San Antonio Spurs 96, Cleveland Cavaliers 95: Kawhi FTW

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Just like you can’t judge someone’s work or school performance by the last day before Christmas break, you can’t accurately peg an NBA team by how it plays in the last game before All-Star Weekend. The Spurs prevailed 96-95 against the Cleveland Cavaliers — and won their 42nd game of the season — on a 3-pointer from Kawhi Leonard with 1.5 seconds left, but it seemed at times like both teams would be happy with a draw and to go into the break healthy.

After Leonard’s star turn as The Man against the Chicago Bulls on Monday night, the Spurs returned Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to the lineup against Cleveland, seemingly dropping Leonard to fourth banana. Of course Leonard knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner to steal the headlines from Tony Parker, who flirted with a triple-double (24 points, seven assists, six rebounds). It makes total sense.

I wrote about this briefly in my contribution to the Daily Dime over at ESPN.com, but I’ll expand on it here. When the Spurs had the ball on their final offensive possession with 9.5 seconds left down 95-93, Kawhi Leonard passed the ball into Tim Duncan. Duncan was immediately fouled and the Spurs were forced to in-bound the ball again from the sidelines with a hair under nine seconds remaining.

This time, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich made a switch. Instead of Leonard passing the ball in, it would be Matt Bonner. Pop called Bonner over and sent Kawhi off to the opposite end of the floor in the spot the Red Rocket vacated. Bonner put the ball into play and, after a high pick-and-roll with Tim Duncan, Parker drove to the hoop, sucking in the defense and finding Leonard in the corner for the winning basket.

Obviously, I’m not in Cleveland covering the game, but I’d like to know what prompted Pop to make the switch. Though even if I was there to ask, I doubt he’d give me an honest answer. He could’ve done it because they probably shouldn’t have beat Chicago on Monday and it’s the last game before the All-Star break, so why the hell not? He could’ve done it to keep Leonard’s confidence on an upward trajectory, which I’m sure it is. He could’ve done it because it’s Wednesday, and why the hell not?

Either way, Pop made the decision to likely take the ball out of the hands of one of the best 3-point shooters in the game, a guy who will be in the NBA’s 3-point shootout in three days, and give it to Kawhi. And it totally worked out.

Oh, also, it was terrible defense by Dion Waiters.

Not only did Leonard hit the game-winning shot for the Spurs, he contributed in other areas as well. Kawhi had a double-double with his 13 points and 10 rebounds, and blocked four shots for good measure. He was everywhere and continues his ascension into the Spurs’ Big 3 as Manu Ginobili slows down.

Speaking of Manu, he played a lot better in his first game back against the Cavs than I thought he would. He only played about 10 minutes, all in the first half, but chalked up five points and six assists in that stretch. He had a good two man game going with DeJuan Blair. Ginobili would get the ball on the wings and run a nice little side screen and roll with Blair, often finding the big man rolling to the basket for a dunk. On one play, Ginobili hit Blair in stride with a no-look, behind-the-back pass for a dunk. Ginobili was a major factor in Blair finishing with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

Tim Duncan’s return to the lineup, however, wasn’t as seamless. Duncan shot 6-for-15 from the field en route to 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked five shots. The Big Fundamental was out of rhythm offensively, but so seemed the entire Spurs attack. There was a lot of ball stopping going on, but the Spurs made just enough plays to survive. Obviously.

The Spurs head into the All-Star break where they’ve ended the last couple of regular seasons: with the NBA’s best record. They’ve won 42 games by mid-February and are 4-1 on the current Rodeo Road Trip. The defense has been shored up and young players are growing into the roles provided for them. The Spurs are right where they want to be, the only question is whether they’ll be in the same spot come June.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000487051689 David Wood

    Well , at least we won!

  • Mack

    I think Pop made the switch hoping that Waiters would be sucked in on Tony’s drive. You don’t leave Bonner open at the 3 point line no matter what, but Kawhi seems less of a threat.

  • T Boone

    Funny thing is, I’d rather Kawhi take that shot than Matty B

  • neverthehero

    I couldn’t follow the game, but why would the Cavs foul with so much time on the clock? Man up play some D and foul with less than 5 seconds to go…… I really really hope they incorporate Kawhi more in the offense come the playoffs. I don’t like the mentality of the Spurs need all of the Big 3 to come up big.

  • Bry

    Waiters’ defense on that game winner was absolutely horrible. Just watch him on the replay. He literally just wandered into the lane and and spectated. That was a follow up to shooting his shot on the other end with too much time left. Ahh, rookies.

