San Antonio Spurs 111, Toronto Raptors 100: The Spurs and the walking dead

by

To quote my colleague and Editor Timothy Varner, another night another ho-hum victory for the San Antonio Spurs.

There is a reason why, in Detroit, Varner and the contingent of travelling Spurs media were quizzed by perplexed beat reporters on what exactly makes this team so damn good at 44-8. For over three quarters in Toronto it was impossible to distinguish one team from the other before the Spurs pulled away for a relatively easy victory.

But the San Antonio Spurs will not be, as suggested, the first team in NBA history to accidentally back their way into 65-wins. Though they might be the first to stumble their way into it, this is no accident. This is purposeful.

Because the offense-oriented nature of this Spurs revival, there have been comparisons to the Phoenix Suns of recent memory. But those Phoenix teams injected life and a frenetic pace into the game, if only to burn out every season. These Spurs offer no such charisma, speed, or energy. They simply march forward at a steady, unrelenting pace.

What makes these Spurs so good? Simply put, they won’t die. Or, in another theory, they are the walking undead. Zombies.

There are certainly more frightening beasts than those that so famously graced George A. Romero’s films. The original zombies (not the new age ones that sprint like a million Tony Parkers and scare the hell out of me) were never so fast that one could not simply outrun them. Sometimes comically so. They were never so physically strong that one could not fight one or two off.

What makes the zombie so appealing, so apocalyptic and final, is that they come tirelessly and in numbers. Wave after wave of them, even if at times clumsily so. Until the survivors that so effortlessly maneuvered around them find themselves overwhelmed and cornered in a shopping mall.

And so it was that for three quarters the Toronto Raptors outran and outmaneuvered the Spurs. DeMar DeRozan running circles around defenders to the tune of 25 points while Andrea Bargnani managed to attack the defense from a distance, peppering jumper after jumper (29 points).  The Raptors actually enjoyed a three-point lead heading into the final quarter.

But the Spurs kept coming, and coming. Wave after wave. A Gary Neal or Matt Bonner three-pointer here, a DeJuan Blair tip-in there. And Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili everywhere. Four starters scored in double figures with George Hill contributing 18 points off the bench.

And that’s the strength of these Spurs. They simply outlast other teams, staying step for step with opponents in tireless pursuit, until the fourth quarter when, at the point of exhaustion, opposing teams have nowhere else to run. Then the Spurs simply feast.

  • junierizzle

    Great article.

    I recall RJ saying that they were a “second half” team. It’s true. They kind of go through the motions and wait until the 3rd or 4th quarter to turn up the juice. That’s how they won last night against the PISTONS too.
    I kept waiting for tonight and sure enough, it came.
    Even the laker game, they had an 8 point lead in the fourth, after being virtually neck-and-neck the whole game. They couldn’t hold that lead though.

  • grego

    They are definitely a 2nd half team. I think they take more chances in the 1st half and try to bolster their lead with running, while slowing it down during the 2nd half to lessen the amount of possessions once they have a good lead or good momentum.

  • mybloodissilverandblack

    1. Really nice to see “Coach B” back in uniform and playing again. Now to get James Anderson back…

    2. DeJuan Blair ate the whole Raptors frontline alive. It’s amazing to watch a seven footer like Bargnani get owned by the 6’7″ Blair.

    3. At first I thought Jose Calderon did a Ric Flair chop block into Splitter’s legs in the third quarter. But as it turned out, Manu pushed Calderon, slipping his way into Splitter.

    4. Horrible free throw shooting. Even Manu hurled a way-off one.

    5. The Spurs defense was not fun to watch at all in the first three quarters. It turned into a magnificent performance in the fourth. Good job.

    44-8. Not too shabby. Go Spurs go!

  • Hobson13

    “And that’s the strength of these Spurs. They simply outlast other teams, staying step for step with opponents in tireless pursuit, until the fourth quarter when, at the point of exhaustion, opposing teams have nowhere else to run.”

    Excellent point. The Spurs FO has put together one of the deepest teams in the league and probably the deepest Spurs team we’ve ever seen. Tim, Manu, Tony, RJ, Blair, Hill, and even Neal are all capable of scoring 18+pts in any given game. And each have had at least 1 game where they lead the way to victory. Tonight it was Hill and Blair’s turn to be the big dogs.

