Memphis Grizzlies 92, San Antonio Spurs 90
When the San Antonio Spurs lost on Sunday evening to the Miami Heat, there was a feeling in the air that the Spurs hadn’t lost just one game. With a back-to-back coming later in the week with the Orlando Magic and, with the possible Western Conference Playoffs #1 seed on the line, Oklahoma City Thunder, many expected Gregg Popovich to rest some of his guys for Monday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
That’s exactly what happened, as Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard didn’t suit up for the Spurs. And just like that, thanks to a late bucket from Memphis point guard Mike Conley, San Antonio’s cushion in the loss column against the Thunder has all but disappeared. Thursday night’s national TV matchup with Oklahoma City becomes all the more important.
Both Matt and I had conflicts last night, so neither of us was able to watch the game live, which is why you’re probably reading this on or after your lunch break. Plenty of words have been posted about what went right and all that went not so right, so I’ll spare you more of that. Watching the replay of last night’s game afforded me the chance get a fresh look at Gary Neal.
With Manu Ginobili out of action for the next three-to-four weeks with a strained hamstring, Neal’s role on the second unit becomes all the more important. Against Memphis, Neal looked like he was moving as good as I’ve seen him move this season. Neal finished the game with 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting and hit two of his four 3-point attempts. According to the Express-News, Neal has been bothered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot and tendonitis in his left achilles for a significant chunk of the season.
As much as I’m not a fan of undersized shooting guards who can’t defend, Neal can help the offense while Ginobili recovers.
If the second unit doesn’t boast the creativity it once did, another shooter can help. Nando De Colo has some of the same play making traits as Manu, just not the athleticism to create the type of openings that the bench group is used to. Having Neal out there, who can knock down shots and understands the system, will help open up things for others.
Neal is not afraid to take the shot that’s presented to him, but he’s also willing to make the extra pass and play the good-to-great game. The Spurs need as much of that as they can get on the bench right now. If Neal has recovered from his previous injuries and gotten himself back in game shape, you’re likely to see the second unit get an offensive boost.
Even against the Heat, Neal knocked down a nice step-back 3-pointer and followed it up on the next possession with a heat-check 3 that missed. The confidence is looking solid.
Speaking of Nando De Colo, the extended absence of Ginobili means you’re likely to see more of the French rookie soaking up the backup point guard minutes. As much as I like Cory Joseph and some of the things he brings to the table, the Spurs need someone to set the table for others on that second unit and that’s just not Joseph’s game.
De Colo should get most of the minutes behind Parker from here on out and the Spurs’ second unit offense should be a little better for it. He’s not Manu Ginobili, but sometimes he can trick you into thinking he might be part of the extended family.