Happy Thanksgiving to all unless you’re a Spurs fan or Kawhi Leonard specifically. In Leonard’s case, I hope he eats so much turkey today that it renders him retroactively immobile so he’s unable to knock down the three-point dagger that put the Mavericks away last night. I can’t find it in me to wish him any poor future performances, as he’s just too good and it would be a shame if the NBA missed out on even a minute of it.
Look, I want to be mad at the Spurs, and I was choking down my bitterness pretty hard when the final seconds ticked away with Dallas just barely on the losing side of the ledger, but the fact is they’re just a good team. Coming into San Antonio sans Chandler Parsons didn’t bode well to begin with, and even a mostly off-night from the Spurs wasn’t enough for the Mavs to steal a win. I didn’t want to allow myself to hope for a victory last night, but because the team stayed so close throughout, I began to start thinking about the possibility. It was a fatal mistake, as losses in the face of hope sting with the ferocity of a punch to the gut.
Quick, name three San Antonio Spurs! You could ask any casual basketball fan that question at any point in the last 15 years and the answer would be the same as it is today: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Duncan, nicknamed The Big Fundamental, has never been flashy, even in his prime. A former psychology major at Wake Forest, Duncan has become one of the best big men to ever play in the NBA, but no one can ever remember the manner he’s done it in, because they’ve all fallen asleep the instant he touches the ball. Ginobili was once a high-flying acrobat with Tony Danza hair, but now he’s a significantly tamer, balder version of his former self. As for Parker, well, his best days are behind him too.
Fans who disapprove of the Spurs understated, boring brand of basketball point to that aging trio as an undeniable reason why San Antonio is impossible to root for, and Gregg Popovich’s presence along the sidelines all these years only adds to the annoyance. Familiarity breeds contempt, and so does continued success, which the Spurs have had more than their share of.
Leonard is different, though. It feels like he’s been on the Spurs forever, but he’s still just 24, and at this point it’s obvious he’s the best player on the team and the future of the storied franchise. Leonard does absolutely everything on the floor, from playing shutdown defense to slamming down monster dunks to draining threes, and he was as advertised last night, particularly on that three-pointer with 15 seconds to play that put his team up 87-83. That shot sent shock waves that reverberated all the way up to the north part of the state, and in my case, all the way into southern Missouri.
As both teams shot roughly 41 percent from the field, it wasn’t an especially pretty night offensively, and that’s the only reason Dallas stuck around as long as they did. Dirk Nowitzki was solid in his 5-for-8 showing, and he also grabbed 14 rebounds to net his second consecutive double-double, but he didn’t shoot the ball nearly enough to make the impact he could have. Wes Matthews led all Mavericks with 15 points on 6-for-16 from the field, but that was all about volume over efficiency. Deron Williams dished out 9 assists but couldn’t buy a basket the majority of the game. With no Parsons in the in lineup and all the key players either struggling or not getting many chances, it isn’t hard to see why the offense failed to click last night.
As for Zaza Pachulia, he chose to repay me for the post I wrote about his homeland a few days ago by getting into early foul trouble and barely factoring into the box score at all. On the plus side, that meant more playing time for JaVale McGee, who impressed again in his second appearance of the season. This time the 7-footer logged just under 16 minutes, scoring 9 points and pulling down 6 rebounds. Just as encouraging was that nasty plus-minus business of last time not being a factor, as he finished the game at +6. That number was bested only by Justin Anderson, who I truly wish would get more playing time. Dallas was a much better defensive team with McGee on the floor last night, surrendering just 87.7 points per 100 possessions.
It’s not all good when it comes to McGee. With 5:16 to play in the second quarter, he got the ball near the right wing and had a chance to hit a cutting Matthews for an easy basket, but instead he hurled the ball out of bounds at about 700 miles per hour. A few minutes later, Williams aggressively brought the ball across the court and passed to McGee, who was standing along the baseline seemingly lost. Confused, McGee put the ball on the floor and took an awkward jump shot that didn’t go, making for a less-than-ideal possession. He’s clearly not a finished product, but that great length and athleticism allows him to contest shots in a way no other Maverick can, and he looked great on the offensive glass, grabbing 18.8 percent of second chance opportunities while he was on the floor.
So the Mavs drop to 9-7 and are losers of three straight. It’s not the best way to enter Thanksgiving, and I’m not thankful for that game, not at all. Maybe it’s the holiday spirit creeping in or just the next day recovery from a tough loss, but I still feel positive about this team. I’m going to eat so much today that I’ll soon be comatose, but when I wake up, I’ll be ready for more Mavericks basketball — and let’s face it, more turkey.