Playing for the first time since learning they will be without veteran guard Manu Ginobili for at least a month made it easy for the Spurs to approach their Friday night game at American Airlines Center against the Dallas Mavericks with focus and energy.
But attention to detail and exceptional vitality hardly explain how the Spurs destroyed a Mavericks team that entered the game in sixth place in the Western Conference, 116-90.
The 15th road victory of the Spurs season also insured their 19th straight winning season. They haven’t had a losing season since 1996-97, when they went 20-62 and set up the lottery drawing that produced the No.1 pick, Tim Duncan.
At 42-8 the Spurs have matched the 2010-11 team for the best start in franchise history. They’ve accomplished this despite Duncan’s having missed their last six games, and seven of their last eight, because of soreness in his right knee.
Friday’s final score was not indicative of how thoroughly the Spurs dominated the Mavericks. The game was over by the conclusion of the first half, when the Spurs headed to intermission with a 62-26 lead. The only real competition in the second half involved flipping back and forth between ESPN’s national telecast of the game and the local telecast on KENS-TV to see if Dave Pasch and Jeff Van Gundy (ESPN) could hold their viewers’ interest as well as the Spurs telecasting team of Bill Land and Sean Elliott kept their loyal audience entertained.
The 26 first-half points by Dallas? That is not a typographical error, or whatever a typo is called in the digital age. The Spurs had their best defensive quarter of the season in the first period, holding the Mavericks to 12 points. Then they held Dallas to 14 points in the second period.
Not since they held the Denver Nuggets to 22 points in the first half of a 99-68 win on Nov. 27, 2002 had the Spurs held a team to fewer points in a half.
Just as Ginobili’s absence made the Spurs steely-eyed and motivated to begin the game, their 36-point halftime lead led to a third-quarter malaise that manifested at the defensive end of the court. After their stingiest single half in 14 years they gave up 34 points to the Mavericks in the third period matching their worst defensive quarter of the season. All that offense cut merely eight points from the Spurs’ halftime lead.
The real benefit of the largest first-half domination of the season was a chance for Gregg Popovich to rest his starters in the fourth quarter to keep their legs fresh for a Saturday night game at AT&T Centre against the Los Angeles Lakers. No starter played more than the 27 minutes and 43 seconds logged by center LaMarcus Aldridge. Kawhi Leonard, whose 23 points led the Spurs, played just under 27 minutes.
Friday’s outcome may even have brought temporary relief to Ginobili, who reported on his Twitter account that he was anxious to return to his San Antonio home after undergoing surgery on Thursday to repair a testicular injury suffered in Wednesday’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
“It wasn’t my best day, but the surgery went well,” read Ginobili’s post. “Almost ready to go back home and start the recovery process. Thanks!”
*Top Image: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks posts up against LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs on February 5, 2016 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.