The meeting between mentor and disciple, Gregg Popovich and Mike Budenholzer, ended in a massive knockout in favor of the San Antonio Spurs, manhandling the Atlanta Hawks on the road 114-95.
Despite their woes for most of this season, having to do with injuries and actual on-court basketball programs, the Spurs are surging up the Western standings and aren’t that far away from actually securing at least one round of home court advantage in the playoffs.
It’s all made possible due to the return to form of Kawhi Leonard and also Tiago Splitter, making the Spurs’ starting lineup the best in the league in terms of efficiency, with a net rating of +28.4 during the few minutes they’ve been on the floor together this year, slightly ahead of the Warriors’ starting five and a lot better than the Hawks’ lineup, which surprisingly isn’t even in the top 10.
Yes, Kyle Korver is back, but the Hawks strength hasn’t been just their starters. It was a system that worked well with them and the bench players intertwining, something that recently hasn’t been working. The ball movement is more predictable, the defense seems more confused that it did until the All-Star break and it might just be fatigue kicking in at the wrong time, although it shouldn’t stop them from finishing first in the Eastern conference.
The Spurs jumped on their rivals and grabbed them by the throat early on. San Antonio had a 26-13 lead at the end of the first quarter and led by 18 at half time. It was a done deal from here; the Hawks never really looked like they have the belief that they can mount a comeback, let alone the ability, at least on that afternoon in the Phillips Arena.
Splitter played his best game of the season, scoring 23 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard was a beast on both ends of the floor with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals, while Tim Duncan, having the luxury of taking it a bit easier on the offensive side of the ball, finishing with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
Tony Parker had a quiet game with just 8 points on 3-of-6 from the field. When the Spurs have such an easy time without needing Parker to give it his best effort in scoring, then something is working very well. Maybe even too well, although as far as the Spurs are concerned, there isn’t a much better time than now to start fulfilling their potential.
The Hawks played without a head coach in the second half, as Joey Crawford, always the drama queen, ejected Budenholzer and later got into a shouting match with a Hawks fan. Crawford and his crew were quite easy with the whistles when it was coming against the Hawks, although that disparity didn’t cause the game to turn into such an early blowout.