(For this recap, I wanted to try a different layout. So, instead of the usual format of giving you a quick look at each team’s stats and then adding my thoughts at the end, for this recap I will use “the difference” method. This method is when a writer takes the margin of victory, or “the difference”, and gives a bullet of information/thoughts for each point. For instance, this game was won by 6 points, so I will be using six bullets worth of information.)
- Tim Duncan had yet another great game tonight. After his wonderful game against the Mavericks (28 points, 19 rebounds) made some Spurs fans nostalgic, Duncan did it again against the Cavaliers. After the Dallas game, I proclaimed that Duncan was “playing like it’s 1999.” Well, he played like it was 2003 tonight, scoring 30 points on 13-19 shots, racking up 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 blocks. He tore up the young big men of Cleveland, hitting Tristan Thompson and Marreese Speights with a flurry of quick post moves all night long, evoking memories of his MVP days. One thing that has never changed about Duncan is his defense, where yet again he was a force to be reckoned with. Nobody was to come into his lane, and if they did, they should expect their shot to be thrown away. With these types of games, Duncan refuses to let fans forget about the dominance he’s shown over his career, and as always, it was beautiful to watch.
- One thing that was not beautiful to watch was the Spurs defense. Giving up 113 points to a Cleveland team is hard to do, and yet the Spurs managed to. Lately the Spurs defense, more specifically the perimeter defense, has been in a funk. Over the past three games, the Spurs have given up 50% on three point attempts, with the Timberwolves, Mavericks, and Cavaliers collectively going 27-54 from beyond the arc. The Spurs defense has become somewhat undisciplined and begun to sink in more on penetration, and leaving shooters wide open for three. In Minnesota, JJ Barea and Alexey Shved were forgotten about on the perimeter after they showed a capability to hit the long ball. Against Dallas, it was Dirk; and versus Cleveland Wayne Ellington was able to catch fire. (Wayne Ellington has turned himself into a really nice player in Cleveland. He has shot 46.6% from the field, and 40.2% from 3, not bad for a guy that was part of a salary-dump trade from Memphis. That makes it even more important for San Antonio to cover him closely, though.) San Antonio has to get back to their disciplined, smart defense from before the trade deadline, or it’s going to spell trouble for them in the near future.
- In the second quarter, after arguing a charge call and going onto the court after the referees, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was ejected from the game. This put his top assistant, Mike Budenholzer, in charge of the team for the second half. This isn’t the first time “Coach Bud” has had to take over for Popovich, and as usual, he didn’t disappoint. He was able to steer the Spurs through the fog for another win without Popovich. I bring this up because I really feel that Budenholzer deserves some more recognition. He has been the top assistant to Pop for many years now, which is quite an impressive feat considering Pop’s resume. Budenholzer has been a part of multiple Spurs championships, and I would hope he can get the keys to his own team some time soon. He’s shown time and time again that he can handle the Spurs when Pop is out, and he has that Spurs pedigree that other franchises seem to always find in their head coaching candidates. (Mike Brown, Monty Williams, and Avery Johnson are some notable former assistant coaches in San Antonio.) I love that Bud has been able to be in San Antonio for so long, but if he can find his own team to lead this offseason, I will be the first one to congratulate him.
- There was one play early on in the game that made me chuckle a good bit, and I think it’s worth pointing out. Cory Joseph brought the ball up the right side of the floor and waited until a trailing Tim Duncan got to the top of the three point line before giving him the ball to start the play. Duncan, seeing a mismatch that Cory Joseph had against a slower Tyler Zeller, quickly whipped the ball back to Joseph in a fashion that said “I know you’re young and inexperienced, but trust yourself to make the right play.” And wouldn’t you know it, Joseph broke down Zeller and got an easy layup against him in the paint. It was nice to see Duncan encourage the young player in Joseph to be able to score on his own, and that has to give Joseph confidence moving forward.
- Manu Ginobili looked better overall in this game. His scoring efficiency was at a decent mark, getting 14 points on 4-9 shooting, but his tree ball was off again, as he was 1-4 from long range. “Manu the Distributor” is still a good experiment in Parker’s absence getting 10 assists tonight. It was nice to see him get back to a decent form on offense against Cleveland, even throwing down a pretty sweet looking dunk over the Cleveland defense at one point. (Off of a euro-step, because of course it was.)
- I don’t mean to gush so much about Kawhi Leonard’s improvement, but he really has given me no choice as of late. He keeps on making leaps and bounds as a player, so I have to keep giving him ink. Against the Cavaliers, he put up 24 points on 8-16 shooting, and got 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He has done everything well lately, and is continuing on with diversifying his game. He looks incredibly comfortable handling the ball and getting to the lane, and on defense he keeps on making a lot of plays to get into transition. With every game his future looks brighter, and it’s exciting to think about.