Jackson’s absence doesn’t factor in Spurs win over Kings
AT&T CENTER — After sputtering to a 5-5 record over their last 10 games and losing several key players to injuries, including Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw, the San Antonio Spurs entered an increased level of tension when the team waived forward Stephen Jackson before Friday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings.
Watching San Antonio’s 108-101 victory over the Kings, however, you wouldn’t have figured the Spurs had a care in the world outside of executing on the next play.
I was afforded the opportunity to sit in the courtside press area for the first time since preseason and what I saw was a team going about business as usual. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich joked with Tony Parker as another Spur shot free throws in the first quarter. Pop drew a laugh from Gary Neal as he sent Neal to the scorer’s table to check in. Tim Duncan and Pop had a back-and-forth coming out of a timeout that left both with smiles on their faces.
I don’t know how often Pop jokes with players over the course of a typical game, again this was the first time in several months that I had watched a game this close, but the mood around the team didn’t seem like one of a group going through a rough patch.
It felt like another day at the office for the Spurs. And a Friday at that.
“Players play,” Popovich said matter-of-factly after the game. “They just move on and play.”
The Spurs did move on and showed what happens when your best player returns to the lineup. Having been without Tony Parker since the loss to Oklahoma City last Thursday, San Antonio posted a 107.7 offensive rating against the Kings, much closer to their 106.5 offensive rating for the season. Without Parker, the Spurs had posted ratings of 88.2 and 100.2 against the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks, respectively.
“Tony was spectacular,” Pop said. “Starting the game he probably would’ve had 1,000 assists, but nobody could make a shot.”
With Stephen Jackson gone, the Spurs faced questions about who would occupy the vacated backup small forward position. It’s hard to draw conclusions from just one night of action, but it looks like Danny Green is the man for the job.
Pop altered his rotations just so against the Kings so that the Spurs didn’t play a single minute without either Green or Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, on the floor. Green checked out of the game at the 5:33 mark of the first quarter. He checked back in for Leonard with 1:31 left in the quarter. And so the dance went.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Kawhi has recovered nicely from his quadriceps tendonitis earlier in the season and seems capable of playing 40+ minutes come playoff time. That leaves about eight minutes a game, give or take a few (depending on any small ball 4 Leonard plays), for someone to spell Kawhi.
“That’s Kawhi’s position and he plays a lot of minutes,” Pop said. “We want him to play 35-40 minutes a game.
“He’s a heck of a player and he needs minutes, so he’s going to get them.”
That doesn’t leave a lot for others, including those who may have been unhappy with how much playing time they were getting. But it’s the natural progression for Leonard’s development and between Green and a healthy Manu Ginobili, the Spurs should have enough cover for the time Leonard needs rest.
Cutting ties with Jackson came at an inopportune time for San Antonio, both in regards to the past few weeks and the season ahead, but if one game proves anything, the Spurs will go about business as usual.
Advanced stats and lineup data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats