In the process of amassing the best regular season winning percentage in franchise history the Spurs have compiled a few more significant statistical achievements. Chief among these has been their record of perfection on their AT&T Center home court, 35-0 when their Wednesday night game against the Miami Heat began.
Nearly as meaningful – some might deem it amazing — is the fact they have not lost more than one game at a time. Each of their first 10 losses was followed by a victory.
The reasons are organic within the NBA’s most veteran roster.
“It’s unspoken,” veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. “We know what we have to do the next game, especially at home. We know what we have to do coming off a loss. Everybody knows what they could have done better individually to pitch in and help the group. I think the next game, everybody individually steps their focus and energy up and it comes together collectively.”
Kawhi Leonard is the youngest of the Spurs starters but already he epitomizes the ethos. After Monday’s disheartening loss in Charlotte, when the Spurs gave up a 23-point lead, Leonard was at his MVP candidate best in a 112-88 win over a Heat team that entered the game No. 3 in the Eastern Conference.
Aggressively looking for his offense more than any game this season – he took two 3-point shots in transition, a rarity even in today’s wide-open game – the 6-foot-7 forward matched his career high of 32 points and grabbed 8 rebounds as the Spurs pushed their perfect record on their home court to 36-0. He did it in just over 24 minutes and looked to be on his way to the first 40-point game of his career before he took a knee to his right thigh on a drive to the rim that produced his 32nd point.
An examination by team medical staffers produced a diagnosis of right thigh contusion. It is unclear when Leonard will return but one thing is certain: Gregg Popovich won’t rush him back into action, especially with the Spurs nearly locked into the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The win over Miami left their “magic number” to lock up second place at one game, which means that one more Spurs win or one more loss for third-place Oklahoma City will assure San Antonio of no worse than the No. 2 seed.
As for their hopes of catching the first-place Golden State Warriors by season’s end, Leonard’s absence from the lineup for more than a game or two will diminish further the minuscule probability of such an occurrence.
For the immediate future, Popovich and his players will hope that the prognosis of “Dr.” Tony Parker is correct. Based on his own experience with numerous thigh contusions the Spurs point guard figures Leonard will miss only two or three days.
After getting the report of the team’s medical experts, Popovich called it a “good” contusion, which presumably means a nasty one.
“(His leg) was stiff, so it wouldn’t work,” Popovich said. “So he had to come out. To put him back in wouldn’t have made any sense.”
Popovich appreciated the offensive aggression he got from Leonard in his roughly two quarters worth of work.
“He’s done it before,” Popovich said, “but as time goes on he’s understanding how to feel his oats and channel it wisely.”
The Spurs have to hope their 60th win of the season – the sixth 60-plus win season in franchise history – won’t come at the cost of Leonard’s services for very long because he is their best player at both ends of the court. His disruptive work on the defensive end on Monday helped force 12 turnovers and 43.5 percent shooting by the Heat’s starters. He made 12-of-21 shots and was the lone Spurs starter to score in double figures.
Reserve big man Boban Marjanovic had an even more efficient offensive game. The 7-foot-3 fan favorite made 9-pf-13 shots in just 13-and-a-half minutes and scored 19 points, with 4 rebounds.
Popovich jokingly called Marjanovic “the most selfish player I’ve ever been around” and suggested he to his teammates for being “so greedy,” but he punctuated his faux criticism with a wink.
Marjanovic was aghast at Popovich’s suggestion and said, “If coach said that, then I am (selfish).”
In truth, Popovich appreciates everything Marjanovic has accomplished in his rookie season, which has been plenty, including his season high on Wednesday.
*Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.
Spurs Blow Big Lead and Jeremy Lin Leads Hornets to Comeback Victory
Spurs Take Ultimate Team-First Approach to Score Important Win over Warriors
Spurs go to 33-0 on AT&T Center Court With Big 4th Quarter vs. Clippers
Green’s ‘Screw It’ 3-pointer Helps Spurs Stay Perfect at Home
Popovich: Change in Spurs Ownership Structure ‘Win-Win for Everybody’