    If Tim and Tony are having bad games, Blair and Hill can help make up the difference. If Manu is having trouble then RJ or Neal can step into the gap. We really do have a number of good players who can cover while one or two guys struggle. Over the course of an 82 game season, this increased depth translates into a number of wins that would otherwise be losses especially for an older team. This road trip is littered with subpar teams, so the biggest challenge to the Spurs is how to keep the team fresh and with the necessary energy to win. In the end, our depth is probably the biggest reason we won in Sacramento (on the 3rd game in 4 days) and in Toronto (on the SGBABA).

    P.S. This was probably Blairs best game of the season so far. He really is coming along after an agonizingly slow start. Blair’s numbers for 5 games in February are 15.2ppg, 10.2rebs, and 1.6 stls. Those are beasting numbers for a 2nd round pick.

  • SpurDAWG50

    It is amazing to note that in the write up, the word Duncan did not appear even once. And I think that is what makes this season and team so special. I appreciate the fact that TD hasn’t had to carry the load and subsequently we are showcasing our depth. I couldn’t be happier that Pop is showing so much trust in his bench this season. I guess we can thank PHX for that!

  • Pop-a-vich

    Actually, its 111-100.

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  • SpurredOn

    The last two games have shown me one thing: the Spurs are now getting every team’s marquee performance. Average and losing teams are once again treating the Spurs as they did for the past decade but stopped doing about two years ago. The Spurs are talented, deep, and well coached enough to outlast these opponents on most every night but sometimes it won’t show itself until the 4th quarter. They can’t get up for every game and treat it as though they are playing the Lakers, Celtics or Mavs. So long as they are playing their game and not wearing out the vets, things will keep moving smoothly along to the playoffs.

  • r.l.manuel

    44-8
    GO SPURS GO

  • Spurholic in Mumbai

    A well written note. The “style” of Spurs winning matches is reflected in the note – just boring, drills being executed with..with … a “zombie” like efficiency. No wonder, other than a Spurholic, other fans are not able to comprehend the (Spurs) record.

    Two interesting tests coming up Sixers and Bulls, young energetic teams who outplayed us in the last season (Bulls). Looking forward for the relentless execution to sustain.

    ps: Hope Splitter has not injured the hamstring seriously.

  • Robert

    I would really like to think that our D shows up big time in fourth quarters, but… I also think that, generally speaking, the majority of the teams tends to choke in that last quarter, while the Spurs keep executing. We can´t count on that with the big teams. Our defense MUST get better desesperately, because nor the Lakers, or Miami, or Boston choke when closing games.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    Blair was brilliant last night! He was aggressive and he chased down loose balls – as far as from a starting point at half court – while putting the ball down with authority!

    Everyone gave solid contributions and picked up the win on the 2nd of a BTB for both teams, so I was pleased with the W.

    Now we get to see the same situation with better teams in Philly and Washington.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Nice article. I like the idea of the Zombie Spurs–it certainly explains why nobody seems to want to watch them. Of course, as some mentioned in response to Tim’s “San Antonio Mystery Tour” essay, it’s because they have a team in an almost idealized sense of the word.

    Great game by DeJuan, one of several lately. So is everybody on board with the late Jim Henderson now? DeJuan is going to be a special player.

    We will, however, need to step things up a bit for the rest of the trip. Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey are all playing better right now (excluding road games for Washington, of course) and Chicago, of course, is very dangerous. I think we’ll have a real fight on our hands in Philadelphia and facing a young, spry Washington team the next night will be tough, too. But they should be good games.

  • Bryan

    Nice metaphor, Jesse. Likening the Spurs to zombies is freaking awesome.

    As mentioned by Hobson, the team’s strength is in their depth. I don’t have any official stats, but I would imagine the Spurs have one of the fewest individual 30 point games for the season. They don’t rely on one person lighting it up. The team can suffer from an offnight from one of their big-3 because somebody else will step it up like Hill and Blair last night.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/dvyoung05 dvyoung05

    Simply put, the depth. Reminds me of the Spurs in 2003. We are simply wearing the other team out. This RRT will prove to be one of the biggest tests for our depth. So far, so good. Improved plays by DB, GH and GN will be a measuring stick for the success of this RRT and further success down the road for our team IMO.

