Coming into Monday’s game between the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, word had come out before tip-off that not only would Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili once again miss another game due to injuries, but Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson would join them on the sidelines. Parker with a knee related injury and Jackson for personal reasons.
With no “Big 3”, how were the Spurs supposed to compete with the Eastern conference’s fourth seed, the Bulls? The answer after 48-minutes: Kawhi Leonard and a strong supporting cast.
"Our top three guys were out,” said Leonard after the game in which he lead the charge with 26 points, “so I just wanted to step it up out there."
Whether it was Nando De Colo’s tricky passing, Boris Diaw’s unique way of scoring, Tiago Splitter making an impact in the paint, Danny Green hitting the long ball, or Gary Neal’s shooting from off the bench, the Spurs were a handful for the Bulls as the team defeated Chicago on the second night of a back-to-back 103-89.
Leonard was the rising star on Monday, and it wasn’t just for his defense that he’s usually known for, but it was more for his variety of skills on the offensive end. Here are some key points in the Spurs’ 41st victory of the season.
Leonard took over
With no big three and the only other player on the roster who can get their own shot being Neal, Leonard was impressive on the night as he not only held East All-Star Luol Deng to 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting, but Leonard posted 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting, and was the man for the Spurs in the fourth quarter where he scored eight points to create separation from the Bulls on 4-of-5 shooting. On Monday, Leonard was scoring in all sorts of ways. He was dribbling to the right side and would hit a mid-range jumper on numerous occasions. He even took his defender in the post and was efficient in the paint. One of the most memorable plays of Monday was Leonard taking a loose ball all the way down the court at full speed, slicing through three Bulls defenders, and finishing the play with a slam dunk. If you watch Leonard’s highlights in the fourth quarter, you’ll notice Duncan in his jacket getting excited on the bench each time Leonard scored.
That Green guy
Green was impressive once again with 18 points, most notably his 3-of-5 three pointers, but Green was also making plays with his passing ability and one of his biggest plays in the fourth quarter was a running jumper that bounced in off of the glass.
The guard play
Having to make up for what Parker brings to the team night in-and-out was no easy task for De Colo and Neal. However, the two guards were very efficient in their own ways as Neal was instrumental in the third quarter on his way to 16 points, mainly all off jumpers. Early in the fourth, when the Spurs’ jumpers weren’t falling, it was De Colo who came in to pick up the pace for the team and get the ball moving. De Colo finished the game with nine points, seven assists, and three steals. De Colo’s highlight was in the fourth quarter as he drove into the paint and dished a no-look pass to Splitter for a layup in a crucial moment of the game.
The international frontcourt
Though the Spurs were outrebounded 49-26 on the night, Splitter and Diaw helped in disrupting Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Boozer was held to 14 points on 15 attempted shots, while Noah only scored seven points. Meanwhile Diaw (10 points) scored with his own way of making layups, while also hitting another non-hesitation 3-pointer. Splitter provided most of his damage in the fourth quarter where he scored 10 of his 16 points. De Colo continued to find Splitter in the fourth quarter and the result was usually foul shots for Splitter who made all six of his free throws in the game.
Controlling the ball, limiting turnovers
One of the reasons why the Spurs were able to win the game despite giving up so many rebounds was their passing ability and care of the ball. The Spurs assisted on 21of their 39 made field goals while just turning the ball over eight times the entire night. Considering this was just the second time this unit without the Big 3 got significant playing time together, they handled the ball better than the starters normally do.
Solid defense without Duncan
With Duncan being out, the Spurs once again had a solid game defensively. They held the Bulls twice to below 20 points in the second and fourth quarters, and forced the Bulls to turn the ball over 19 times for 29 San Antonio points. The Spurs also limited the Bulls to making 2-of-12 three pointers and scoring less than 90 points in the entire game.
Ohio up next
The Spurs will have Tuesday off before playing their last game before the All-Star Break on Wednesday in Cleveland against the Cavaliers (16-36). The Cavaliers have lost their last two games and are 9-15 at home.
Where they stand
Here is where the Spurs stand in some notable categories.
Road Record: 19-10
Rodeo Road Trip: 3-1
Wins by 10 or more points: 23-4
Wins vs. +.500 teams: 19-9
Vs. the Eastern Conference: 19-4
For all the Bruce Bown comparisons that Kawhi Leonard get's, they are really unfair to his overall potential. He is a guy you can run plays for offensively. I think Leonards possible ceiling is being the 2nd best player on a championship team.
We get out rebounded by a butt load and win by double digits, nice. I like this win, gives our bench some much needed confidence. I would have liked to see Baynes in there at some point to give us SOME rebounds. I hope he gets some playing time against Cleveland. Cleveland doesn't have a threatening front court at all, so hopefully he'll get some minutes. Some of the bright spots of this game: - Kawhi is seriously Bowen 2.0 and then some. He shut down Deng while managing to score 26 points. BEAST - There is still some good in Neal. I've been doubting him the past couple of games and once again, he comes up big and shoots well. Now if he can do it consistently I'll be that much more happy. - Okay, Nando's nickname, "Mini Manu," is starting to grow on me. Seriously, at times I thought Manu was actually on the court playing. The way Nando grabbed balls out of the hands of the opposing player for a steal, or making no look passes, it seems he is coming along quickly. Now if only he can dunk on people like young Manu could, then they might as well put, "Mini Manu," on the back of his jersey.