The silver and black are looking sharp. They are on top of their game through nine contests so far this year. The Spurs have now won seven straight and have the second best record in the NBA, second only to the 8-0 Hornets, who are the only team to beat them.
The weekend started out with a 116-93 romp of the Philadelphia 76ers at the AT&T Center on Saturday. Tim Duncan played a meager 24 minutes and didn’t produce like he usually does. He scored just 7 points, had 6 rebounds, and dished out 5 assists. It didn’t matter. The Spurs got help from everyone else. DeJuan Blair had 13 points and 12 rebounds in just 24 minutes to aid down low.
The game was over by the start of the third quarter as the Spurs outscored the Sixers 35-12. Led by George Hill’s 16 points, the bench came in and did their job and were able to close the game as it was already out of reach. And of course there’s the usual suspects who played well in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who contributed 24 and 18 points respectively. But the Spurs were expected to win that game.
The second game of the back-to-back was against the Oklahoma City Thunder at their place. Duncan again played an underwhelming game, but once again they didn’t need him. He played 23 minutes, scoring just 6 points this time with 4 rebounds. The Spurs won 117-104 behind the sharpshooting of a certain “Red Rocket.”
Bonner, in just his second game back from an injury sustained on opening night, went 7-for-7 from three, scoring 21 points. It was the best shooting display for the Spurs since Steve Smith went 8-for-8 in 2001.
The Spurs actually shot better from long range (55%) than overall field goal percentage (41%). The sharpshooting is without a doubt what saved the Spurs in this game, as they gave up 66 points in the first half. However, they did hold the wunderkind Kevin Durant to 23 points on 10-of-23 shooting.
Once again Blair picked up the slack on the boards, nabbing 11 of them to go with 9 points and a couple of steals. Parker posted another 24-point night, Ginobili hit 11-11 free throws for 21 points, and Richard Jefferson scored 18.
Two days, two games, two wins, and a seven game winning streak to start the season. So what is the reason for this early success and will it continue?
Spurs fans have constantly bashed Bonner. He’s way too inconsistent, he’s one-dimensional, he’s a liability on the defensive end… But Bonner proved his usefulness last night. He is out on the court to spread the floor. Let’s not forget that he has led this team in three-point shooting in the past. Every player has a role and Bonner knows his and plays within it.
Duncan has now scored in single digits three straight games. All wins. It’s clear that Duncan is no longer the player he once was, but the Spurs don’t need him to be. He has proved he can still produce consistently in the allotted minutes Gregg Popovich gives him. Parker, Ginobili, and now Jefferson are there to share the scoring load when Duncan has an off night or when he is seeing increased defensive pressure.
No other player has been more influential to the success of this team than Richard Jefferson. He has clearly reverted back to his playing days with Nets. He is attacking, looking for his shot, and has found a nice Bruce Bowen-esque stroke from the corner. If he continues to play at an elevated level, he could be mentioned in talks for the most improved player, even at 30 years of age.
What a luxury it is to know that the big three are no longer alone. Jefferson has stepped in and filled a huge void. Blair, although the expected sophomore leap has been lacking so far judging from his stellar preseason, he is still producing at a steady rate. And let’s not neglect the added firepower on the bench. Gary Neal has had a number of excellent shooting nights, not to mention his good rebounding as well. George Hill has been a little less than impressive, but remains solid. And once James Anderson gets back from injury and Tiago Splitter gets more and more reps with the team, they become that much deeper. Their bench can play with many starting fives in the league.
The Spurs are coming out of the gate with guns blazing. Every year they are written off, yet every year they prove another group of naysayers wrong. The chips are falling nicely yet again for this rejuvenated club. They’ve nowhere to go but up. And with the Lakers’ recent stumbles showing some chinks in the armor, I’m not so sure the gap between one and two in the West is so big now. As if it ever was…