  • SAJKinBigD

    Another spectacular article! Love the analogy to Zombies. It fits – you don’t know how they keep doing it, but they do and before you know it, they’ve grabbed you, dragged you to the ground and begun pulling sausage and spaghetti outta your stomach!
    Another reference could be, to keep with my christening of Mr. Anderson as Neo, “the sound of inevitability;” but this time Neo’s on the side of Inevitability! MWAHAHAHA!!!

  • mikrobass3

    “It is amazing to note that in the write up, the word Duncan did not appear even once.”

    Duncan’s line last night: 26 minutes, 16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks, 1 steal, 0 turnovers, 0 fouls.

    100% class.

    there was a moment in the game when tim gathered manu and tony to talk it over on the court. dejuan stared into the crowd; then timmy called him over to talk him up, too. behold duncan, our leader.

  • Diane in Tyler

    Loved the article. The Spurs are also a stellar example of what a true TEAM can accomplish. Great coaching, nice players who aren’t consumed by their own egos, and a supportive community that LOVES its team–win or lose–are “Billy Bean” unrecognized factors that lift the Spurs. Watching the Spurs at home is unlike watching any other pro team in any sport in any venue.

  • irongiantkc

    @microbass3
    Cool insight into Tim. Thanks.

  • Kevin

    Whereas last year it seemed like the Spurs kept getting sunk by one bad quarter (usually a meltdown in the 3rd or 4th)… this year’s team just seems to trudge along until they hit their 1 good quarter now. This style of winning in the 4th has to be a good sign for success in the tough, grind-it-out playoff games.

    Although I HATE people calling the Spurs boring, I will admit that this team doesn’t give a blogger much to write about on a daily basis… especially in the middle of the season when they grind out wins against middle of the road teams, and nobody really stands out as the star of the game. I say all of this to once again commend 48MoH on doing an incredible job of writing awesome recaps and stories about our beloved Spurs. The Zombie Spurs (not to be confused with the Zombie Sonics) analogy is so awesome, I can’t wait to tell others about it.

    Jesse, I can’t believe you missed the opportunity for an illustration of the Zombie Spurs.

  • Titletown99030507

    This Spurs team might be the first team in a long time to actually pull it off and win a championship primarily with the strength of their offense instead of their defense. Their defense actually gets better when they run hard on offense. I can’t believe I said that, but it goes against everything I’ve always said this season in having big men as in height in the paint to be successful. It appears to me that might be the case. And I have to give Blair finally his props which I was reluctant to do so. His strengths are being able to be at the right place at the right time to score or cause a turnover. He’s not going to over power great 7 footers but he’ll be able to beat them none the less by playing his game. The Spurs remind me of the 80’s Lakers scoring at will when down only to regain the lead and take the win, but minus Jabbar. That will be the only time I will make any comparison with LA.( Sorry if I offended anyone by that.) My opinion is if Splitter keeps improving then he’ll be in there in spurts when playoffs come around just to give the other bigs a time to rest when needed without having to worry about losing leads or games. I was hoping splitter would end up getting major minutes and become an integral part of this team at this time of the season, but at this point using Splitter in this manner would suffice.

  • Brian

    Not calling anyone out but, I think people are too optimistic about Splitter’s playing time in the playoffs. It’s great that he’s finally getting some time but, I really don’t see Tiago getting much burn in the playoffs, especially as a rookie. It took two years for George Hill being able to contribute come playoff time. Hope I’m wrong though.

    Good all around game by the Spurs last night.

  • Tyler

    @ Tim in Surrey

    Re: DeJuan

    Obviously it depends on your definition of “special”, but I think DeJuan’s potential is a notch below All-Star (I believe Jim thought Blair could reach that level). While he’s still got room to improve, I don’t think DeJuan projects quite that high.

    Having said that, he’s going to be a quality starter for a contender as long as his knees hold up. Not only that, but as the 4th or 5th option on this team right now, he’s a perfect fit.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    Tim in Surrey
    February 10th, 2011 at 6:42 am

    Great game by DeJuan, one of several lately. So is everybody on board with the late Jim Henderson now? DeJuan is going to be a special player.

