Playing back-to-back games for the first time since Christmas weekend, the Spurs arrived at The Palace of Auburn Hills for their Tuesday night game against the Detroit Pistons wondering if their manhandling of the hapless Brooklyn Nets on Monday night might mean a night of rest for some of the team’s older players.
Sitting a few 30-somethings seemed logical, especially with a Thursday night game at the AT&T Center against LeBron James and the Eastern Conference leading Cleveland Cavaliers on the schedule.
The fact none of his Big Three veterans played even 25 minutes in a 27-point rout of Brooklyn’s Team Dysfunction allowed Gregg Popovich to throw caution to the wind for a shot at extending his team’s eight-game win streak.
And why not go all out for another win in the second game of the team’s seventh set of back-to-back games of the season? They entered the game 6-0 in such games, a clear indication the veteran-laden roster knows how to focus, regardless of circumstance.
The circumstances for Tuesday’s game, however, included an unscheduled landing at Detroit Metropolitan Airport because of weather problems at the planned landing location, a smaller airport in Pontiac that is much closer to the team’s lodgings in the suburbs about 35 miles North of Detroit. According to FoxSports Southwest broadcasters Andrew Monaco and Sean Elliott, who travel with the team, the traveling party had to wait at Detroit Metropolitan Airport for the team’s chartered buses to arrive from Pontiac, then load up passengers and baggage before it could make the hour-long drive to the team’s hotel.
According to Elliott, nobody in the traveling party got settled into a room before 4 a.m.
Sleep deprivation didn’t matter. The Spurs rewarded Popovich’s decision with a 109-99 win over a Detroit team that has established itself as a definite playoff contender in a much-improved Eastern Conference.
Four-time All-NBA point guard Tony Parker made 13-of-19 shots and scored 31 points to lead the Spurs to a ninth straight win, their longest win streak of the season. The youngest of the Big Three stars (33), Parker also had four rebounds and three assists and did the bulk of the defensive work on Pistons scoring leader Reggie Jackson, who made only 3-of-13 shots.
The elder members of the most successful trio of players in NBA history, 39-year-old Tim Duncan and 38-year-old Manu Ginobili, combined to score 29 points, producing the first game this season in which the Big Three combined for 60, a regularity in the first decade of the 21st century.
Parker knew the key to Popovich’s allowing even his oldest players to suit up for Tuesday’s game was the rest they got during the second half of the 27-point demolition of the Nets when the Big Three sat, side by side by side, and watched Jonathan Simmons, Boban Marjanovic, Kyle Anderson, Matt Bonner and Patty Mills finish out that game.
“I had a lot of rest (Monday) because we won by a lot so I felt like I had a lot of energy today,” he told Elliott during a televised post-game interview.
Parker took control at the offensive end in the third quarter, when he scored 14 of his 31 points.
“I was just trying to read (the defense),” he said. “I was not going to settle for jump shots. They were very aggressive, not going under the picks and rolls. I was just trying to get in the paint and see what happens.
“I love the paint. When I go in there I can do little tear drops, pump fake and I’ve got good footwork and just try to work that space. I just don’t want to settle, especially on the road. You want to control the tempo; you want to control the turnovers. I was just trying to control the game like that.”
Ginobili, who always fights back any time Popovich tries to rest him, understands how important it has been for the Spurs to get to approach the midpoint of the season with such a gaudy record. After the major overhaul of the roster in the off-season the anticipation was for some growing pains, and more losses, in the first half of the season.
Instead, the Spurs will go into Thursday’s 41st game of the season – the true halfway point – on pace for the best record in franchise history.
“Every time you look at the standings it’s remarkable,” Ginobili said. “If you add nine in a row it’s incredible the type of record we have considering we’ve been talking so much about adding LaMarcus (Aldridge) and David (West) to the mix and making them feel good and needing to readjust. And we have still managed to get this type of record. It’s a great thing.”
*Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.