Gregg Popovich wrote the Friday night headlines before San Antonio’s game against the Detroit Pistons even began with his polarizing quotes regarding Tuesday’s election, but his team helped change the subject a bit with a 96-86 win in front of a Veterans Day crowd.
The Spurs ended a three-game home losing skid in the process, avoiding what would’ve been the longest such streak in AT&T Center history.
“(We were) definitely much more aggressive from the beginning. We established a good pace and we needed to, as a team, collectively, get off to a good start,” said Pau Gasol, following the best game of his short Spurs career. “We haven’t done that lately at home. We just can’t afford to lose at home, period. So we just needed to snap out of that streak at home and start playing with some fire.”
Gasol did just that, dropping 13 of his game-high 21 points in the first quarter and jump-starting a Spurs team that hadn’t been the dominant home group San Antonio fans have become accustomed to seeing. Of course, it helped to get Tony Parker back on the court.
The Spurs’ floor general returned to the court after missing three straight games with right-knee soreness, the lingering result of an injury suffered in Golden State on the first night of the season.
And speaking of things to which Spurs fans are not accustomed, the franchise point guard has not been himself, statistically. Friday was no different, as he posted just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting in 21 minutes. But despite a drop-off in performance that hasn’t been helped by injuries, San Antonio is more comfortable when he’s on the floor.
“A little bit (calmer), especially with (LaMarcus Aldridge) and Pau (Gasol). It’s just the way we play off each other. Obviously, L.A., I pass him the ball a lot. He can get a rhythm quicker,” Parker said. “I just try to do the best I can to make sure the team is in place and we can get the right shots and easy shots. We had a lot of dry possessions the last two or three games.
“I want to be out there, but it makes no sense to be out there if you can’t do it. You can’t be stubborn.”
Optimal health obviously helps with continuity and rotations, and the return of your franchise point guard can help cure many ills, but so does good defense. Popovich expressed disappointment prior to the game in the way his group has allowed too many big quarters thus far during the young season, and the Spurs responded, particularly in the second half, when they allowed just 34 total points after the break.
“Our energy was there. I think we still gave them (26) points in the first quarter. We try to hold teams to at least under 23,” Kawhi Leonard said. “Just our energy our focus — it just carried over to the second half.”
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy had different thoughts after his team shot an awful 5-of-25 from the 3-point line.
“I thought we had good looks. I really did. I thought our ball movement tonight was good. I thought we created good looks. I thought the only thing that we did poorly tonight was shoot the ball, you know?” he said. “And our forwards, who have all played well, just couldn’t get anything in. I mean, they were 9-of-32 from the floor, 0-of-12 from (the 3-point line). We just couldn’t make anything.
“Both teams, I thought, defended well. But they go 7-of-11 from three and we go 1-of-12 (in the second half). That’s the ball game right there. That’s the whole game, in my opinion.”
It’s the perfect microcosm of what the NBA has become, with so many small, quick teams that want to spread out and bomb 3-pointers from all over the court. If you connect on just 20% of your 25 attempts from deep, you’re likely not going to be successful.
The season has already been full of ups and downs for the Spurs just nine games in, and that’s something that was to be expected given the roster turnover and the loss of a certain Hall-of-Fame big man. But San Antonio is slowly but surely finding its way back to a fully healthy roster and generating more rhythm between its players, new and old.
Next stop, Saturday night in Houston against a Rockets team that just handed the Spurs their most recent home loss.
“We’re going to have to work hard and know who we’re going against,” Gasol said. “We faced them recently, so let’s see if we can get them.”