Only once in franchise history have the Spurs gotten off to a better start in their first 25 games than this season’s reconstituted version that beat the Boston Celtics, 108-101, at AT&T Center on Wednesday night.
Like the NBA title teams of 2004-05, 2013-14 and last season’s 67-15 Spurs, these Spurs are 20-5.
Their coach remains unimpressed.
It’s not that Gregg Popovich didn’t appreciate his team’s unselfish play on Wednesday (33 assists on 44 baskets) and its defensive aggression (13 forced turnovers, nine steals). But, he also understands the 14-2 run that has given the Spurs the second-best record in the NBA is a bit of fool’s gold unless they can sustain the same level of play with some consistency.
After all, the 2010-11 Spurs, who opened 22-3 on their way to a 61-21 record that gave them No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, were eliminated in the first playoff round by the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies.
“One game isn’t an indicator of anything,” Popovich said. “It’s just a process that maybe a couple weeks at a time, six, eight, 10 games at a time, you figure out where you are and if you’re making the kind of progress you want to make, but not one game.
“When you see consistency, you’ve got to have it four, five, six games in a row.”
Don’t doubt that Popovich would like to see another four, five, or six games from new center Pau Gasol similar to his performance against the Celtics. The 36-year-old Spaniard scored 17 points, grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds and matched his season high in assists, with six.
That his best game of the season came after he had spent much of the team’s three practice sessions (including a Wednesday morning shoot around) working on his offensive moves in one-on-one competition against retired Spurs star Tim Duncan hardly seemed coincidental.
“Got to give (Tim) the credit,” veteran point guard Tony Parker said. “I saw that one-on-one going on. They were going hard.”
Gasol joked that he will henceforth limit his practice sessions to workouts with the player whose starting position he took after signing with the Spurs as a free agent.
“It made all of the difference,” Gasol said. “It’s all I’m going to do from now on.”
Duncan, whose No 21 jersey is to be retired by the club in ceremonies following Sunday’s game at AT&T Center against the New Orleans Pelicans, told Gasol to be quicker with his post moves, but gets no credit for Gasol’s consistency from 3-point range. Gasol made one of two attempts from long range against Boston and his 46.8 percentage on 32-pointers is second-best on the team.
Kawhi Leonard made only 1-of-5 long-range shots Wednesday but scored 26 points and matched Gasol’s six assists. Parker scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth period and three other Spurs also scored in double figures. Backup center DeWayne Dedmon made 5-of-6 shots for 10 points, three of his baskets on lob dunks.
For the first time this season the Spurs exceeded 30 assists in back-to-back games, following their season-high 35 in their Dec. 10 drubbing of the Brooklyn Nets with 33 against the Celtics. It’s not the “six, eight, 10 games” Popovich insists he needs to see, but it’s a start.
“I think it was the emphasis of picking up the pace a little bit more,” said guard Danny Green. “Not letting the ball stick. Catching and moving, catching and going, catching and playing for a teammate. We’ve been doing better with it, but I’m not sure we’re where we want to be.”
Popovich seemed more pleased with the Spurs’ defensive diligence against a team he respects for its efficient offense.
“This was a really good win for us because Boston executes better than most everybody in the league,” Popovich said. “They have great ball movement. They have great people movement. Brad (Stevens) does a great job with those guys, and they react really well to him. They are hard to guard. The things they do are hard to defend. I thought this was one of our better efforts on the defensive end of the court.”
Popovich’s search for consistency will continue Thursday night in Phoenix, when the Spurs play their 15th road game of the season, against the Phoenix Suns.
“I think what’s best is not to react to wins or losses at all,” he said. “It’s not about wins or losses. It’s about how a team is playing. How you’re executing defensive rotations; or what your transition defense is like; or how many assists a game a team is getting; is the ball moving?
“Those things get assessed constantly, but to use a win or a loss to get excited or be angry, or whatever, that doesn’t work. It’s got to be about how they’re playing, because you can win games and be terrible and you can lose games and have a hell of a game. You have to be able to know the difference.”