Spurs vs. Suns reactions: Kawhi Leonard enters his comfort zone
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Reactions to the San Antonio Spurs win over the Phoenix Suns, 103-89.
On Friday night, the San Antonio Spurs returned home, only for one night, to face the Phoenix Suns. For the third time in the 2017-18 season, the Silver and Black defeated them, 103-89, behind the performances of Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili.
Afterward, the Spurs will travel to the West Coast, with a three-game road trip set. It’s positive momentum to enter this stretch, which extends through the second week of January.
Before this, let’s look at the latest reactions to the Spurs’ performance. Who looked sharp? Did someone deliver a surprise performance? Let’s take a look:
Kawhi Leonard’s most comfortable game yet
From the start of the game, Kawhi Leonard appeared comfortable. He looked better with each passing game, but on Friday night, the Spurs star delivered a smooth performance on both ends of the floor.
With 4 blocks and 3 steals, Leonard was all over the defensive end. He wreaked havoc, with deflections to start fast-break opportunities or throw the Suns off their game. It worked plenty, as he looked like his old self. That included the offensive end, too, with 21 points on 9-for-19 shooting.
After the game, head coach Gregg Popovich told Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News that “Kawhi is looking more and more like himself every game.”
In addition to his 21 points in 29 minutes, Leonard had 4 steals and 3 of the #Spurs' season-best 15 steals. “Kawhi is looking more and more like himself every game,” Pop said. “Hopefully, we are going in the right direction.”
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) January 6, 2018
If Popovich realizes this, that’s all that matters, right? Let’s see if that means Leonard plays on Sunday, which will only be one day between games. The Spurs have rested the Klaw since his mid-December return if the team had one or zero days between games.
Next: Grandpa Juice
Grandpa Juice was flowing
It’s 2018 and still amazing that Manu Ginobili plays basketball, as he’s 40-years-old and one of the NBA’s oldest players. Yet, he produces in a supporting role and still displays that old “Manu Magic.” This was the case vs. Phoenix.
Ginobili delivered a strong second half, working his way to 21 points in just 19 minutes. It was among his best performances of the season, with shades of his old self coming through. Even Popovich was impressed by this ageless wonder:
“He’s something else. Whatever he’s drinking, I want some of that … there’s got to be a fountain of youth some place.”
– Coach Pop on Manu pic.twitter.com/wOrerM7BUA
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 6, 2018
Ginobili’s work remains eye-popping for those who have watched him these past 16 years. Enjoy it while it lasts, because it could be his final season in the Alamo City.
Bryn Forbes produces in starter’s minutes
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Before Friday’s game, we noted how Bryn Forbes made the most of his opportunity, one that won’t go away, unlike other players that filled in for injured players. He jumped from a DNP-Coach’s Decision in 2016-17 to a full-time role player in 2017-18. That includes stepping up for an injured Danny Green, who missed the Suns game, due to a groin injury.
Forbes stayed quiet in the second half, with most of his points being scored in the first and second quarters. He finished with 16 points on 7-for-16 shooting, which wasn’t a dominant performance but enough to open eyes as he knocked down open shots. Credit that to a poor Suns defense that left him alone.
Games like this will continue to earn Popovich’s trust. Expect the Michigan State product’s minutes to slip to its normal range of 15-20, but to remain consistent for the foreseeable future.
Next: Davis Bertans shoots more than 3's
Davis Bertans displays more than just 3-pointers
To say Davis Bertans often shoots 3-pointers would be an understatement. 266 of his 355 shot attempts have come from long distance, which designates him as a 3-point specialist, along with the occasional rebound and blocked shot. Otherwise, the Latvian forward is a one-dimensional player.
While this remains the case, even after Friday’s game, Bertans showed he can do more than just linger from behind the arc. Three of his five made shots were inside. It could be a one-off performance, as he played 27 minutes and was able to do more on the offensive end (12 shot attempts).
When LaMarcus Aldridge returns, Bertans likely reverts to a sporadic role player, who gets a few opportunities at 3 points. But, Friday was a change and a positive one toward his development.
Back to the West Coast
If it feels like the Spurs were just on the West Coast, it’s because they were. From Dec. 20 to 23, the Silver and Black played three games, in Portland, Salt Lake City and Sacramento. Around two weeks later, they will make a similar trip.
Sunday’s matchup will be in Portland, where the Spurs will challenge the Blazers. These teams already went head-to-head in 2017-18, with San Antonio winning.
The following day, the Spurs will go to the Golden 1 Center, for a game vs. the Sacramento Kings. Their previous meeting resulted in a win for the former, too.
Finally, there will be the season’s first matchup vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. It takes place at the Staples Center.
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Will the Spurs capitalize on this win, before heading to the West Coast? Or could there be issues along the way?