Miami Heat 105, San Antonio Spurs 100: When serious sanctions lead to exciting entertainment

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Where the heck do we start with this one? Gregg Popovich decided five straight road games was enough for a few of his players and sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green back to San Antonio. NBA Commissioner David Stern, apparently, didn’t appreciate that. What resulted was one of the more exciting NBA games we’ve seen this season, as the Spurs fell late to the Miami Heat 105-100.

The Spurs had no business being in this game. In addition the the four previously-mentioned players sitting out, the Spurs were still without injured forwards Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. The Heat, on the other hand, were only missing Shane Battier. What we got was an exciting game that looked like it might have gone the Spurs way when Gary Neal, who led the Spurs with 20 points on 7-20 shooting on the night, knocked down a 3-pointer to put San Antonio up five with 2:14 left.

Then we got a strong reminder of why stars are so important in the NBA. On the ensuing possession, LeBron James drove and scored. Two plays later, Dwyane Wade hit a layup to cut the lead to one point. After Neal missed a 3-pointer, LeBron drove on Tiago Splitter, who had switched onto James after a pick-and-roll, and found Ray Allen for a go-ahead 3-pointer after momentarily losing the ball. James drove into Splitter and lost the ball, and it looked like Splitter was in position to take the charge if he would’ve fell over, but LeBron gathered the ball and made the smart play. The Spurs were unlucky on the play, but perhaps lucky to be in the game in the first place.

There were plenty of similarities between this game and the early season game last year in Dallas when the Spurs starters played so bad that Gregg Popovich pulled the plug early and went to the bench. When the San Antonio reserves got the Spurs back into the game, Pop never went back to his starters and instead let the players who got them back in the game see it through.

That game was under different circumstances, for sure (Tim Duncan and Tony Parker actually started that game), but it could’ve had a similar effect. Many point to that near-miss in Dallas, the Spurs eventually ran out of gas in overtime, as the point when the Spurs’ bench gained confidence and San Antonio suddenly became an incredibly deep team. That game also ushered the rise of Danny Green, who not even a calendar year later has the honor of being one of the important players held out of a game.

There’s a ways to go in this season, much longer than there was at that time in Dallas last season, but Thursday night’s loss in Miami could’ve been an important moment for the Spurs’ season when we look back months from now. And for one of the Spurs’ lesser-known players, it could signal the rise to ascension that gives him a well-earned night off next season.

Notes:

  • Despite the close score, this game was not an accurate reflection of a game between these two teams. Fun? Yes. Competitive? Yes. But we can only guess how much the Heat let off the gas mentally when they found out who wouldn’t be playing in this game. Likewise, the Spurs who did appear were likely amped for their time to shine on national television. Who knows? We could’ve had the exact same score had Duncan, Parker, Manu and Green been in Miami, but seen a completely different game.
  • Attaboy goes to Boris Diaw for his surprising defense on LeBron James in this game. LeBron made the big plays late in the game, but for the majority of it, Bobo did a respectable job defending against the best player in the world, despite Diaw’s, ahem, obvious disadvantages.
  • Matt Bonner had a double-double. He’s on the come-up this season, y’all. Actually, what is interesting (not that Matty getting a double-double isn’t interesting) is that the Spurs outrebounded the Heat by eight boards and only gave up seven offensive rebounds without their best rebounder. Or, who we thought their best rebounder was.
  • Depending on who you follow on Twitter (if you’re on Twitter) you were either hearing Nando De Colo is a good NBA player, or a very bad one. Not too many people said, “Eh, he’s okay.” De Colo made his first start in the NBA and finished with a career-high 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. He did have five turnovers, though, and got dribbled himself into a lot of bad spots offensively. So, eh, he was okay.
  • I like the confident James Anderson. Where was that last season?
  • Graham

    God, how fun would this have been if they had pulled this one out….

    I feel like we are 20 games out from being able to have Patty handle the Point in crunch time in that situation and let Neal create off the dribble like he is oh so good at. Still hard to be bummed about losing a nailbiter whe by all rights we should have lost by 30 or more.

  • neverthehero

    I was busy with something else so I didn’t watch the game but I read that Neal got double-teamed at the end and the Spurs still had 3 time outs. Not very bright.

  • Spurs fan in Australia

    In regards to the sanctions, what grounds does the NBA have to give the Spurs “serious sanctions”? Did the Spurs break any NBA rules by sitting Duncan and Co out? If this was at the end of the season would anyone care if the stars sat out? I’m concerned the serious sanctions will be we get Joey Crawford for every game the rest of the season and playoffs….

  • Assistman

    So I end the night mad that Neal doesn’t hit a spot up 3 to go up 1 with 20 seconds left? Yup.

  • STIJL

    I think I was as loose as the team playing while watching this game. No anxiety about outcome. Just a fun, entertaining game to watch. Especially seeing our end of bench guys playing as competitive as they played. Outcome expected yet delivery above anticipated.

  • Leben

    What the hell was Neal doing on that go-ahead 3 from Ray Allen? He just stood there watching Lebron as if he were doing a magic trick while Allen scooted up the 3-pt. line to have a wide open look. He’s getting a little better at playing D, but moments like that are unacceptable if he wants to be on the court in crunch time come April, May, and June.

  • John T.

    I think a fair punishment to the Spurs organization and fans would be make us watch the Heat in San Antonio on March 31 without James, Wade, and Bosh.

  • JeffCo

    Yeah, I don’t see how he has a leg to stand on. Especially since Pop has done this many times in the past years. But apparently the commissioner can just fine people whenever he feels like it. Pop’s job is to win championships – period. He can’t think about anything else (though I’m sure he was purposely sticking it to the league for the outrageous scheduling).

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  • ThatBigGuy

    Let me get this straight: There were 2 lockouts in 15 years because the NBA wanted to make things more “fair” for small market teams, yet they’re willing to sanction the best small market franchise in pro sports because it’s taking steps to remain successful?

    Knock it off, Stern.

  • LAKERSrPOOPY

    I. Love. Our. Bench. I could not be more proud of our guys.

    Whether or not the Heat let off the gas and despite more than a few mental errors and missed open shots here and there, our guys played with incredibly tremendous heart last night. And even that is an understatement of how motivated our squad was. You could tell, every last one of our guys was giving 150% and wanted that game bad.

    I hope that same drive in our bench carries through the rest of the season. Now I love stats just as much as the next guy, and as Popovich says, the only one that really matters is the final score. But no matter, that was seriously some championship quality heart on display last night against the defending champs.

  • Bruno

    We both know that the “fair thing for small market” is all BS, Stern just cares about 5 teams and that’s it, if this game was against Raptors or Wizards he wouldn’t say s#it, Stern did act like a fan and not NBA comissioner.

  • Tyler

    Nando is going to be a really solid player. He’s flying by the seat of his pants right now. I’m sure the game is moving at a 100 MPH. Even after his first few NBA games, it’s clear he has a number of things going for him: great handle, great court vision, good feel for the game/instincts, and he’s big for a PG (his natural position).

    I can’t wait till he refines his jumper (his mechanics are decent), lets the game come to him, and gets more familiar with the NBA game. The one thing that sticks out to me is his confidence. There were a number of times last night he could have shied away from trying to make a play, but didn’t. Instead, for the most part, he forced the issue and had some success.

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  • outraged Spurs fan

    I wonder what kind of fine he would have fined the Lakers for Kobe’s “I could not get but one shot off the whole game ” debacle a few seasons back when he was pouting because he was critized for being what he is: a ball hog! that was more blatant than anything Popovich ever came up with! The commish just picks and chooses his spots . Especially against the winningest franchise in professional sports!

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