You can decide for yourself if it was the result of simple inspiration, extra motivation, or a simple twist of fate, but there was something in the air during the Spurs’ 113-100 win over the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday night at AT&T Center.
On the night that the Spurs honored franchise icon Tim Duncan by retiring his No. 21 jersey, it hardly seemed a coincidence that Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, Duncan’s “Big Three” mates on the winningest trio of players in NBA history, played some of their best basketball of the season. Ginobili scored a season high 17 points, and Parker got 12 points and handed out six assists.
Was it happenstance that Pau Gasol, the veteran center signed in the off-season to fill Duncan’s spot in the starting lineup, had a season-high 14 rebounds?
Could it have been an accident that LaMarcus Aldridge, recruited by Duncan when Aldridge was the prime catch of the 2015 free agent class, led the Spurs in scoring, with 22 points?
This game, the Spurs admitted, felt different, especially when players walked onto the court for pre-game shooting and saw No. 21 T-shirts draped over every one of the 18,615 seats in the arena.
“It was a game we had to win, that we wanted to win badly,” said Ginobili, who made 3-of-5 long-range shots, 6-of-9 overall. “Today’s celebration is just very, very important for his (Duncan’s) teammates, coaches, and the whole franchise, the city. That guy is special. Even if we would have lost, it would have been an unbelievable night.”
Ginobili knew well that it was a much more enjoyable postgame ceremony because of the win.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the notion that his players had treated the game differently, but his players knew the truth.
“I brought my ‘I want to play for Timmy Duncan tonight’ gauge, and I left it in the locker room,” Popovich said afterwards. “So, I’m not sure exactly how fired up they were.”
Parker understood he and his teammates wanted to make certain they didn’t spoil the mood for Duncan’s night.
“There definitely was some motivation, definitely wanted to get a win tonight,” said Parker, who scored 8 of his 12 points in the third quarter, when the Spurs took command of a game that see-sawed through the first half. “It’s a big night. We definitely wanted to win to make sure everybody’s in a good mood (for Duncan’s jersey retirement). And that’s what we did. It was a good win.”
Danny Green, who said Duncan was one of his role models as he learned the game in New York City, admitted the atmosphere at the arena made it impossible to treat the game as just one of 82 regular season contests.
“In the beginning, we saw all those Timmy shirts,” Green said. “It was obviously harder to stay focused on just the game at hand. We know it was more than just this game tonight for Timmy. Coming in, we knew it was going to be a lot of fun but we wanted to be focused and respect New Orleans.”
Green made 3-of-5 shots from 3-point range Sunday, just the third game this season he made three or more from long range.
The Spurs had their fourth game in their last five with 30 or more assists, assisting on 31-of-42 field goals. Three of the 31 assists were lobs to DeWayne Dedmon for dunks.
Aldridge fared well in a matchup against Pelicans star Anthony Davis, who entered the game the NBA’s No. 3 scorer, at 30.2 points per game, helping to hold him to just 12 points, on 5-for-12 shooting, and outrebounding him, 7-4.
“From the start, we always try to get LaMarcus involved, and Kawhi (Leonard),” Green said. “Those guys are our main guys. Sometimes, it’s how the game unfolds and sometimes one guy defers to the other. We read off who is guarding who and who has the advantage most. I think LaMarcus had the advantage and got in a good rhythm, so we just kept feeding him.”