San Antonio Spurs 100, Detroit Pistons 89: No one knows what makes the Spurs so good
Palace of Auburn Hills â€” Another night, another ho-hum victory for the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs might become the first team in NBA history to accidentally back their way into 65 wins.
Through three quarters the Spurs and Pistons played themselves to a push. The Palace was half-empty and each team had all the spunk of a cat beneath the wheels of an 18-wheel haul. Â The game simply lacked energy, save for theÂ occasionalÂ Will Bynum highlight.
The most fascinating part of the gameâ€”at least from my position behind the Pistons’ benchâ€”was the crowd’s constant yell of “Rip Hamilton”, or some close variant, in the direction of Pistons coach John Kuester.
“HamILton! HamILton! HamILton!”
And so on.
48Â uninterruptedÂ minutes of and so on.
Some of the Pistons’ players noticed, and seemed to tease Hamilton a little. And when Antonio McDyess entered the game for the first time, he gave his former teammate a good-hearted ribbing.
Gregg Popovich summed up the game afterward. “We played pretty good defense in the second half. I think we held them to 38 points.”
And, in truth, that was it. The Spurs’ energy and defense picked up at the start of the 4th, and it was enough to transform a game that featured over a dozen lead changes through three quarters into a quiet double digit victory. The Spurs are closing in on some sort of one season record for quiet double digit victories.
In many ways, this game is representative of San Antonio’s entire season. Here the Spurs are, sitting on a .843 winning percentage, and it’s not always easy to say why.
Sure, DeJuan Blair played well. He contributed 18 points and 12 boards. And sure, the Spurs’ big three all contributed solid lines. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili did what they do, and they did it the way Popovich likes them to. That is, they only played 28 and 31 minutes respectively.
Matt Bonner finally returned from injury. He’s still possesses that Matt Bonner awesomeness. 50% on threes, plus 6.
After the game, everyone lazily made their way to the locker rooms. San Antonio won. Detroit lost. What should we write about?
While we were waiting for Coach Popovich to assume his usual postgame spot against the outer wall of the locker room, some of the local reporters began to quiz Jeff McDonald and myself about the Spurs.
“How do you guys explain it? You follow the team night in, night out. What makes them so special? 43 wins already? They’re good, but it doesn’t seem like San Antonio is that good. What gives?”
We tried our best, but what do we know? We’re tourists with typewriters. Like the rest of those who follow the Spurs, we’re enjoying the view. We can name the flora and fauna. We’re excited by the color of the leaves. But the winds blow where the winds blow, and there is a whole world of conjecture that exists beyond our view of the weather vane.
Still, we tried our best.
“It’s basically the same team as last year. Same rotation, save Gary Neal for Roger Mason Jr.”
“Sometimes it takes players until year two before they click within the Spurs’ system.”
“Oh, and the Spurs are healthy. That’s a big deal.”
If answers were pullups, ours struggled to lift their chins higher than the level of cliche.
But really, what accounts for it? What makes San Antonio the best team in the league?
Gregg Popovich won’t hear anything about that. Â There are some questions he won’t dignify, and that’s one of them.
“Just because we have the best record does not mean we’re the best team in the league. There are still other teams who are better than us. We have to get better defensively to compete with those teams.” Â And that was about it for the postgame presser. He was done. On the bus. Off to Toronto.
Richard Jefferson was a little more forthcoming.
“That just what this team does. We grind it out one game at a time. We prepare. We get our sleep the night before a game.”
Yes, he really did add that bit about the extra Zs. You get his point. The Spurs do the little things.
Matt Bonner was nonplussed when, for about the third time in our lives, I asked why he was so good at crushing plus/minus. Actually, I asked what it felt like to be the team’s centerpiece, to have all of San Antonio’s offensive movementsÂ choreographÂ around him in perfect harmony. I was joking, but, you know, I’m not sure if he knew that. He didn’t laugh; he didn’t answer. There is a first time for everything, and tonight I was cool-shamed by Matt Bonner.
Why are the Spurs so good? How is it that they keep punching the victory ticket?
“We just do what the coaches ask of us. We try to get better as the season goes. I don’t really know. There isn’t anything magical about it.” Â Bonner offered this, and nothing more.
There you have it. The Spurs, not so magical, but still pretty freakin’ impressive. The San Antonio mystery tour picks up tomorrow in Toronto. They’ll probably grind out another victory, all to the tune of “huh” and “yeah”.