San Antonio Spurs 109, Oklahoma City Thunder 105: Coach Pop has his [bleeping] bench
AT&T CENTER — It was the type of play that only Manu Ginobili used to be able to get away with. Gary Neal thought about taking the 3-pointer on the fast break, but thought better of it.
He took a couple of dribbles towards the basket; still mainly just Thunder defenders crossing halfcourt. Neal then dribbled back out to the 3-point line. And shot it.
“Might’ve been some furniture moving if I missed,” Gary Neal said after the game. Thankfully for him, it didn’t.
Otherwise, who knows what would’ve happened.
“I was wondering when the trade deadline was,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said when asked about his reaction to Neal’s shot.
Neal hit the 3-pointer, giving the Spurs a 88-80 lead late in the third quarter. Â It was the standout play in a night chock-full of them for the Spurs rookie guard.
In the locker room post-game, Tony ParkerÂ marveledÂ at the crowd waiting to talk to Neal. A crowd so big that Parker was able to sneak out without being bothered, only to be brought back into the locker room by a team official shortly after to answer questions.
Coach Pop wanted a bench this summer. After being swept by the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs last season, Coach Pop’s wishlist was simple: “a [bleeping] bench.”
Well, he’s got it. It’s not the deepest bench in the world. Most nights the Spurs go just eight or nine deep. But in terms of quality, it’s one of the best any Spurs team has had.
On Wednesday night, the San Antonio bench outscored the Thunder’s 45-32. Gary Neal scored 19 points and Matt Bonner had 12.
On the surface the Spurs bench looks one dimensional. They can shoot, but that’s about it. And there’s some truth to that, they sure can shoot. The Spurs second unit shot 8-11 from 3-point range against Oklahoma City.
But going deeper there’s an a full arsenal of skills for San Antonio. Neal’s ability to score in a variety of ways has been mentioned this season, but his playmaking ability was top notch against the Thunder.
“Gary Neal was super because he also assisted for about three or four layups in between making shots,” Coach Pop said. “He had a great run and played a complete game in that regard.”
Matt Bonner came up with a solid defensive performance on Jeff Green. Blair struggled early in the game on Green, but Bonner came in and, surprisingly enough, his defensive movement was great on Green.
The Thunder used Green frequently to set picks for Russell Westbrook, and Bonner was able to effectively help on the pick-and-roll and recover to Green, who was usually spotted-up on the perimeter.
George Hill shot just 3-8 from the floor in the Spurs win, but he put in some strong shifts defending Kevin Durant. Despite a disadvantage in both height and length, Hill was physical with Durant, and though 30 points doesn’t look great, it could’ve been much worse.
I’ve criticized Hill lack of court vision from time-to-time this season, but he made one play in the second half that really impressed me. In the third quarter the Spurs were in transition. Hill caught a pass near the free throw line extended and Neal was next to him, spotting up in the corner.
Hill could’ve easily just passed to Neal for a possibly-contested 3-pointer, but he didn’t. Instead, Hill took a dribble toward the basket, forcing a Thunder defender to commit to Hill. Then George passed out to Neal in the corner, who had all the time in the world to line up another 3-pointer.
Together the Spurs bench gives Coach Pop one of the best second units he’s had the fortune of coaching. If James Anderson is successfullyÂ integratedÂ back into the rotation over the next few weeks, it becomes one stronger. All the better to take on the top of the Western Conference come April, May and June.
If only that Tiago Splitter thing had worked out better this year.