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San Antonio Spurs Using Familiar Formula to Survive Turbulent Stretch

Published by Bleacher Report on Mon, 29 Dec 2014

SAN ANTONIOEven when the San Antonio Spurs aren't quite themselves, some things just refuse to change.While shooting guard Danny Green led the reigning champions with 24 points and five steals in Sunday night's much-needed 110-106 home win against the Houston Rockets (marking his fourth game with at least 20 points this month), he got help from some old friends37- and 38-year-old friends, in fact.Together, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan totaled 31 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and two blocks. They weren't dominant performances, but they were enough to temporarily stop San Antonio's bleeding against a Rockets team that's only lost four games in December while making continued strides with the recent additions of Corey Brewer and Josh Smith.Now 7-9 this month, the Spurs won't celebrate this one too much. Perhaps, however, they can build upon it."This is a huge win for us, especially in the middle of this thing," Duncan said after the game, referring to the club's December difficulties. "We aren't playing very well. We're up and down with who's in and who's out. We're playing a lot of good teams down this stretch, so it is a huge win for us."We got some tough games ahead, and we are going to continue that and get some confidence down. We didn't play well down the stretch. We made a whole lot of mistakes again ... things we need to clean up sooner rather than later. We got a win here, and hopefully that kind of puts us in the right direction and we can go from there."Injuries and scheduling have pushed this team into uncharacteristically dangerous territory, narrowly ahead of the eighth-seeded Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference with little hope of orchestrating an imminent turnaround. Thanks to Houston's 25 turnovers and Patty Mills' first game since offseason shoulder surgery, the Spurs' luck changed ever so slightly for one evening.Unfortunately, that hardly qualifies as a trend.Six-time All-Star Tony Parker missed his 10th game of the month on Sunday and will likely take his time before permanently returning from an injured hamstring. Reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has been sidelined for six games by a torn ligament in his right hand, and there's still no timetable for his return.Facing something of an early survival mode, the tried-and-true Duncan-Ginobili duo has little interest in being voted off any islandsleast of all the playoff island San Antonio has virtually colonized since the pair's arrival.In December, Duncan is averaging 19.0 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.4 blocks per contest through 11 appearances. The evenmorevintage contribution has been his 35.3 minutes per game, a marked jump from the 29-30 minute range he averaged a season ago and in November.And though his increased scoring load may be the most obvious improvement, it's his defensive presence that San Antonio can't live without at the moment. As long as Leonard's out of service, Duncan's ability to protect the rim becomes all the more essential. According to NBA.com, the Spurs have only allowed opponents 94.4 points per 100 possessions when Leonard is on the floor this seasonand an unbelievable 105.9 points per 100 possessions when he isn't."He's our best perimeter defender, obviously," head coach Gregg Popovich said prior to Sunday's game when asked about Leonard's defensive value. "He guards a variety of different kinds of playerspoint guards, 3-men, 2-menso he gives us some good versatility defensively. "That position is really important to rebound and help the bigs, and we really miss him there. He makes steals and energizes; we score a little bit off of his defense. So he's a huge factor for us defensively."Fortunately, Duncan has been a pretty significant factor, as well. Though this team's defense hasn't been particularly elite this month, it would be in even more trouble without him anchoring the painted area. Per NBA.com, San Antonio is limiting opponents to 98.4 points per 100 possessions with Duncan in the lineup and 103.5 points without him.Popovich may cringe at the prospect of giving him extended playing time, but he hasn't had much choice of late.Similarly, Ginobili has played four more minutes per game than he did a month ago, even lasting 41 minutesin a classic 117-116 triple-overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzliesthe first time he'd lasted that long in a regular-season game since 2010. In turn, the 12-year veteran has produced in kind.Through his 11 appearances this month, Manu's averaging 14.8 points, 6.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds per contest. And after making just 31.8 percent of his three-point attempts in November, he's made 39.7 percent of them in December.Whereas Duncan's elevated role might be traced to San Antonio's defensive demands, it's Ginobili's playmaking that's made him especiallyindispensableof late. He only tallied 4.1 assists per contest in November, but he instantly becomes the Spurs' most proven passer without Parker around. While Cory Joseph has been consistently solid in Parker's stead, few create for others like Ginobili.It remains to be seen just how much longer the organization's elder statesmen can keep this up. The unstated hope is probably that they won't have to, that Parker and Leonard will enjoy speedy recoveries and spearhead a prompt turnaround. The reality, of course, may not be so kind.And that's where things could get tricky. Inflating Duncan and/or Ginobili's minutes for a month or two probably isn't the end of the world, but nor is it consistent with the philosophy to which Popovich has clung so consistently in recent years. He isn't one to mortgage San Antonio's playoff fate in a bid for short-term success, but the now 19-13 club may need all hands on deck just to make those playoffs.Fortunately, this isn't the first time the franchise has experienced a little adversity. And itcertainly isn't the first time Duncan and Ginobili have had a little something to do with fighting through it.
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