If you didn’t tune in to Wednesday night’s FoxSports Southwest telecast of the Spurs’ 110-105 win over the Sacramento Kings at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center you may be surprised to learn the only thing remotely close about San Antonio’s fourth straight victory was the final score.
The Spurs domination of the game was so thorough that Gregg Popovich emptied his bench with three minutes remaining, secure in his belief there was no way three rookies and two players with a total of three years of experience could possibly blow an 18-point lead in such a short time.
The Spurs coach was right, but not by much. The Kings reeled off 13 unanswered points in two minutes and one second, slicing a 107-89 lead to 107-102. Only 17.5 seconds remained at that point, but Popovich was forced to call a time out to reorganize his lineup of relatively untested NBA neophytes.
The NBA’s longest-tenured head coach trusted his youngsters – 20-year-old Dejounte Murray, 23-year-old Bryn Forbes, 23-year-old Kyle Anderson, 24-year-old Davis Bertans, and 27-year-old Jonathan Simmons – to close out the win.
Spurs fans who recalled Houston’s comeback from 12 down with 35 seconds left to score a stunning 81-80 win over the Spurs on Dec. 9, 2004 at Houston’s Toyota Center – Rockets star Tracy McGrady scoring all 13 of Houston’s points – likely had some nightmarish flashbacks.
Alas, Popovich’s young lineup made enough plays to avoid another basketball disaster.
“It’s a good lesson for them,” Popovich said in a post-game interview televised by FoxSports Southwest. “Good for them to be out there in that situation. It matures people.”
Two of the most mature Spurs were instrumental in building the lead their neophyte teammates nearly squandered. Thirty-six-year-old enter Pau Gasol had his most productive game since joining the Spurs as a free agent in July. A veteran of 15 seasons, the 7-foot Spaniard scored a season-high 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and blocked two shots in 31 minutes.
“We set the tone early,” Gasol told broadcasters Bill Land and Sean Elliott in a televised interview moments after the win was secured. “We made plays. We were moving the ball well and were making good shots and good plays. That’s the way we want to start and continue to play 48 minutes the same way.
“Guys are getting used to my skill set and where I’m most effective. I’m getting more comfortable. The adjustment process has been good so far and I want to continue to play well and help the team win.”
Point guard Tony Parker, a 34-year-old starting his 1,075th game for Popovich, scored 14 points, handed out seven assists and directed an efficient attack that produced a season-high 29 assists on 43 field goals.
“The last three or four games we’ve been finding a rhythm,” said Parker, whose return to the lineup after missing three games with a hyperextended right knee came in the first game of what has become a four-game winning streak. “When you have a lot of different weapons it takes time for everybody to know where they’re going to get their shots. I feel like the last couple of games Pau has gotten into that nice fit. He’s getting to his spots and everybody is aggressive, and we’re moving the ball. Most important, we’re getting 25-plus assists, and that’s good.”
The victory kept the Spurs perfect on the road this season, 6-0 away from their AT&T Center home. Only twice in franchise history have Spurs teams had better road starts: An 8-0 start to the 2010-11 season and a 7-0 start in 2006-07, which ended with the team’s fourth championship run.
The Spurs played Wednesday without backup center DeWayne Dedmon, who suffered a sprained left knee in Monday’s 94-90 win over the Miami Heat at AT&T Center and did not make the two-game trip to California. Dedmon had one of his best games of the season when the Spurs scored a 102-94 win over the Kings at Golden 1 Center in their second game of the season. He scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in that one, but his biggest contribution came at the defensive end, where he blocked four shots in just 24 minutes and 13 seconds.
With Dedmon missing, Gregg Popovich turned to rookie power forward Davis Bertans. Until he committed an ill-advised foul on DeMarcus Cousins as the Kings scoring star attempted a 3-point shot with 10.2 seconds remaining, Bertans had done exactly what Popovich needed. He made a long 3-pointer and had one rebound, one assist, and a block during an 11-0 run that spanned just under four minutes and produced a 15-point lea in the first half. The 6-foot-10 Latvian added another 3-pointer in the second half and finished with seven points, three assists, and two blocks in 17 minutes.