San Antonio Spurs 99, Atlanta Hawks 97: Duncan carries “pathetic” Spurs
SAN ANTONIO — It’s a bad time of the year for a team to be completely void of any rhythm, but that’s the situation in which San Antonio finds itself with five games remaining in the regular season.
The Spurs (57-20) pulled out a 99-97 win over a Hawks (42-36) team playing without Al Horford, Josh Smith, Devin Harris and sharpshooter Kyle Korver, and it took yet another herculean effort from Tim Duncan to secure victory No. 57. The big man went for 31 points, 14 boards and four blocks — the fifth time this season he’s gone for 30 or more points — and without him, even Atlanta’s skeleton crew would’ve likely found a way to emerge victorious.
Gregg Popovich clearly stated as much after his team clinched another division title.
“Tim Duncan saved us,” he said without hesitation. “In general, other than Timmy, in a lot of ways it was a pathetic performance.
“That kind of play isn’t going to get us very far at the end of the season.”
And it’s safe to say the final sequence of regulation left Pop less than thrilled. Kawhi Leonard passed the ball to Tiago Splitter on the baseline, up four with three seconds remaining and the Hawks seemingly content to let the clock run out. But Splitter carelessly held the ball out on the left side of his body, allowing Dahntay Jones to pick his pocket and race down the floor. To make things worse, Cory Joseph fouled Jones as he heaved it at the buzzer on a shot that wouldn’t have affected the final outcome. It gave Atlanta three shots at the free-throw line, with the chance to hit two and intentionally miss the third in an attempt to score a game-tying tip-in.
Luckily for the livelihood of Spurs players, Leonard swooped in and corralled the miss, securing the win ahead of a three-day rest that leads into Wednesday’s battle in Denver. Speaking of Leonard, his 23 points gave him at least 20 points in two consecutive games for the first time in his career. Tack on six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks and the second-year pro continues to show off his emerging skill-set across the box score.
But Duncan was all Pop could talk about. Tonight’s performance, in a game that turned out to be too close for any reasonable comfort, must have struck a chord with the old coach, as he essentially began to reminisce in front of a crowd with which he had no desire to speak.
“He’s such a professional. We’re so lucky to have him here for as long as we have,” Pop said. “He’s an ultimate professional and he rose above a lot to do it.”
There’s a mix of concern and confidence in this locker room right now, and much of it stems from the injury issues that have crashed the party of the team with the West’s best record.
“We’re not in a great rhythm right now. Obviously the injuries are hurting us,” Duncan said. “We’ve been set back a little bit. But we won the game, that’s the good part of it.
“We have a couple of days to get some work in and try to get ourselves back on track.”
And they’re an important couple of days. It’s the most significant amount of rest this group has on the docket for the foreseeable future prior to the playoffs, and there are kinks that need to be ironed out with a car compactor. This team has forgotten how to score, how to play defense and how to take care of the ball. It’s not fair to fully criticize this group in the ominous absence of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but this team doesn’t appear close to being ready for the playoffs.
“Playing like we did tonight? No. Playing at the health level that we had tonight? Absolutely not,” Duncan said. “Luckily, we have a little while to get everybody back on the court. As I said all year long, no matter whether we’re winning or losing, we want to be healthy at the right time.”
But as Pop said, the current problems with this team extend beyond injuries. If the Spurs can’t find their rhythm by April 21, there are a few first-round opponents that might be licking their chops.
“This team needs to get its head around itself and understand what it takes to be there,” Pop said before quickly leaving the post-game scrum. “Because as a group, they don’t have it right now.”