Those who truly know the ways of the Spurs weren’t surprised when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili showed up at tip-off of Saturday’s game against the Denver Nuggets at AT&T Center wearing NBA-mandated business attire. Playing for the third time in four nights and for the second game of a set of back-to-back games ruled out NBA geezers.
The fact the opponent was the injury-plagued Nuggets, one of the league’s young, rebuilding teams, made the post-Christmas rest for Gregg Popovich’s veteran stars a no-brainer and the result, a stressless, 101-86 win rationalized the rest for its two oldest players. Denver came to the game off a solid road win at Phoenix but without leading scorer Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain) and rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay (right ankle sprain), the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft and a player the Nuggets count as a building block for their future.
Denver coach Mike Malone knew better than to celebrate facing the Spurs without two players who eventually will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
“People look at that and say we caught a break,” Malone said before tip-off. “Whether those guys play or don’t play, they are a well-oiled machine. They have plenty of weapons over there. Duncan and Manu are great players, but we’ll get a higher dosage of LaMarcus (Aldridge) and David West and their guards off the bench.”
Indeed, this was a game for Aldridge and West, who started in Duncan’s spot, but it was also a game for Boban Marjanovic, the 7-foot-3 Serbian and new Spurs fan favorite. Marjanovic took the backup role West typically fills and put in 15 solid minutes of play, grabbing seven rebounds scoring 10 points and blocking four shots.
It was also a game the Spurs needed after the Houston Rockets ended their seven-game win streak on Christmas night in Houston. They haven’t had a losing streak all season and the Saturday win ran their record to 26-6, second only to Golden State’s amazing 28-1 start, the best in NBA history.
West, the 35-year-old, two-time All-Star who gave up $11 million in guaranteed money from the Indiana Pacers to sign with the Spurs in July, put up the sort of numbers that have thus far typified Tim Duncan’s 19th season in silver and black: 10 points, four rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots.
It was the fourth start of the season for West, and the Spurs are unbeaten in them. A jocular suggestion that perhaps it is time for a lineup change brought a menacing stare from the team’s only recognized on-court enforcer.
Starting is no big deal to West, who was a regular starter for six seasons in New Orleans and ten in Indiana. Neither is coming off the bench on his new team, a role he knew he would play when he signed with the Spurs for the NBA veteran minimum of $1.5 million.
“It’s just about being prepared, just going out and trying to be the next guy up,” West said. “Obviously we try to rest our older guys. It’s just being ready, being prepared, staying ready.”
For Marjanovic, the 27-year-old Serbian, every minute on the court this season has been a joy, both for him and for Spurs fans who enthuse in his every play. Popovich has made it clear he does not see Marjanovic as merely a very tall player, though he admits his height is his best attribute. Popovich understands Marjanovic has some skills, including a soft shooting touch that manifests most often at the free throw line. He scored 10 points against the Nuggets, eight of them from the foul line, where he was 8-for-8. He has made 77.8 percent of his free throws this season, just under the team’s season average.
“I think I am good at that and I continue to work,” Marjanovic said. “What I am the best at? No, really I am free throw shooter and dunking.”
Saturday’s game also was a much-needed bounce-back game for veteran point guard Tony Parker, who made only 1-of-7 shots and scored a season-low two points in the loss in Houston. He was scoreless through the first 19-plus minutes against Denver, then scored all 13 of his points in a burst in the final 4:37 of the second quarter that opened a double-digit lead the Spurs never would relinquish.
“He has been giving us jolts for a while now,” Popovich said of Parker. “This whole year he has been great at both ends of the court. He’s been great.”
Boris Diaw scored 16 points, matching his season high, then explained why, at age 33, he never gets a night to rest, as does Duncan, Ginobili and, occasionally, Parker, also 33.
“Why would I?” he asked. “I’m so young. I’m the same age as Tony, but I don’t age as much.”
The gray hair that flecks Diaw’s head?
“That’s called being wise,” he said.
*Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.