For the 19th consecutive season, the Spurs clinched a playoff berth on Wednesday night by scoring a 97-81 victory over the Detroit Pistons at AT&T Center, but the closest thing to a post-game celebration was a half-smile from Andre Miller, a Spur for all of three days.
With Kawhi Leonard (27 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (23 points and 10 rebounds) taking turns dominating at the offensive end, the Spurs turned a close game into another romp by locking down their defense in the second half and limiting Detroit to just 30 points in the final two quarters. The Pistons became the 26th team this season held under 90 points by the NBA’s No. 1 defensive unit.
The victory extended the club’s latest win streak to six games and the Spurs remained perfect on their home court, getting their 29th win without a loss. Their 51 wins in 60 games also is a franchise record.
None of these things matter to a team focused only on improving, game to game, with a lone goal: Winning a sixth NBA title.
Now roughly 75% of the way through his first season in silver and black, Aldridge already understands. Milestones and records just don’t matter.
“It’s not about that,” Aldridge said. “It’s my first year here, but even for me it’s not about that. We have a bigger picture in mind. Guys focus on that.”
Forgive Miller for showing a modicum of excitement. On Sunday, he departed a Minnesota Timberwolves team that is headed to the NBA’s draft lottery for a 12th straight season. On Wednesday, he logged nearly eight minutes for a team that has the second-best record in the NBA and is considered the strongest challenger to the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
“I’m definitely excited,” Miller said. “I’m going to enjoy it, take one day at a time and keep it moving.”
Miller has plenty of playoff experience — 63 games for five teams in 10 seasons – but has been past the first round only once. He will turn 40 this month and understands that in what may be his final NBA season he has his best chance to make a deep playoff run, perhaps to the NBA Finals.
So Miller’s half-smile was acceptable, even with veterans who shrug at the so-called significance of every milestone they reach, including yet another clinching of yet another playoff berth.
“I don’t even think about that,” said point guard Tony Parker, a Spur since 2001 and a member of four of the team’s five NBA championship teams. “I don’t take it for granted, but I don’t even think about that.”
Everyone on the Spurs roster smiled when Manu Ginobili, in natty business attire, took a seat on the team bench. The 38-year-old veteran of 13 previous Spurs seasons had been missing since Feb. 3, when he suffered a testicular injury that required surgery and put his basketball future in jeopardy. Cleared to begin physical activity late last week, Ginobili held a short press conference before tipoff and revealed that he expects to return to game action next week.
Popovich was happy just seeing him on the bench, even in street clothes.
“That’s the first step,” Popovich said, “being able to see him, at least. “That’s better than not seeing him. He excites everybody and he’s a great leader. Just having him there is important for us.”
Just a few days ago Popovich had seemed pessimistic about Ginobili’s progress, so he admitted to a small degree of surprise that he has been able to do some basketball workouts over the last few days and believes he will be cleared to play next week.
“I’m not stunned like a catfish getting hit on the head, or anything like that,” he said. “I am surprised.”
And at that, the Spurs coach flashed a full smile.
Top Image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.