    Gosh Tim, Jim is banned not dead. ;)

    Titletown, I am glad you are coming around on DeJuan and I agree with your 80s Lakeshow analogy. This team just kills you in the 4th quarter with execution and poise.

    I feel like Splitter will definitely help come playoff time being a big body to throw at the opposition.

    I only hope that the Spurs can get “Mr. Anderson” on track before the playoffs.

  • rj

    this analysis probably best describes our record. the spurs are a disciplined, character team with the depth to outlast opponents. i don’t think splitter or anderson will see playing time in the playoffs. that will be dice and timmy time. hopefully splitter’s injury is minor. those injuries have a tendency to be nagging. luckly, bonner is back and we don’t depend on splitter’s contributions heavily. he shot poorly, but 8 boards in 3 quarters? looks like his rebounding is coming along nicely.

  • Ed

    Blair is a keeper, he’s proven that. He can be effective against anybody on both ends of the court as long as he stay out of foul trouble. As far as Splitter goes I think Pop will continue to expand his role as the playoffs get near, but he is not nearly the offensive threat that Timmy is. Splitter canNOT shoot. His FT’s are horrendous and I can’t remember him making or even taking a 10-15 ft jumper. Nice moves around the basket, strong defense and rebounding and a good passer. If Splitter could add a jump shot he’d be really good. He will help in the playoffs, he will contribute, just mostly on defense.
    Spurs are as consistant as anybody in the league and that’s what makes them so good, they don’t panic they just play. Most team can’t execute as consistantly as the Spurs can so even when a team makes a run when the run is over they turn around and see the Spurs are still right there. It’s got to be depressing for a lot of teams to throw their best shot and watch the Spurs keep pace and pull away when the other team tires.
    The 6ers game will be tough, it can go either way and the Bulls will be hard to beat at home, but that’s the only challenge I see left on the RRT.

  • Deva

    Two things I love most in life, Spurs & Zombies, fused seamlessly in an intelligent article.

    Keep up the great work and many thanks!

  • Bankshot21

    Duncans line was insane for the short amount of time he played. Jim Henderson’s ban should revoked so he can have the opportunity to talk about Blair and the tear he’s been on.

  • betsyduncan

    One of the things I love about this team is that I have a new, favorite player after each game! Steady and consistent wins the ‘race’! It’s like RJ mused recently about putting in those 48 minutes and ‘pounding the rock’—all the way to victory! Fan-tastic!

  • Dr. Who

    The lovefest on this blog can only be attributed to the Spurs stellar record, Pop’s playing Blair has panned out (as of late) and the most blogged about Spur… Tiago is getting some burn. So what else is there to write about? I guess we’ll have to wait until the next loss before the boards are lit up with 8 plus paragraph rants and Spurs fans nearly crash ESPN’s Trade Machine Server seeing what we can get for Parker, Blair and Tiago. To steal “ITGuys” thunder (probably the most positive Spurs fan alive)…

    GO SPURS GO!

  • Daniel T

    Brian:

    “It took two years for George Hill being able to contribute come playoff time.”

    It was actually more like two games. Pop had said before the playoffs that it wasn’t George’s time; didn’t use him at all in game one and limited minutes in game 2; but he played 24 minutes in game 3 when Dallaw won big. That led to 14+ minutes in game 4 and over 32 minutes in game 5. It seems like Pop may have conceded afterwards that he perhaps should have used George more in the earlier games.

  • Syd

    Tiago hurt?

    I didn’t get to se the game but read in ESPN’s recap of the game that Tiago Spitter left in the third quarter with a hamstring issue. I haven’t heard anything since. Anyone have more info on the nature and severity of what happened?

  • Syd

    See. Splitter. Ugh. Spell check.

  • http://glendon.thom@yahoo.com glen

    I lived in Arlington TX. but i am not a Dallas Maverick fan, I always root for the spurs one thing that I will like to see. spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks preventing them from making the playoff and also hush cry baby Mark Cuban up. He thinks he owns the NBA and everyone should listens to him, you do not see no other owner act the way he acts, he can spend all the money in the world bring all the players he wants to the Mavericks they still will not win, this team is too soft, do not have a killer instinct come playoff time.

