The Margin: Spurs 99, Hawks 97
AT&T CENTER — Because of the sheer strangeness of this game, one in which the Atlanta Hawks were missing the majority of their rotation and the San Antonio Spurs were trying to regain some semblance of rhythm heading into the playoffs, I’m going to do a Margin post.
Yes, the Spurs won by two just two points so this should be easy. Nonetheless, I had just a couple of thoughts I wanted to get down following a lackluster win over the ATL.
- Tim Duncan was the clear winner for the Spurs in the victory over the Hawks. His 31 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots are Duncan-in-his-prime numbers, except that they’re not all that surprising coming even today. The difference between Duncan getting those points at present and in his prime is that more of them are coming from the elbows on mid-range jumpshots, whereas they used to be more in the post and bankshots from the wings. Duncan doesn’t have the quickest shot release in the league and NBA defenders are quicker than ever, so how is Duncan knocking down so many shots? Well, like his resurgent shot blocking, a lot of it comes down to timing. When Duncan collects a pass around the elbow and a defender is closing out on him, Duncan waits until just the moment that the defender arrives and changes his balance to prevent against a possible drive. That’s when Duncan goes up for his shot. The defender can’t get off his feet quick enough because of his change in momentum, giving the vertically-challenged Duncan enough time to get off his shot.
- Besides Duncan’s huge game, Kawhi Leonard was the other key cog for the Spurs against Atlanta. Leonard notched 23 points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and two steals in the win. It’s gotten to the point where Leonard seems almost automatic when he gets a catch-and-shoot coming off a screen, especially if he has space. He’s also got the one dribble pull-up if the defender gets too close. Basically, Leonard is incorporating things into his game faster than any player I can remember seeing. It gets even better. Now we’re seeing him distribute the ball as well. I would imagine that the early part of a player’s NBA career is spent learning where the hell to go in every situation. Once that’s figured out, the process of learning where everybody should be in those situations can happen. It seems Leonard has progressed to the latter stage and he’s starting to find his teammates for baskets when his own scoring opportunities are taken away. With injuries hobbling creative forces Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and playmaking from Leonard is welcomed with open arms in San Antonio.