In Gary Neal’s second return to the AT&T Center on Friday, his new team, the Charlotte Bobcats and their new defensive minded reputation put forth a gritty effort against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, as it took execution in the fourth quarter, for the Spurs to move past the Bobcats 92-82. Led by Duncan’s 17 points, 16 rebounds, and six assists, the Spurs were able to rebound from a 14-point deficit, as six players finished scoring in double-digits, and tightened up on their turnovers in the second half.
Here’s an analysis of some key components of the Spurs’ 42nd victory of the season, a win that cemented yet another winning season for the franchise.
Jefferson thrived in paint, but Duncan dominated overall
Al Jefferson finished as the Bobcats leading scorer with 20 points and seven rebounds. Though Jefferson shot 10-of-21 overall, he was efficient in the paint shooting 9-of-11, where he scored 18 of his 20 points. Jefferson, 29, is expected to be a dominant force each night in the paint as he’s the Bobcats’ primary offensive weapon. For Duncan, 37, he produced yet another performance that impacted all areas of the game, not just in the scoring department. Apart from scoring his 17 points on 50% shooting, in the process of grabbing his 16th rebound, Duncan made more history (via the Spurs’ PR department):
With his 12th rebound in tonight’s game, Tim Duncan surpassed Hakeem Olajuwon for 12th on the all-time rebounds list. Duncan finished the night with 17 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists. He is one of only five players in NBA history to be ranked in the Top 20 on the all-time scoring, rebounding and blocks lists (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon).
Another important aspect of Duncan’s game was his passing. He finished with six assists and one secondary assist in the win. None of his assists were more crucial than the one late in the fourth quarter, with the Spurs barely holding onto a two-point lead, he drew a double-team, and kicked out to Marco Belinelli for a made 3-pointer that helped the Spurs’ lead rise five points late in the game. Duncan has so much more of a part in the Spurs’ offense compared to Jefferson’s place in the Bobcats offense. For example, while Duncan touched the ball the most on the team (72 times), he delivered 52 passes, while only taking 12 shots. Duncan receives the ball at the top of the key, while grabbing rebounds and passing for transition opportunities, and he’ll still go down into the post from time-to-time. Jefferson meanwhile received just 53 touches, most in the post, passed 29 times, and shot 21 times.
The past faces the present (Neal vs. Belinelli)
Early in the fourth quarter, a semi one-on-one duel began to take shape two minutes into the quarter as Neal had scored three points for the Bobcats, and Belinelli had scored six points for the Spurs. The matchup wouldn’t last too much longer before Neal went to the bench for a breather, but the fourth quarter was a clear example of why the Spurs chose to offer Belinelli a new contract this summer, instead of being more aggressive in trying to re-sign Neal. Belinelli finished the fourth quarter with nine points, but outside of his scoring, he was running the point guard for stretches and executing in the pick-and-roll.
“I just like to be a better player,” said Belinelli after the game of handling the ball in the fourth. “I don’t want to be just the shooter, you know. I just like to be better in every kind of situation. I moved the ball well. I tried to score, tried to be aggressive. I tried to move the ball for my teammates.”
Neal would finish the fourth with five points and 15 points overall, but it was clear Belinelli had more of an impact on all aspects of the game, not just the scoring department. Belinelli finished the game with 14 points on 60% shooting, four assists, and one secondary assist. He touched the ball the third most times on the team (54), but delivered 41 passes and only took 10 shots in 31 minutes. Neal ended up shooting 46% from the floor, piled up one assist, and two secondary assists. Neal touched the ball 41 times (6th on the team), delivered 24 passes, and took 13 shots in 23 minutes.
Take a look at Belinelli’s shot chart (left) and Neal’s shot chart (right) on the night.
Spurs find the points despite gritty Bobcats defense
The Bobcats came into the match with the 5th best Defensive Rating in their last 10 games. However, even though the Spurs didn’t score 100 points on the night, they were still able to get scoring contributions from some of their key players. As noted above, Duncan and Belinelli each scored in double-figures. Manu Ginobili scored 15 points on the night, including four in the fourth quarter, and added five assists, and three secondary assists in 26 minutes. Patty Mills also came off the bench with 14 points and six rebounds, while in his second game back from injury, Kawhi Leonard scored 12 points and grabbed eight boards. Danny Green provided 10 points, including shooting 50% from beyond the arc.
Wrapping up February
Despite not having a full squad together through the entire month of February, the Spurs finished the month 9-3 overall, going 6-3 on the Rodeo Road Trip and 3-0 at home. The team is expected to finally have their first full lineup on Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks, as Tony Parker is expected to return from his rest and healing period. Even when shuffling players in and out of lineups like Shannon Brown (two 10-day contracts) and Nando De Colo (traded on trade deadline), the Spurs still managed to have the 12th ranked Offensive Rating, scoring 104.7 points per 100 possessions, and the 9th ranked defensive rating, holding teams to 101.9 points per 100 possessions in February.
Here were the best records in February
1.) Miami Heat 9-1, 2.) Houston Rockets 8-2, 3.) Spurs, Mavericks, Indiana Pacers 9-3 each, 6.) Oklahoma City Thunder 9-4
Here was the Spurs’ temporary "Big 3" in the month of February
Tim Duncan – 18.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 52% shooting, 1.8 blocks, 31 minutes per game
Patty Mills – 16.3 points, 49% shooting, 34% three point shooting, 23 minutes per game
Marco Belinelli – 15.2 points, 51% shooting, 46% three point shooting, 30 minutes per game
The biggest development the Spurs could take from the injury-ravaged month is the developing progress of both Mills and Belinelli. As Parker, Ginobili, and Leonard were out for a majority of the games in February, Mills was granted the chance to lead the offense, and he excelled, particularly in various fourth quarters. Belinelli, for merely being on the team through 58 games, has learned to produce while taking on the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward role, while maintaining his efficient shooting.
Where San Antonio Stands
· Regular Season: 42-16 (2nd in the Western Conference)
· Home Record: 20-8
· Vs. Opponents with -.500 records: 26-3
· Vs. The Eastern Conference: 18-6
· The Spurs won their 22nd game by 10 or more points.
(All Stats and Player Tracking data via NBA.com)