Spurs defense, bench cool off Hawks

“We played better than they played tonight, but it’s just one night in the NBA,” Spurs coach Gregg Tiago SplitterPopovich said just minutes after his reeling San Antonio Spurs team dominated the Hawks in a 105-83 win.

While it may be one night in the NBA and everything can change next game, it wasn’t as simple as saying one team was better.

Richard Jefferson gave the Spurs a much needed boost to start the game with two-three pointers. In the second quarter, Matt Bonner got started on what would be a big night with a pair of threes and a deep jumper that was announced as a three but only counted for two points.

“I had the first couple go down.It always makes things easier,”Bonner said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open, moved the ball and got good shots.”

While the Spurs lead early and managed to distance themselves from the Hawks with a 14-point lead early in the second quarter, the Hawks bounced back with a 12-2 run that left them just four points down entering halftime.

After Jeff Teague knocked down a floater to open the third quarter and narrow the margin to two points, the Spurs turned up their defensive intensity after a tongue lashing from Popovich at halftime.

“Pop got after us over the first half, so we came out after the half and got out there and did a great job,” Spurs center DeJuan Blair said. “It is a quick season and we want to get through and go and we can’t be half playing.”

After Popovich made a mass substitution after a timeout, bringing in Bonner, Danny Green, Cory Joseph and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs went on a 14-6 run in the third quarter, lead by Bonner’s nine points, all on three-pointers.

Hawks guard Joe Johnson, who averages 19.1 points per game, and has seen an offensive spike with Al Horford out, was limited all game. He scored his eighth point (10 total) late in the third quarter. Normally a 43 percent shooter from the field, Johnson was held to just 27 percent when he knocked down a jumper with 2:20 left in the third.

Johnson, whose Hawks are 9-1 when he scored 20 or more points, had Leonard and Green chasing him around all night.

“We always put him on one of the toughest guys every night, he’s doing a very good job,” Green said of Leonard. “We look very long and active. For a rookie he’s doing very well on defense.”

Once the fourth quarter came around, there was little the Hawks could do to erase their 15-point deficit, especially when Spurs big men DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter took over.

Splitter started it all with a bucket and a foul to give the Spurs an 18-point lead. Blair then had consecutive layups, followed by a pair of free throws by Splitter and four more points from Blair.

When the final horn sounded, Blair had racked up 17 points (13 in the second half), and Splitter finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and one blocked shot.

Also scoring in double figures for the Spurs were Tony Parker (15 points, seven assists), Green (10), and Bonner (17).

Aside from second half defense, the Spurs’ bench played a key role in the game, accounting for 51 of the Spurs’ 105 points, compared to the Hawks bench contribution of 27 points.

“Our bench was fantastic,” Popovich said. “A number of people came into the game and played good solid basketball both at the defensive and offensive ends.”

With the win, the Spurs are now 12-7 and 10-1 at home.

About Michael A. De Leon

Michael founded Project Spurs in 2004. He started The Spurscast, the first Spurs podcast on the Internet, in 2005. Michael has been interviewed by the BBC, SportTalk, the Sports Reporters Radio Show, MemphisSportLive, OKC Sports Wrap and ESPN radio among others. He is a credentialed member of the media for the San Antonio Spurs and Austin Toros. He is also the founder of Project Spurs' sister sites, Toros Nation and Stars Hoops.

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