Daily NBA Fix: The San Antonio Spurs’ Old Man Strength

Jan 14, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) grabs a rebound as Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) defends during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 14, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) grabs a rebound as Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) defends during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs will never die if Friday night’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers means anything.

We aren’t even to the All-Star Break yet so it is hard to take any one game too seriously, but last night the San Antonio Spurs held off the Cleveland Cavaliers for a 99-95 win at home.

You might think that head coach Gregg Popovich pulled one of his old tricks — resting his starters — but no, he wanted to go head to head against LeBron James and company. They even used their ever reliable trio of old men extensively in the contest as well.

But with that wealth of experience, they exploited Kevin Love according to Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver.

"But one wrinkle stood out above the others: The Spurs maintained control throughout the fourth quarter by exploiting Kevin Love’s defensive limitations in numerous ways. Love, who was injured for most of Cleveland’s 2015 postseason run, simply looked in over his head during closing time. By nature, San Antonio’s pass-heavy attack has a way of exposing the opposition’s weakest link. That turned out to be Love, time and again down the stretch."

Golliver goes over six possessions during that where Love was taken advantage of. After missing so much of last season it is understandable that he’s still a little out of rhythm compared to the rest of the team, but that has to be a concern for Cleveland. That also shows you where the advanced age and, more importantly, experience comes into play. They aren’t the league’s best defense on effort alone.

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Making a joke about the Spurs’ age is easy, but it is also true. With an average of 30.8, they are the oldest squad in the league. While there are five other teams that average over 29, they round down to 29. The Spurs are closer to 31, so they are practically two years older than any other team in the league.

But they make sure to leverage every bit of their sly veterans’ ability to get the most out of their minutes. Popovich uses Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker more like a special forces unit than a front-line group. He’s very tactical all season with the minutes he uses them in and how he uses them. Last night he leaned on them more to beat a worthy opponent in the Cavaliers.

The Spurs shot 57.9 percent in the fourth quarter while out-rebounding Cleveland and outscoring them 27-22. But that’s not to say they don’t use the younger players just as well. LaMarcus Aldridge secured a rebound to ice the game while Kawhi Leonard picked his spots excellently for two baskets, including this put-back slam.

But again, it is only January and neither team is the fully-operational battle station it will be when the playoffs come. But the Spurs continue to make us say that you can’t count them out despite being the running joke for five years now. Last night was just another reminder of that.

The Butler Did It, Again

In case you haven’t noticed, Jimmy Butler is becoming a monster. He’s got the range to force opponents to cover him beyond the arc, and he finds ways to put himself in scoring position all the time, including on defense when he steals the ball and starts his one-man fast break. He’s not afraid of physicality and has the finesse to finish near the rim.

The Chicago Bulls needed all of his 53 points in an 115-111 overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

He’s forcing Chicago to consider their future, and how they need to position around him to continue his success. The rest of this season will be awkward as Fred Hoiberg figures out how to get the most out of his team, even if it means upsetting Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose.

Kobe Says Goodbye To Golden State

Even for the more cynical of us (me) about Kobe’s final season, there is something special about him saying goodbye, especially when it is somewhere where he has some history or connection. On Thursday, it wasn’t so much the where, but the who (or whos?) as he faced off in a loss to the Golden State Warriors.

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For one, his old teammate Luke Walton is filling in as the head coach in Steve Kerr‘s absence. Walton was just a role player in the grand scheme of the Los Angles Lakers, but he was one of Kobe’s teammates for two NBA titles.

But perhaps the more meaningful goodbye was from Jerry West, an architect of the more recent Lakers dynasties.

Kobe was going to be successful no matter where he went, but West helped put him in a position to win five titles. West was special to Kobe, and vice versa for his relationship with West, and it is a little sad to know that Kobe is stepping away.