AT&T CENTER – With Kawhi Leonard returning to the lineup and the team almost at full strength minus Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Detroit Pistons 120-110 on Wednesday, in the team’s return to the AT&T Center, following their 9-game annual Rodeo Road Trip.
With a season high tying 34 assists on 44 made baskets, the Spurs pulled away from the Pistons in the second half, outscoring Detroit 63-57, and building a 15-point lead, as eight players scored in double-figures. Marco Belinelli led the group with 20 points on 4-of-4 shooting from three, while Manu Ginobili added 16 points, nine assists, and three steals. Leonard, in his first game since returning from injury, tallied 15 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two blocks in 29 minutes.
Here’s an analysis of some key components from the Spurs’ 41st victory of the season.
34 assists in detail
Outside of missing Parker, the Spurs’ team is almost back at full strength. Even without Parker, the team was a machine assisting on 77% of their made baskets. “Yeah, that was impressive,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich of the 34 assists. “You get 34 assists, that’s really incredible actually.” After a sluggish first half in which the team totaled 13 turnovers in the first half and 14 assists on 20 made baskets, the Spurs began to function as a unit with 20 assists on 24 made baskets in the second half. In the fourth quarter alone, the team assisted on 10 of their 12 made field goals. The Spurs also collected 11 secondary assists on the night.
“Against the Spurs, you do not guard against two or three players, you guard a system of players,” said Pistons head coach John Loyer after the game. “When you have that type of continuity with returning players and being without a great point guard in Tony Parker, they just plug guys in and find a way.”
As Leonard returns, so do normal roles
“I thought he did better than I would have thought really after all that time (off),” said Popovich of Leonard’s game after Leonard had missed 14 consecutive games with a hand injury. “He has long arms, so he can get balls that usually go to the other team,” said Ginobili of Leonard after the game. “That’s usually huge. We needed him back. He also gives us confidence knowing that we have another big body to guard big threes and make some big shots.”
“Our team got the win tonight, and I got to play,” said Leonard after the game. “I just tried to enjoy it because sitting on the bench isn’t fun.”
Leonard started out early on by dunking an alley-oop from Cory Joseph (10 points) in transition. The lineup where he excelled offensively in the second half was when he was able to play with Ginobili and Belinelli in the backcourt. In scoring 15 points, Leonard only attempted nine shots, while he also made one of his two 3-pointers. Leonard touched the ball 40 times, delivered 27 passes, collected four assists, and two secondary assists. His playmaking was evident as he would quickly dribble into the paint, draw in the defense, and then pitch out to a teammate for the basket or another pass for a secondary assist. Defensively, with having Leonard back, Popovich was able to put Leonard on Will Bynum in the fourth quarter, as Bynum scored 18 points off the bench, but as the Spurs began to build a lead, Leonard kept Bynum from continuing to match the team in scoring.
Foreign Legion back at full strength
With the Spurs’ bench finally back at full strength and at their comfortable positions, the ‘Foreign Legion’ combined for 61 points, 19 assists, and they were responsible for seven of the 11 secondary assists. With Ginobili and Belinelli combing for 36 points, Boris Diaw added 12 points, and Patty Mills added 11 points. What worked even more was Popovich being able to plug in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter in minutes with that group, as each player scored 13 points apiece. Splitter in particular touched the ball the second most on the team (57 times), passed 41 times and collected six assists. Ginobili ran the offense the majority of the night with 61 touches, while delivering nine assists and two secondary assists.
As the team has to wait possibly just two more games before getting Parker back, the bench unit will already be ahead of the curve in building off the chemistry they had created before the injury bug in January and February.
Parker expected back no later than Sunday
Before the game, Popovich said he expects Parker to return at the latest Sunday, when the Spurs host the Dallas Mavericks. The Spurs may have to play exactly one more game Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats before having their first full squad back on Sunday. Popovich also added that he wants to have the team back at full strength to begin building consistent roles and lineups as the playoffs are quickly approaching.
Where San Antonio Stands
· Regular Season: 41-16 (2nd in the Western Conference)
· Home Record: 19-8
· Vs. Opponents with -.500 records: 25-3
· Vs. The Eastern Conference: 17-6
· The Spurs won their 21st game by 10 or more points.
(All Stats and Player Tracking data via NBA.com)