  • neverthehero

    With 28 games to go, 17 home, 11 away, and only one more back to back this season. The Spurs definitely have put themselves in a nice spot. March 24th through April 4th is a brutal part of the schedule though. Hopefully it acts as a final tune-up against playoff competition,

  • Steve Tallent

    If they hadn’t fouled Kawhi had a dunk. They couldn’t know that but maybe they room the foul because the screen and hand off surprised them and caught them out of position.

  • neverthehero

    Thanks. I seen the replay of the game winner but didn’t really show much before that.

  • Steve Tallent

    Cavs’ announcer with the game tied and seconds left: “it all comes down to execution now . . . .” With a reference to the spurs being totally awesome at execution. It’s the little things at ends of games.

  • Spurs fan in Australia

    I think the most important questions is: Did Leonard smile after hitting the game winner?!?

  • Sir Timothy

    My favorite Spurs over age 30 are Timmy and Manu.

    My favorite Spur exactly 30 years old is our MVP Tony P.

    My Favorite Spur between 26 and 30 is Tiago

    My Favorite Spur who was cut by Cleveland is Danny Green – his offense is Icy hot but the D is always there.

    My Favorite Spur under age 25 and playing in the rookie/2nd year game is Kawhi!

    Gary Neal is a shooter – maybe my favorite Spur to take the clutch shot. (Manu was that guy for so many years ).

    My favorite Spur is every one of the Spurs!

  • Sir Timothy

    If DeJuan Blair is traded, we have to rent Manu to that team for a few games. Manu is the guy that connects with Blair. It is crazy how those two can get together on a no-look dunk.

  • gp

    from the corner, yes.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Kawhi will be the face of the franchise in 2 years. I would not trade him for Josh Smith especially at such a young age he can serve this team well for a decade.

  • Graham

    I doubt either the Smith or Jefferson trades floating out there are serious. We got a good thing going, I think we stand pat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    I agree, but I think the Spurs FO doesn’t want to end up like Houston or Atlanta either (a middling playoff team with no real future). I think the best idea is to wait for Smith or Jefferson to become a free agent and then make a go at them then. They’ll have about $12 million to spend on a free agent if they stand pat and re-sign Ginobili and Jackson at $9 and $5 million during the summer (or more if they drop those numbers). That way the Spurs don’t lose their current assets and then one of those guys too.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Same here and like McShane said after the season we’ll find out if Smith wants to win or just collect a fat check.

  • neverthehero

    I doubt they resign Jackson, the only way they resign him if they win the championship and he plays a pivotal role. The # on Ginobili is way to high as well imo. Truth be told, at this point I say take a flyer on Manu unless it’s 12 million for two years.

  • Bry

    Jackson turns 35 in April, and Ginobili turns 36 in July. The Spurs would be crazy to pay anywhere near those numbers. Even if Ginobili hadn’t been injured all the time these past few years a 36-year-old guard is a huge risk (even one that hasn’t piled up a ton of games going deep into the playoffs every year and playing for his national team) so 9 million is WAY too high. Considering the injuries he is fairly likely to retire anyway (the guy’s already guaranteed Hall of Fame). And at 35 Jackson should not be making 5 million per game either. If he’s not starting he shouldn’t be making starter’s money. He’s not bumping Leonard or likely Green out of the starting line-up, and he def can’t handle starter’s minutes, so I figure 5 million is too high. I’d cap it at 10 million total for the two of them, and that’s pretty liberal for two likely non-starter wing players at 35 and 36. I’m not dissing either player, in fact I’m a fan of both. I’m just checking reality for players at that age, playing on the wing, with their histories.

  • http://profiles.google.com/lordxar Ray Briggs II

    From the corner, absolutely. From the top of the key, I want Matty B (did I just type that)

  • Graham

    Agreed, we have a good hook – We may not have the deepest wallet, but we WILL find the right people in the organization to get you the best shot at a ring you could ask for

  • Tyler

    As always, if you hear the Spurs are considering or about to do something, you can bank on it not happening. You won’t hear about any of their moves till they’re finalized.

    Also, I don’t know where you’re getting $12M from, but if the Spurs resign Manu and Jax for $9M & $5M, that should put them at about $49M, not including Tiago and Neal (both RFA’s – IMO, I think you can bank on Tiago coming back for $6-8M per) and the cap hold for our 1st round pick (about $1M). Considering the cap will come in at about $60M, the Spurs will realistically have little left to offer. You can get that $49M figure a little lower by cutting Bonner of trading our pick, but not much. Now if Manu of Jax doesn’t resign, then you’ll have a little more room…..

    http://data.shamsports.com/content/pages/data/salaries/spurs.jsp

    Either way, as usual, we probably won’t be signing any big name FA’s – that’s not our MO. Instead, I’d look for the FO to use their financial flexibility in the form of facilitating trades and whatnot. However, if they are really intent on making a splash, we can always pull off a S&T, being that we’re under the apron.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    http://hoopshype.com/salaries/san_antonio.htm (no google questionnaire when viewed on a phone).

