Before the game against the Chicago Bulls on Monday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich decided to throw not only the Bulls, but the fans tuning in, and maybe even David Stern a curve ball. At the last minute before the game, it was announced that Tony Parker, who was coming off of a huge hot streak as of late, would be sitting out to rest. That’s usually not a big deal coming from Popovich, but considering Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were already out of the game with injuries, it was a bit of a head-scratcher.
This isn’t the first time Pop has purposely sat out the Big Three, for injuries or otherwise. Earlier in the season, Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili were sat for a nationwide broadcast against the Miami Heat, which caused Stern to discipline Popovich, citing that the fans were being deprived of the value they paid for. In that game, the Spurs’ lesser known names played above expectations and almost took out the superstar-laden Heat on their own.
In today’s game, however, the Spurs were able to get the win over the Bulls, who have been dealing with the loss of Derrick Rose due to an ACL tear all season long.
The Silver and Black were led by second year man, Kawhi Leonard, as he poured in 26 points on 11-18 shooting from the field, while also playing some solid defense on Luol Deng, forcing the Bulls’ All-Star to go 4-13 from the field. Nando De Colo, a rookie PG for the Spurs, started in place of Tony Parker and played well. He did not shoot well, but he was able to find his teammates very well, racking up 7 assists on the night.
In the second quarter, the Spurs made their first key run, as Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard took care of the scoring load, and the defense tightened up, forcing turnovers and denying the Bulls throughout the quarter, leading to a 51-42 lead for San Antonio at halftime.
As the third quarter got going, Nate Robinson of the Bulls started to heat up, scoring 11 of his 20 points in the quarter, and scoring 7 straight for the Bulls in one run to get them back in the game. Robinson would finish with 20 points, 7 assists, and 3 steals on the night.
That run continued into the fourth quarter, with the Bulls getting as close as one point down before the Spurs pulled away for the final time behind a barrage of scoring from Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter.
This game puts the Spurs at 3-1 on the Rodeo Road Trip. The Spurs’ next game on the trip is on Wednesday, February 13 against the Cleveland Cavaliers at 7:00 PM. The game against the Cavaliers arks the last game for San Antonio before this weekend’s All-Star break in Houston.
- Kawhi Leonard has continued to play amazingly. He has found his scoring touch in the past 4 games without Tim Duncan, Leonard has picked up his scoring and averaged 17.5 ppg in his absence. And what’s impressive about this is not exactly how much Leonard has been scoring, but the fashion in which he does it. He has become capable of handling the ball on his own, putting it on the deck well for a multitude off pull-up jumpers from midrange. As I’ve said before, this is far from what he was doing last year when he was mainly a floor spacer and slasher on offense. Now, he is a featured offensive weapon. This continued consistency on offense is very encouraging for the future of the franchise, as Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili continue to age.
- A backup point guard has emerged in first year guard, Nando De Colo. In just his second start of the year (his first one coming in the aforementioned gae against the Miami Heat) he again showed that he was able to lead the San Antonio Spurs offense when Tony Parker isn’t around. Although De Colo did not score the ball very well, he was able to distribute well, getting the ball to the shooters in their spots. On defense, he was ok enough, and helped force turnovers by crashing the paint and swiping the ball away from the Chicago big men a few times. All of this means that we will probably not have Gary Neal play backup point guard again.
- Danny Green is still hot. In the past four games, as Duncan has been injured, Danny Green has been pouring in three pointers at a scathing rate. In those four games he has shot 19-32 from beyond the arc, good enough for 59.3% from there. There’s no telling how long this will keep up, but perhaps next year the Spurs fanbase will be forced to start a “Let Danny Shoot” campaign for the three point contest, just as they did for Matt Bonner this year with “Let Bonner Shoot” sweeping the nation. Green is on fire right now, and he has been one of the keys to the Spurs success on the Rodeo Road Trip.
- Gary Neal is working my last nerve on this team. Admittedly, when he gets hot, like he did in the first half of this game, he can be a very helpful asset to the Spurs. However, this year, those times when Neal has been hot have been few and far between. He is having his worst year shooting, and yet, he continues to shoot. He is used primarily in pick and roll sets, where he is far from efficient He takes and misses many ill-advised midrange jumper early in the shot clock when no one is around to rebound, and even when he misses he just keeps shooting. This was best illustrated early in the fourth quarter, while the Bulls were coming back. Neal took, and missed, three consecutive horrible shots for the Spurs. This forced Popovich to call a timeout and put De Colo back at point guard for him. And, as soon as Neal got back on the bench, the Spurs offense started to rev back up again and they pulled away for good. Neal is a terrible ball handler, and often gets trapped and forces passes, which lead to turnovers. This has been problematic because for a bulk of this season, and for his entire time with the Spurs, he has been used as a backup point guard. Wit the emergence of De Colo at point guard, hopefully we have seen the last of Neal playing big minutes whenever the Big Three come back. In spurts, as a spot-up shooter, he can be a lot more efficient, and a lot better of a fit for this team.
- In this last note, I would just like to personally take responsibility for Nate Robinson heating up in the third quarter. You see, usually Nate Robinson is not this good of a scorer. But, in the past two weeks Nate has been on a tear since he’s baeen able to shoot as much as he wants, as there is no one to bench him for. I had not realized this, and stupidly tweeted out the following:
Stacey King is calling for Thibs to “let Nate loose.” I dare you. I double-dog dare you.
— Ian Dougherty (@EeyoreWolfDough) February 12, 2013
After that tweet, Nate went on to rip off 9 points to end the quarter. I apologize, and it will never happen again.