The old guys lead the way for San Antonio once again
Not two games into the season and we’re already dealing with Duncan resting, that slacker. Good thing he sat out a game against the Kobe-less Lakers, one the Spurs were able to win 91-85 on the road at Staples.
I kid, of course. Timmy sat this one out with a contusion he suffered in San Antonio’s opener against Memphis when Tony Allen’s elbow of death collided with Duncan’s chest. That damn Tony Allen. Anyway, it wasn’t the classic Spurs-Lakers matchup we’ve seen over the years.
And how about this for a statistic: the last time these two teams played a game without Duncan or Bryant in uniform took place in 1996. Timmy was at Wake Forest, and Dominique Wilkins was the Spurs’ leading scorer. Times have since changed just a tiny bit.
The Lakers are going to be fighting for the playoff lives this season, but the strengths they possess, even without Kobe, are enough to test a Duncan-less Spurs team. Pau Gasol — or as Hubie Brown pronounces it, “Pal Gassell” — looks very good early in the season after undergoing surgery over the offseason to fix his lingering lower-extremity injury issues. Without Duncan, the onus fell on Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and the rest of the San Antonio frontcourt to battle the likes of Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman.
Luckily, the Spurs are stacked in the forward and center positions, and while Splitter really struggled to find his offense around the rim, he did tie his career high with 14 rebounds and continued to play consistent defense. And San Antonio has the luxury of starting a small forward with elite rebounding skills at his position.
Kawhi Leonard snagged 11 boards to go with his 15 points in roughly 30 minutes of court time. Again, without Duncan, his contributions were crucial. Even on a night where he did not shoot well, his impact was felt. He once again registered a 21-plus usage percentage — something we’ll be keeping track of all season — and his net rating (difference between offensive and defensive rating) was 13.5 in 32 minutes. He struggled with his shot in a 6-for-15 performance from the floor, but he led the team in defensive rebounding percentage (29 percent) and played great defensively (82.6 DRtg).
And the all-around defensive effort was needed, because outside of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the offense was pretty awful. Starters not named Parker were 16-of-42 from the floor. Bench players not named Manu were 3-for-20. That equals a 30.6 shooting percentage for everyone but the two Spurs stars.
And then there was Diaw, who put up 11 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-pointer that broke an 81-81 tie in the final minutes. He continues to shoot without hesitation, which has long been an issue for the pass-first point guard in a power forward’s buttery body. Bobo picked up a little extra confidence in his scoring ability over the summer playing for Les Bleus, and it has carried over to the NBA season. His presence as a threat to facilitate and score would be very welcoming off the bench in a contract year for the Frenchman. And while he was huge in the final frame, his French teammate was brilliant.
This was one of those unstoppable Parker games. Granted, the Spurs are still bringing him on a bit slowly, given all the basketball he played over the summer. But the point guard was 12-for-18 from the floor and had his mid-range game rolling. If he’s hitting the type of fallaways and leaners he knocked down last night, Parker could be looking at another MVP-caliber season of the “in the conversation” variety. But we know what Parker will give San Antonio on a nightly basis, it’s the guy who many have taken out of the “Big Three” whose return is most important.
Manu looks like Manu again.
No, he’s not the same physically as he once was, but he looks comfortable again. His legs are underneath him, he has arch on his shot and he’s not forcing the issue so far. Ginobili was vintage against the Lakers. He put up 20 points in 27 minutes on 50 percent shooting (65.3 true-shooting percentage) and committed just one turnover. First of all, you love seeing those 27 effective minutes. It means he’s feeling good, especially seeing that he was just as effective late in the game as he was early. Prior to the season, we talked about Ginobili as the Spurs’ X-factor in the sense that if he returns to form, the Spurs will be even better than they were last year. It’s VERY early, but he looks good.
With all the talk about an aging core being supplemented by an improving supporting cast, it’s good to see the old guys lead the way again when the young fellas couldn’t hold the water, especially with Duncan out. The Spurs won’t play the Lakers every night, but it’s a good sign for the season. San Antonio will need better shooting from the rest of the roster, but there’s plenty of time to get back into rhythm.
Or, as Parker says, “riddim.” Tony, for one, was definitely in “riddim.”