  • ThatBigGuy

    Late in the 3rd quarter, right before we stretched out the lead, a time out was called. The camera zoomed in on Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker, who were discussing something. Timmy seemed to be doing most of the talking.

    About 4 feet away, Blair and Hill were having a similar conversation with each other. After about 30 seconds, the Big 3 seemed to reach an agreement on something and Timmy called Blair and Hill over. Timmy explained something to the youngsters, who both nodded several times. Manu had a couple words for Hill, who nodded, asked a question, and Manu nodded back.

    The buzzer sounded and they sauntered back onto the court. Shortly thereafter, they opened up that 10-14 point lead and cruised to another win.

    Did I mention that Pop stayed seated the whole time?

    We have guys who deserve respect and guys who recognize that and give the respect. That’s why we win.

  • The Beat Counselor

    I can’t believe a what a crap team this is!!!

    Ok just kidding of course.

    Nice win last night to an opponent that is a little bit of a matchup problem.

    DeJuan had a great game, no doubt, but I think his best game was actually the one against the Lakers on Dec. 28. The Raptors frontline is extremely soft, so a good statistical line against them is expected. On the other hand, I do believe that the Raptors are a good rebounding team (I’m on my droid, so I’m having issues checking), so we can’t discount’s DeJuan’s performance too much.

    One thing of note is that Manu was 0-3 from beyond the arc, but what I saw him do at least twice was pass up a 3-pt shot that he would usually take (one wide open) to get an easy assist (one to TD near the hoop). I think this is a smart move by him as he has been slumping lately. If Pop could reduce his minutes to 29 minutes, I think it would make a big difference in his game. He also had NINE assists last night. Nice.

    As SpurDawg50 mentioned, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the Sun’s bench (and Alvin Gentry’s trust in them) sweeping us last year. Our depth is truly a joy to watch and hopefully Pop continues to trust our bench through the playoffs because even though there are no back-to-backs in the post season, the games are way more intense and definitely a grind.

    Lastly, if I had to complain about anything last night it would be how long it took Pop to pull Splitter out of the game after that nasty fall. It was clearly affecting him (he continually reached for his hamstring and airballed a FT). Hopefully the extra run didn’t make things worse. Get well soon Tiago!

    Lastly, since we’re done playing the Raptors, a note on Andrea Bargnani. The guy is a serious offensive weapon, but in the two games against the Spurs he continually was able to get a defender off the ground to block his shot at the 3pt line. Instead of getting the easy foul and 3 shots (ala Durant and Manu), he would put the ball on the floor and take a long 2. You’d think Carlesimo would be all over that.

    Go Spurs Go!

  • MK

    I have not been able to see many Spurs games where I live. From what I have seen, it is unlikely that Splitter will be more than 6 fouls and a victory cigar in the playoffs this year. Maybe he gets some real PT over the next 15 games and shows something, but it is unlikely at this point. Same goes for Anderson, unfortunately. That being said, the Spurs can still go 9 deep in the playoffs with great confidence.

  • Titletown99030507

    @MK, Well I guess you didn’t see the 1st Denver game, the first Cleveland game, the 2nd Laker game, and the recent Sacramento game. Those games Splitter played more than 15 min early on except for the Laker game where he played only 5 minutes and he held his ground against Bynum. He played very well in those games. Those were all in my opinion break out games for Tiago, but being that the Spurs were on a roll there was no need to change the rotation and make Splitter an integral part of the team. He has already shown he can play on this team but still needs to hone his skills a little more and as he gets more comfortable being on the court (as in the comfortable with the guys and vice versa) you’ll see he can contribute be it small or be it large. We’ll see come playoff time. I’m still big on the guy. He has plenty of upside and we haven’t seen the best from him yet. What’s exciting about all this is we don’t need to depend on him just yet, we have the luxury to bring him on as Pop sees fit. Either way he will develop and we will use him somewhat either in the playoffs or significantly in the future. Just add that big guard that’s in D-land right now to that future and suddenly the future’s looking brighter.

