Sometimes in basketball, victories are ugly affairs in which both teams grind it out on both ends of the court — a bloodletting on the hardwood with a mesh of bodies clamoring for the rock. It’s not pretty, but you can feel the strain of competitors wanting the win. This was the best way to describe the Spurs 96-93 slugfest against the Detroit Pistons.
Yes, the Bad Boys are a relevant foe this year. And yes, the Motor City could have renewed the rivalry with the Alamo City with a hard fought defeat in which they lead for all three quarters, before folding in the fourth. The Spurs currently hold a six game streak against the Pistons, but this was the closest head-to-head in nearly three years.
“We kept playing for 48 minutes,” said Coach Popovich, reflecting on the difficulties of Detroit. “We always talk about that it’s a 48 minute game. We went down by nine a couple of times. I thought the guys after a tough back-to-back did a heckuva job to keep playing and trust each other.”
San Antonio started the game looking invincible from behind the arc, draining six straight threes without a miss. Restrictive defensive adjustments limited the Spurs to 14 of 31 for the duration of the game; seventeen turnovers also kept the team from gaining an outright lead for most of the contest.
After two consecutive games looking solid against Memphis, LaMarcus Aldridge returned from his injury absence against OKC appearing like a man that didn’t sleep very well the previous night, going 5 of 17 from the field, before heating up down the stretch at the end of regulation, tipping in six of his total 17 points during the last two-and-a-half minutes of the quarter.
After Detroit had their foot firmly pressed down on the accelerator while lounging comfortably in the driver’s seat, San Antonio opened the fourth quarter with a 10-2 run. Back-to-back threes sunk by Manu Ginobili and Davis Bertans gave the Spurs their first lead since the first quarter. A game removed from blocking five shots against the Thunder, Bertans continued to be a much needed spark plug off the bench, contributing 11 points and a trio of three pointers. The Matt Bonner on a stretch rack lookalike has now banked 27 points in his last duo of games.
The Pistons had a shot to win it all during their final possession; LaMarcus Aldridge drained two free throws at the 5.2 second marker to give San Antonio a three point edge. Tobias Harris took the inbound pass, but his shot was deflected by Rudy Gay.
“I don’t know if anybody — besides Golden State, but Golden State’s on a different planet — the guys from Detroit… coach Van Gundy’s got them moving without the ball well,” said Popovich. “They’re really hard to guard in that offense.”
The Spurs have now won five of their past six games, with their only defeat coming with the asterisks of playing without a multitude of their roster. San Antonio next takes on the Miami Heat on Wednesday; the Silver-and-black currently boast an eight game winning streak against Miami and haven’t lost against them since LeBron James sported their jersey.