No Tony Parker, no Tim Duncan, no Manu Ginobili. No worries as well. With Kawhi Leonard emerging into more than just a premier wing defender and the rest of the depth and teamwork associated with the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich, even playing without the trendy MVP topic doesn’t really matter.
Unlike Ginobili and Duncan, Parker was a surprise call. Maybe in another time, the Spurs wouldn’t have seated him, but after winning 13 of their last 14, taking hold of the top spot in the West, Popovich could afford to let the third of his trio, and the best of them, take a seat to nurse his ailments. This time, according to the silence from the NBA office, there won’t be any fining and sanctioning.
The Spurs came into Chicago, against a Bulls team struggling to put consecutive wins together these last couple of weeks, and showed that the most orchestrated offense in the league is better than having great defense. With an offense you can’t trust, it’s always a risk. With Kawhi Leonard making Luol Deng look less than ordinary (limiting him to 11 points on 4-13) and an engine that was too much for the Bulls to keep up with, the Spurs won for only the second time in their last six against the Bulls, 103-89.
One would hope that you could play with anybody in your system, but it was a tough challenge for them tonight. And I couldn’t be more proud of what they did.
The Chicago Bulls actually did what they needed to – control the boards. They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, winning the glass battle 49-26. And still they couldn’t win, turning the ball over 19 times to the Spurs’ 8. The Spurs scored 29 points off the Bulls’ turnovers and simply didn’t make any crucial mistakes, as guys like Leonard (26 points) and Danny Green picked up the slack. The last time the Spurs showed up without their big three it was on a Thursday night in Miami, and they almost came out with the win that time as well, losing 105-100.
Tiago Splitter, getting more and more attention this season and especially with Tim Duncan injured, missing nine of the last eleven games, couldn’t afford to let a first quarter bump take him out of the game. A little ice, and everything was OK. Splitter was mentioned in some trade talks recently, but his ability to move the ball and score in the post seems to be something the Spurs shouldn’t want to be giving up, especially not when he doesn’t come as a too expensive option. Splitter finished with 16 points, and is averaging 13.9 over the last 10 games.
Gary Neal, maybe the best point guard coming off the bench in the NBA, didn’t make a move to the starting linuep. As always, Pop prefers him leading the second unit and not messing around with the rotations. Nacho de Colo got the opportunity, while Neal added 16 points off the bench.
Every year the Spurs do this, even when on a road trip – they make everyone remember who is the finest coached group in all the NBA, despite relying on the same three names that two of them aren’t that good anymore. Title shot? They’ll get thrown out of the discussion because that’s the way it always is, and they haven’t won since 2007. Even with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili way beyond their primes, the Spurs might have their best supporting unit in a long, long time. Maybe it’s time they’re taken seriously, again.