Some backup point guards helped the Spurs beat the Bobcats

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The Spurs went to the NBA Finals last season because Tony Parker was top five player in the league and San Antonio’s go-to player on offense when they needed it. Right now, it feels like they’re winning games in spite of Parker.

On Saturday night in Charlotte, Parker didn’t play in the fourth quarter as Patty Mills scored a season-high 32 points off the bench and the Spurs somehow escaped North Carolina with a 104-100 win over the Bobcats. Parker shot 3-for-13 on the night and clearly didn’t look right, as Matthew Tynan pointed out in El Conclusion.

But the Spurs prevailed, which has been the story of the last few weeks. Various injuries to Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Parker, not to mention these guys, since New Year’s have wreaked havoc on whatever rotations Gregg Popovich had in mind, and yet the Spurs keep patching together wins like some twisted quilt. A very ugly, ratty quilt that looks like something you might see a homeless person dragging around in the winter, but it’s warm.

The evening started off, well, piss poor. The Spurs turned the ball over early and often and the Bobcats took advantage. Not even eight minutes into the game, Charlotte had a 12-point lead at 18-6 and Tim Duncan had as many giveaways as points and rebounds combined (four to four).

Somehow, the Spurs righted the ship. I say somehow because, frankly, I’m not really sure how it happened. Parker was limited and not shooting well. Duncan had 16 points and 13 rebounds, but even he shot 6-for-13 from the floor and ended the night with five turnovers. San Antonio somehow cobbled together strong performances here and there to get over the hump against a Bobcats team boasting the league’s sixth-best defensive efficiency entering Saturday.

Mills was key, that’s for sure. A few nights after a strong performance in Washington, Mills missed just four shots against the Bobcats: one free throw, one 3-pointer and a pair from two-point range. While Parker didn’t log a second in the fourth quarter, Mills dropped 18 and played the entire 12 minutes, grabbing six boards in the period and turning it over just once. In a word, he was awesome.

Credit is also due to Nando De Colo, who scored 15 points in almost 28 minutes of action against the Bobcats. He’s taken a lot of flak since the end of last season when Pop tabbed De Colo as Tony Parker’s backup point guard before an April 3 win over the Orlando Magic.

“He’s the backup,” Popovich said at the time. “It’s not a matter of anything else, he’s the backup. He’s been doing a good job.

“He’s made a marked improvement in competitiveness, defending, rebounding and showing a bit more confidence in his game, and that’s been a spurt made probably in the last couple of weeks.”

Since that time, it’s been a gradual slide out of the rotation and down to the end of the bench. The competitiveness that Popovich cited as an improvement in De Colo’s game at the time seemed to  disappear overnight and Cory Joseph supplanted De Colo as the backup point guard when the playoffs started.

With the shape the Spurs are in right now, though, they need De Colo to soak up minutes and produce something positive, and he has been. Nando is a skillful player that can look incredibly talented when the moment is right. Other times, he can look unathletic and unconfident. De Colo seems to excel when the game is unstructured and he can play off of his instincts.

With so many players out for the Spurs, he’s getting that chance. When Coach Pop has a full rotation at his disposal, De Colo is simply not good enough to dominate the ball and make plays. He’s limited to being a spot-up shooter and off-the-ball cutter. His gifts are stifled in those cases and more often than not, we see De Colo’s flaws exposed.

But when Popovich has no other choice and De Colo gets to play his game for the Spurs, the results can be favorable. Nando De Colo won’t lead the Spurs to an NBA championship, but sometimes we forget how much talent he really has. Against a team like the Bobcats and with the Spurs needing healthy bodies to step up, that quality was again on display.