San Antonio finally gets a chance to see all parts work together
For first time this season Spurs able to play regular starting lineup, which moved in harmony in win over Houston
HOUSTON — Kawhi Leonard darted in from the wing, lifted off and caught an air-mailed lob pass from Pau Gasol that he put in for an easy layup.
Tony Parker did his customary waterbug scooting in all different directions through the paint and delivered a perfect set-up to Gasol for a 20-foot jumper.
LaMarcus Aldridge laser-beamed a dish to the cutting Leonard so he barely had to strain to hammer home a dunk.
This is how the Spurs have played for years, decades even. The ball moving as if it hears music and practically turns the game into a symphony.
It’s how Gasol watched them with his head often on a swivel in Memphis and Los Angeles and Chicago. It’s what Aldridge saw from the other side of the court during so many of those years in Portland.
The fact that they’re all together this season may mean they’re now reading out of the same book, but not yet always from the same page less than three weeks into the season.
If that 4-0 start that began with a shocking thumping of Golden State on opening night might have raised the bar a just a little bit prematurely, then losing three straight home games surely blew the doors right off the panic mobile.
So three nights after the Rockets won in San Antonio, the Spurs turned right around for a 106-100 win Saturday night at Toyota Center that was not a tourniquet as much as ice on a bruise.
“We’re starting to build chemistry for the future,” Aldridge said. “I thought tonight was a good step in the right direction.”
Ten games into the interminable schedule, it was a noteworthy step because it was the first time that the Spurs had all of their players on the court together healthy. The first time they were able to use the starting lineup that had been penciled in on the first day of training camp.
Point guard Tony Parker had missed four games due to soreness in his knees. A strained quad had kept shooting guard Danny Green on the shelf for all but one game. The 39-year-old Manu Ginobili has been kept on such a short leash by coach Gregg Popovich that one might have thought he was a prized, show animal, complete with pedigree papers. Which, of course, he is.
“Everybody keeps working,” Popovich said. “It doesn’t matter if you won or lost. There’s many, many things teams need to improve. But we competed well. We competed really well. We played a lot of guys and they’re starting to figure each other out. That’s what we need. We have to build our culture back a little bit so people know what’s going on out there on the court.”
Ginobili was asked what that meant and shrugged.
“Ask him,” Ginobili said. “Am I a decoder?”
It simply means that these things take time, no matter what the hungry maw of Twitter demands.
Perhaps what the Spurs have learned to date is that Leonard going off for 30 or more points a game — which he has already done four times — is only significant if the goal is to get him more mentions the Most Valuable Player race. The truth is the Spurs can be just as, if not more, effective when he’s scoring 17 and 20 against the Pistons and Rockets in the little weekend back-to-back set that put things right.
Against a Rockets team that bombed away with 47 3-point shots and turned a potential 16-point rout into a 102-98 tester with 1:49 left to play, the Spurs survived because they spread the ball and burden around.
In fact, it was the kind of final boxscore that Popovich would probably pay to have slipped under his door every night from now through next June. It was the first time this season that the Spurs had five double-figure scorers, ranging from Leonard’s 20 to Ginobili’s 12. They fit perfectly and worked together like the fingers inside a custom-sewn glove.
It had something to do, for sure, with Parker playing his second straight game as he and the offense continue their recovery.
“He gets us organized,” Popovich said. “He hasn’t been with us much so far this season. The last stretch, he played 10 minutes in a row. It’s just a stability factor on the perimeter. That was a big help. Manu had a big game for us tonight. Adding those two to the mix is important, because of corporate knowledge.”
The kind of knowledge that understands October and November are not for rushing.
“We didn’t care that much about that 4-0,” Ginobili said. “Of course, it hurts to lose three out of (the first) four at home. We don’t like it. But we can’t be that dramatic yet. We were not great after 4-0. We were not that terrible now. We just got to keep building…Got to feel like after every game we became a little better, we make a couple steps forward.”
It’s a thick book with plenty of pages to read.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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