Only Gregg Popovich. Seriously, what other NBA coach would rest his two best players as his team is riding an 11-game winning streak? Other than the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, who could get away with it? Now that Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan are gone? Every other coach out there is fighting and scratching for every single win -- worried that another bad loss could mean his job. And they'd sure as heck be trying to an extend the longest winning streak of any NBA team this season. The opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers, were at the end of a brutal stretch of games, six in eight nights. Seems like a game to win, right? Popovich? "Let's see what Eric Dawson can do."
This isn't going to be much of a recap folks. More of a rant. Portland scored 22 straight midway through the first quarter to break it open and the Trail Blazers won by 40. That's it ... there's your recap. But of course, you'd expect them to win by 40 against the Austin Toros.
The Spurs starting lineup consisted of DeJuan Blair (OK, he's a starter), Richard Jefferson (check), Danny Green (spent most of last season in the D-League), Kawhi Leonard (rookie) and Cory Joseph (rookie, spent four games in the D-League). Wait a minute you say, where are the Spurs we recognize, the famous ones, the ones people have heard of? Well, Manu Ginobili has a strained oblique muscle and is out for two weeks (this just four games after returning from a broken hand that kept him out for 22 games). Tiago Splitter, the first big off the bench, is also out for two weeks after straining a calf muscle.
Which means the fans at the Rose Garden got to see Jefferson trying to defend LaMarcus Aldridge (he couldn't; Aldridge scored 21 points in 27 minutes) and a bunch of second stringers try to play with the Blazers (they couldn't). What's interesting is that the way the Blazers shot threes (15 for 28, tying a season high in makes), it seems unlikely that any Spurs lineup could have beaten them. So again we see that Gregg Popovich is a genius.
Among the questions one might wonder from a game like this:
- Jefferson's 31 years old and Parker's 29. Do you suppose RJ said to Pop, "Hey man, what's the deal? Why don't I get the night off? I'm old, I like to rest, too. Are you saying that I'm not as important to the team's championship aspirations in the long run? Oh, that is what you're saying. Never mind. Please don't give my starting job to Kawhi."
- This was San Antonio's only appearance in Portland this season. What about the children of Portland who are huge Tony Parker fans? Little hipster francophiles, looking forward all year to their one chance to see their hero play? What about the children? Won't someone please think of the children?
- With the All-Star break just one game away, couldn't Pop have asked his stars to play one more game? "Let's see, Timmy gets his first midyear week off in a decade three days from now ... he definitely needs to rest up for that."
- What about San Antonio's 11 straight victims on their recent rampage? Parker dropped 42 on the Thunder. You don't think Scott Brooks is saying, "Why couldn't he have rested against us?"
On the plus side, multiple Spurs players established career highs in this game; career highs that like Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, will probably never be broken. Leonard (43 minutes, 24 points), Joseph (37 minutes, 13 points) and Eric Dawson (32 minutes, 9 points) all established high marks in minutes and points, while James Anderson established a career-high with 35 minutes. For Dawson, a 27-year-old rookie just signed from the D-League for a 10-day contract, the odds are pretty good that he won't play 32 minutes combined in the rest of his NBA career.
Of actual interest from a basketball standpoint, coach Nate McMillan tweaked the Portland lineup, inserting Jamal Crawford at the point guard and benching Raymond Felton. This comes a week after Nicolas Batum replaced Wes Matthews as the starter at shooting guard, so McMillan has completely turned over his starting backcourt in eight days. Crawford, one of the NBA's top sixth men over the last few years and the 2010 winner of the Sixth Man award, responded with 20 points and eight assists, making his first five shots, all three-pointers. So the change went great tonight, but we'll have to wait and see how the team plays against NBA competition.
With the win, the Blazers move to 18-16. The loss drops the Spurs to 23-10.