    The Spurs can lock Tiago, Kawhi, and Gary up with a qualifying offer (and let’s assume they don’t lock Cory up). Boris and Patty have player options (and we’ll assume they’ll take the Spurs up on those). Matt, Danny, Tony, and Nando are locked in already. With all of those salaries, they’re at $46M. From this side, they have up to $14M to offer.

    Manu has yet to show whether he’ll be productive in the playoffs. Assuming he IS (eternal optimist), he won’t command more than Duncan did last Summer, but he’s barely been ‘paid’ for being a huge part of the Spurs’ success over the last 10 years. The $9M is a conservative (towards the Spurs’ tax limit) guess. He would be signed after the FA using his bird rights. And Jack is always talking about getting paid again. He would be a third priority after Manu and the psuedo-big splash FA. He wants to stick with the Spurs, but he would understand that hierarchy, I think. He would be left with the “We didn’t pay the luxury tax last season” MLE of $5M. The Spurs would probably also leave room for two minimum players (they’d only have two spots left). The two players could include Baynes and their first round pick. The first round pick can be signed after the FA and can go over the cap. Baynes or a veteran couldn’t command more than the $1M minimum, also cap-exempt. Since the luxury tax threshold will probably be $70M, they’ll have $(70-(9+5+1+1+46))M = $8M left to offer from this side.

    So, the Spurs could offer anywhere from $8M to $14M depending on how much they pay Manu and Jack (max-ed at $9M and $5M).

    The most Josh Smith or Al Jefferson (or any player with 7-9 years experience) could command is $18M, and the Spurs could reach that by amnestying Bonner’s $4M. Or, they could convince one of them to take less to play next to Duncan (*cough* Al Jefferson) and use the LeBron/Presti player recruitment mentality of “to win, you’ve got to make sacrifices”.

    I’m not saying the Spurs are going to go after Smith, Jefferson, or someone else this summer, but they have the option to do that. They don’t have to trade someone right now (and risk alienating Jack, a crucial part to slowing Durant in the ’12 WCF and presumably again in the future) or even need to S&T to get one of those kinds of players.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    They’re conservative estimates, with respect to the tax threshold and their potential contributions. See my comment above. I think you’re right and I hope they make less.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    They’re conservative estimates, with respect to the tax threshold and their potential contributions. I think you’re right and I hope they make less. See my comment above

  • Tyler

    A couple of things. First, I doubt very seriously Tiago’s agent is going to let him play under his QO. I think you can bank on adding $2-3M over his current salary to next year’s cap to account for his pay increase.

    Second of all (and most importantly), cap holds in the NBA don’t allow you to sign FA’s with your cap space, followed by you signing your team’s FAs with their bird rights. For example, we can’t sign Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, etc using our cap space, and then later sign Manu with his bird rights. Better explanations:

    http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q14

    http://data.shamsports.com/content/pages/data/salaries/freeagentcapholds.jsp (scroll down)

    I agree with you though in regards to Jax – he brings too much to the table in terms of toughness, experience, and ability to guard Durant to trade now. And really, that should be our sole focus – how do we beat OKC this year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    So, if the Spurs wanted a max-type free agent, could they use their MLE on Manu and their BAE on Jackson preemptively? Those sound like more reasonable values for those players, but I feel like Jackson could/would leave for another contender’s MLE if they offered it.

    And Tiago’s potential pay bump wouldn’t affect his corresponding cap hold.

    So, it sounds like the Spurs are going to go back to being well under the tax threshold this year, something I think Peter Holt will appreciate greatly.

  • Bry

    You really see somebody paying high for Jack? He has played well for the Spurs, and for other teams he’s been completely inconsistent and occasionally a problem child. And, again, he turns 35 in two months. A 35-year-old wing player with an inconsistent history is gonna fetch how much on the open market? I don’t figure much at all, and I’m really curious which teams would go after him. The Spurs’ offer would likely be one of the best he got. Two years, and if he’s really lucky a third year that is either partially guaranteed or a team option. If he were a big, or a player with a more consistency, he might fetch more. But ‘toughness’, ‘veteran leadership’ and perhaps a shot at bothering Kevin Durant at some point in the playoffs just won’t garner that much interest (or offers) in my opinion. Wings and guards tend to fade a lot earlier and faster than big men. So, I’d look at Dice’s deal as a measuring stick, less a million or two.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    A team like OKC, MIA, LAC, NYK, or NJN would love Jack. I don’t know about $5M love, but Jack can play the 4 as well.