Spurs take pressure-packed step toward top overall seed
I want to take the time to remind everyone, first of all, of how fragile this run can be. When Tim Duncan’s knee buckled early in the Spurs’ 109-100 win in Dallas, I thought it was over. It was one of those “flashed in front of my eyes” things, and the fact it was the right knee made it even worse. That’s the one that isn’t held in place by a space-age brace that’s indestructible by human force alone. Remember this? It terrified me.
But after a brief ‘oh god I don’t know what to do with myself’ couple of minutes, Duncan ran back out on the floor and checked in moments later. *WWHHHEEEEWWWWW*
“It really wasn’t that bad,” Duncan said afterward (per the San Antonio Express-News). “It just scared me more than anything.”
From there, the Mavericks caused some issues. Remember, that’s a team fighting for its playoff life, and they were really pushing a Spurs group without Tony Parker, who’s still dealing with that sprained facet joint in his back. Then Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills took control.
Duncan went for 20 points and 15 rebounds in 39 minutes (!), Leonard put up 16 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 37 minutes, and Mills launched a million (25) jumpers on his way to 26 points. It was the story of the season so far: The Spurs come at you in waves, and it never stops.
And while this may have been an important game for the Mavs, the Spurs had a bit of pressure on themselves.
Since the 19-game winning streak was snapped in Oklahoma City, Parker went down with a back injury in the next game against the Grizzlies, San Antonio went into Minnesota for that Mexico City makeup game and got roasted by 19 points, and the Thunder won on the second night of a back-to-back in Los Angeles against the Clippers to narrow the gap to 3.5 games.
Remember, OKC owns the tiebreaker over the Spurs, so a 3.5-game lead is actually a 2.5-game lead when it comes down to it. The Spurs’ magic number was two — as in two wins or two Thunder losses would secure the top seed in the NBA. With Phoenix lurking on Friday and Houston on Monday, San Antonio needed this one against a team they’ve owned over the last couple of years.
The last game the Spurs lost against Dallas was a memorable one.
But the present has its own drama. The Spurs have the Lakers in town to finish the season, so that is probably a gimme of sorts; but before that tip arrived, they needed to get just one.
As good as Duncan was, I didn’t care. All I cared about was that he was on the court, and furthermore that he played nearly 40 minutes and looked good in the process. But Kawhi was a freak show.
Those 16 boards — he had six offensive rebounds; the Spurs average 9.3 offensive rebounds per game — were monstrous, and he was an absolute vacuum cleaner on 50/50 balls throughout the game. These are the things this team will get from him in the postseason, and he’s why this core group still has a chance to win another ring.
Whether it’s the loud noise he creates on defense, the rebound-ripping prowess he has around the glass or the deft touch he’s developed from mid-range and around the basket, his impact is as substantial as any of the current cornerstones that run things for the Spurs.
Speaking of those guys, Manu came back from that little contusion that kept him out of the second half of the Timberwolves game. Things started slowly, as he put up a pretty ugly first half; but after the break he put up eight points and five assists as the primary backup point guard when Gregg Popovich decided to go away from Cory Joseph.
CoJo doesn’t figure to be a big part of the rotation come playoff time, but that wasn’t a huge vote of confidence either way. But that’s really neither here nor there.
The Spurs managed to shoot just 43 percent from the floor, but they hit 16 threes and were a whopping 33 points better than the Mavs from behind the arc. That was the difference in this game, and that’s why San Antonio is such a threat. This team can change the game from the perimeter when the interior game is having a rough time.
For now, the instant pressure has subsided. The Spurs have three games remaining, and the season finale takes place on Wednesday against the lowly Lakers. I’m betting on Pop resting Duncan and Ginobili on Friday against Phoenix as hard as he’s ever rested those guys before, and your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not they’ll win the game.
But the next two are tough. Both the Suns and Rockets are fighting for position, and I’d imagine San Antonio feels pretty confident about their chances versus the lesser of the Los Angeles teams (weird typing that).
This was a big win, and it was spearheaded by playoff-like minutes from the Spurs’ most important players. There are three games left, and San Antonio needs only one win to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.