Posted on April 8, 2018, by Travis Pulver
It has been a challenging season for the San Antonio Spurs. After making it to the Conference Finals last season where they got swept by the eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors, they looked forward to a rematch this season. Yes, the Warriors swept the Spurs. But the Spurs were also without their best player, Kawhi Leonard, for most of the series.
Much like they’ve been forced to do this season.
Usually, the Spurs are one of the teams that can roll with the punches and still come out on top. But this season has been more challenging. The 50-plus wins streak is done; the Los Angeles Clippers put an end to it last week. The playoff streak is still alive and well, but it is hanging on by a very thin thread.
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A 116-105 win over the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night the thread got a lot stronger. However, with the logjam that is the bottom five seeds in the Western Conference, they are far from safe (for now). But how the win came to be should give fans hope.
Neither team was able to get more than a six-point lead throughout the game. But midway through the fourth, Manu Ginobili went on an eight-point run that put San Antonio up 101-89 with 6:03 left to play. It was plenty of time for Portland to make a run, but the Trail Blazers could only get within eight.
Both coaches were complimented Ginobili after the game (ESPN):
“Ginobili did what Ginobili does,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “He made clutch shots.”
“It was a pretty exciting time,” Popovich said. “Manu’s done that over the years. It was great.”
LaMarcus Aldridge led the way for the Spurs with 28 points, eight rebounds, and four steals. Dejounte Murray added 17 points, and Patty Mills chipped in 13. Ginobili led a productive bench with 17 points followed by Rudy Gay with 16.
While Ginobili’s run secured the win, it was made possible by the Spurs defense in the second half. After going into the break down eight points, 64-56, they held the Trail Blazers to just 49 points in the third and fourth quarters.
The defense opened the window and Ginobili’s run pushed the team through it.
The win would have been enough for the Spurs to clinch a playoff spot. But since the Denver Nuggets took down the Los Angeles Clippers earlier in the day, they will have to beat the Sacramento Kings in their home finale Monday to lock up a spot.
But they’ll also lock one up if Memphis can beat Minnesota Monday or if Denver loses to Portland. However, if they are going to do anything more than just make the playoffs, the Spurs know they need to be better than they have been.
“It’s been shown in the last month that when we don’t have the aggression and the determination, we’re not winning,” Ginobili said after the game (ESPN). “Years before, we had enough talent and corporate knowledge to be able to bounce back. Even if we struggled for 40 minutes, we could execute and figure it out because of the way we knew each other. Now, it’s not the same.”
Whether the return of Kawhi Leonard could be enough remains to be seen. There had been talk that he was going to return in mid-to-late March but that obviously didn’t happen. The playoffs are still a possibility but is the team going to risk him getting injured again to make their slim shot at a championship better?
Or are they more likely to sit him for whatever remains of this season, give him the offseason to get completely healthy, and then get back to business next season?