On the road, with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili getting some rest, the San Antonio Spurs shouldn’t look so good, especially not against a playoff team like the Golden State Warriors. But the best team in the NBA at the moment keeps on playing like nothing has changed, with Tony Parker getting plenty of help from Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard.
Just like certain college football programs, the system is bigger than the names. That is why when players like Jeff Ayres and and Patty Mills are on the court, it doesn’t always seem like the Spurs got weaker. They came away with a 99-90 win over the Warriors in Oakland, looking impressive for most of the game despite a rough shooting night, held to 39.5% from the field.
It wasn’t the Warriors making things difficult for the Spurs. It was simply San Antonio not being able to convert open shots – especially Patty Mills, finishing with 1-of-9 from the field. He did a good job in making others score with 5 assists, while Marco Belinelli provided the most substantial contribution from the bench, scoring 15 points.
This is what NBA franchises should aspire to. We’ve heard a lot of talk about how things will change the moment Duncan retires. Sure, it’s almost impossible replacing someone like him overnight or at all, but the Spurs are built to withstand absences and injuries, to a certain extent, obviously. As long as their point guards and ball handles know what plays to run and Popovich has the right players to fit into his defensive strategies, it doesn’t matter if the player is Australian, a second-round draft pick or someone they picked up from the D-League.
Tony Parker led the way with 20 points, and his running around and slashing showed the Warriors’ defensive issues, not for the first time. Players running around without a real sense of where they should be. Maybe it is bad preparation from Mark Jackson against a team that presents so many difficulties before and during a game, but it just might be lazy thinking and execution from a group that too many times thinks it can get out of tough spots by relying on outside shooting.
Stephen Curry did score 20 points but went cold from beyond the arc, and so did Klay Thompson. There was no flow to the Warriors offense, and no order in their defense. When Danny Green brings down 18 points (five 3-pointers) on you, it’s because the defense left him open, not because he was having a crazy day. Tiago Splitter did a great job in the post with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Kawhi Leonard continues to be a mismatch issue for many players, adding 16 points and 7 boards.
The Spurs are playing better basketball than anyone in the NBA right now, even when two essential pieces like Duncan and Ginobili get a night off. This team is worthy of making the NBA finals for a second consecutive season, but plenty of things change from this point in which they’re leading the West until June. They just need to hope that they survive these changes, while Popovich figures out their mismatch problems against teams like the Thunder and the Rockets.