Neither the San Antonio Spurs or Orlando Magic could draw comparisons to Muhammad Ali or George Foreman tonight, but with Manu Ginobili already out, and pre-game releases notifying us that Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and DeJuan Blair would be sitting out due to injuries, the Spurs got about as close as they could.
The Spurs let the young Magic stay in the game, even after building big leads before delivering the knockout punch in the fourth quarter finishing the game with a 98-84 victory and ending a two-game losing streak.
“The group that was out there did a good job of attacking. They didn’t hold the ball,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “There was a lot of good hustle out there and they got us the lead. It was good to sit a couple of guys at the end.”
The Spurs got off to a quick start, going on a 10-0 run midway through the first quarter for a 10-point advantage before Tobias Harris ended the run with a three-pointer. With Stephen Jackson struggling early in his start, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich turned to Gary Neal, who delivered with eight first quarter points in just under six minutes of playing time off the bench.
Orlando also looked to their bench for help offensively. Rookie DeQuan Jones helped lead the Magic back with 10 of his 12 points coming in the first quarter.
“That’s a part of my game to put pressure on the rim. That was part of the game plan,” Jones said. “Coach came in and said the teams that come in here and are successful and give themselves a chance are most times the aggressors.”
The Magic matched the Spurs in the second half with Maurice Harkless and former Spur Beno Udrih leading the charge, while Gary Neal continued to put points on the board for the Spurs.
Any momentum or aggression the Magic built up in the first half dissipated in the second half. While a Harkless dunk and Harris jumper brought the Magic within one point early in the third quarter, the Spurs got big efforts from Tiago Splitter, who started in place of Tim Duncan in the second half, and Danny Green to go onto a nine-point tear.
While the Magic did their beast to eat into the Spurs’ lead in the final quarter, their swings hit nothing but air, and once the Spurs hit the nine minute mark, they got off the ropes and did not look back, building up a 17 point lead twice in the quarter, with Aron Baynes, Danny Green and Cory Joseph putting on the finishing touches.
“They’re just a team that’s been there, done that over and over again. They were able to capitalize on our lack of small details,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “This is a team that you cannot sit back and let them dictate. That is the wrong approach. We tried to be the aggressor but they’re a pretty well-oiled machine.”
The Spurs were lead by Green, who scored 20 points, and Neal, who finished with 16 points and a career-high eight rebounds. Harkless lead the Magic with 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots.
Duncan, who started the game, only played 13 minutes with Popovich opting to rest him the second half with a key game against Oklahoma City tomorrow. Parker and Leonard are expected to return and join Duncan against the Thunder, but Stephen Jackson will not travel with the team while he gets an MRI after a player stepped on his ankle, which could’ve re-aggravated his injury.
With tonight’s win, the Spurs are now 56-19 on the season and hold a 1.5 game advantage over the Thunder for first place in the West.