  • ITGuy

    @Dr. Who

    “To steal “ITGuys” thunder (probably the most positive Spurs fan alive)…”

    Yes, I’m.
    I used to sneak into the Hemisfair arena (before the Ice Man raised the roof) and talk to the players all the time, that’s how long I’ve been a Spurs fan.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • lvmainman

    Kudos to the Spurs for beating a team that had won 1 of its last 14 games!

    I still think that the only way the Spurs win a championship is to have home court advantage for every series.

    The question I still wonder about, is Pop smart enough to play 10 men a game during the playoffs, night in and night out. Or will Splitter and Neal get shafted come playoff time.

    Because I honestly don’t believe that Duncan and Ginobili can play 40 minutes a game and be productive anymore (irregardless of limiting their minutes in the regular season). So, will Pop recognize that and play the bench in the playoffs??

  • Jimbo (Oz)

    I like the zombie analogy, but would prefer to use this one:

    Roman soldiers, who could jog all day and then fight with a structure efficiency to destroy the enemy at the end of it.

  • Flavor

    lvmainman
    February 10th, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Because I honestly don’t believe that Duncan and Ginobili can play 40 minutes a game and be productive anymore (irregardless of limiting their minutes in the regular season). So, will Pop recognize that and play the bench in the playoffs??

    *****

    I’m sure Pop’s developing the bench for that reason.

  • Kevin

    @lvmainman Pop is smart enough to win a championship. Now whether or not every decision he makes pays off… we’ll have to see.

  • rob

    @ITGuy

    lol. Me and a friend of mine used to sneak into the Hemisphere Arena and walk around until we found court row seats that hadn’t been sat in yet. Slowly make our way down and watch the 4th quarter on the floor. Good Times!

  • LakehillsFan

    I am glad to see we got a win. I was worried about this game. The Raptors seem to play us well. Last year we split with them. This year they have beat Boston, Miami, Orlando and the Mavs. With some minor tweakes, they could somebody.
    IMO

  • Tim

    Sad to see Sloan retire. Guess Spurs remain the only organization where the coach at least has a system/culture and the players buy in. Well done Deron Williams!
    Wonder what the next generation of Spurs will have in store for Pop.. or if he even wants to stick around to find out!

  • ThatBigGuy

    @ Tim

    I lost a little bit of respect for D-Will today, assuming the rumors are true. It will be interesting to see how the Utah fans treat Williams if they slump the rest of the year. Also, does this mean Williams picks up a little bit of a “coach killer” reputation?

    If Phil Jackson retires after this season, is Sloan option Numero Uno for the Lakers? He has to be, right? There has to be some sort of 3 year Godfather offer Buss can offer Sloan. I want to see Bill Simmons address this on a podcast with Bucher and Steiny-Mo.

  • andy

    for the record, i also supported sticking with blair.

    i agree that duncan’s line was outrageous. if there’s any dip in production from him, it’s merely a facade. i get the feeling he could crank it up and destroy opponents for 36 minutes in the playoffs. the fact that we have such depth and that it allows us to save timmy until then makes me happier than buddha.

    i’m most interested in the effect splitter will have on duncan’s career. if (big ifs) blair develops range that allows him to truly play the 4, splitter rounds out his talent and fits himself into our system, i think tim can legitimately play four more years. he won’t be the gamechanger that he still can be now, but if he’s truly willing to play “till the wheels fall off”, do you think he’ll accept a kevin willis role towards the end? or does he cut his losses while still relatively mighty and ride off like robinson?

  • Bentley

    Sad to hear about the Sloan retiring. This only makes me more certain that D-Will is gonna leave Utah when his contract up.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ lvmainman

    “The question I still wonder about, is Pop smart enough to play 10 men a game during the playoffs, night in and night out. Or will Splitter and Neal get shafted come playoff time.

    Because I honestly don’t believe that Duncan and Ginobili can play 40 minutes a game and be productive anymore (irregardless of limiting their minutes in the regular season). So, will Pop recognize that and play the bench in the playoffs??”

    Neal……Yes, Splitter…NO – The Spurs are already going 4 deep in the post area. That’s plenty of bodies to keep TD to 36min or so per game. Blair is only getting 21 – so his minutes could also go up if needed.

    Neal on the other hand will get minutes because the Spurs have no one else at the guard position other than hum and Hill. If JA is gonna play the 3. but even if he does play, we are only talking 10 min or so at max.