot to Cory Joseph, but every player had issues stepping up to begin. The Suns came out swarming San Antonio on the defensive end, which led to early scoring opportunities. Spurs couldn’t match the physicality and despite only being down five after the first, they allows Phoenix to shoot 60 percent and a perfect 5-for-5 on 3-pointers. Channing Frye scored 15 points, including three 3-pointers, while Tim Duncan caused three of the seven turnovers.
Manu Ginobili kept the Spurs in the game with 11 points and five assists going into the half, while Leonard provided scoring inside and out as the Spurs regained the lead at the half 59-58. The third quarter continued with trading baskets, this time with Phoenix committing turnovers with seven in the quarter.
The physical activity and energy from the first quarter by Phoenix was put on display once again, fighting back from an eight-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to regain the lead on a Miles Plumlee layup with five minutes remaining. Ginobili broke a 1-for-9 slump late with a corner 3 that gave the Spurs a 98-95 lead, and the team never gave up the lead again.
The win stopped Phoenix’s five-game win streak. Ginobili posted 24 points (13 in the fourth quarter), six rebounds and seven assists. Tim Duncan recorded another double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds. After allowing the Suns to shoot 60 percent in the first quarter, the Spurs brought them down to 46.3 percent when the game was over.
Dec. 19 @ Golden State Warriors – Win (104-102)
When head coach Gregg Popovich decided to sit Duncan and Ginobili along with the injured Parker, it seemed as though this game was another waste of a national broadcast spot. However, this turned into what will be one of the best wins this season for the Spurs.
The Warriors started the game off hot, but the San Antonio defense forced enough turnovers to keep the lead margin reasonable. At one point though, the Warriors built a 14-point lead that the Spurs would trim to four at about halfway through the second quarter. A 14-2 run gave the Spurs the lead, and the team entered halftime with a two-point lead.
Kawhi Leonard dominated the second quarter with 14 points and the second half belonged to Marco Belinelli. He scored 17 points in the third quarter alone, which extended the Spurs lead after three to 82-74. Just when it seemed that the Warriors were going to make the comeback after tying it up on a Stephen Curry 3 with 28.7 seconds remaining, Tiago Splitter came through with a tip-in that’s under controversy, as it most likely would have been overruled as offensive interference if the play was reviewed.
It’s not every day we see a Spurs win led by Leonard, Belinelli and Patty Mills, but that’s exactly what we got in this game. Leonard’s 21 points and 10 rebounds, Belinelli’s 28 points, and Mills’ 20 points are what saved this game for the Spurs. David Lee led the Warriors with 32 points and 13 rebounds, while Curry dropped 30 points and dished 15 assists.
Dec. 21 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – Loss (113-100)
Probably the game everyone was most looking forward to this week, it suddenly lost a lot of value when just hours before tipoff, the Spurs were notified that Leonard wasn’t going to be able to play after undergoing a dental procedure. Being the best assignment for Kevin Durant, one could see how his absence would be make things difficult for San Antonio.
Durant finished with 17 points, surprisingly, but it was Russell Westbrook, who shot his way to 31 points and handing out eight assists, making the game difficult for the Spurs. Sixteen of his points came in the first half, as the Thunder gained separation and entered halftime with an 11-point lead.
The third quarter for the most part was both teams going neck-and-neck at trading baskets, as the Thunder entered the fourth with a nine-point lead. The Thunder punch came through in fourth quarter with about eight minutes to go, when Splitter missed two free throws that could have trimmed the lead to two, which was then followed up by two straight OKC baskets that extended the lead to eight.
Reggie Jackson, who scored 23 points in 26 minutes in the last Spurs game, continued his efficient play with 21 points in 30 minutes, including field goals late in the game that kept the Thunder on top.
Belinelli had another noteworthy game, scoring 17 points and shot 5-for-8 beyond the arc (started off 5-for-5). However, all his points came in the first half. Parker scored a team-high 23 points and recorded eight assists. Duncan sported another double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Concern for Lack of Big-Game Wins?
With the Thunder loss, the Spurs still have not recorded any wins against any of the top two-seeded teams in each conference.
The excuse of the season still being early is one that gets old pretty quickly, but with Green going through such a slump and the team not having Leonard in the game as well, it’s tough to chalk up this game as one we can expect in the playoffs. A Clippers win would have been big, but losing Parker in the fourth quarter prevented that from happening.
The team still uses this time of the year to experiment and see where each player stands on the depth chart and the development each will need, so their play hasn’t been alarming just yet. However, losing big games makes one can’t help but feel that the team’s record is somewhat misleading as a true contender for the championship right now.
Dec. 23 vs. Toronto Raptors
The season series against the Raptors comes to an end with this game, as Toronto tries to avenge themselves after a loss last week. Aron Baynes had 14 points and six rebounds in the previous game, so perhaps we’ll see more of him and if he can contain Jonas Valanciunas once again.
Dec. 25 vs. Houston Rockets
In this Christmas matchup, the Spurs will be looking to bounce back after a loss earlier this month against the Rockets. Houston’s run-and-gun offense proved to be too much for the Spurs in the last game, so it’ll be interesting to see if San Antonio has developed a strategy yet to defend better against the outside shooting of Houston.
Dec. 26 vs. Dallas Mavericks
A little Texas Triangle action takes place this week, as the Spurs will travel up to Dallas after the game against Houston. This is the first game of the season series against the Mavs, who signed former Spur DeJuan Blair this summer after he fell out of the Spurs rotation last season. He’s bounced back well with Dallas, averaging 8.3 points and seven rebounds per game.