Game rewind: Spurs jump on Suns early, cruise to division-clinching win

It was fitting that on a night when the Spurs wrapped up the Southwest Division championship, they played their best basketball of the season for a few minutes.

It lasted for only about six minutes, but the Spurs’ quick start Saturday night showed what they are capable of doing when hitting on all cylinders.

Their 21-4 spurt to begin the game effectively served as a knockout punch catapulted them to a 105-91 margin of victory over the Suns.

“We came out with a lot of energy,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We were able to jump on them pretty quickly and sustained it through the game.”

Tim Duncan was at his best during that spurt, hitting all five shots as he accounted for 11 quick points in what he called his best half of the season.

“Pretty much, I hit some shots early, got a layup and a dunk early on,” Duncan said.  “It was a great start for me and a lot of fun.”

And it was for the rest of the team as they were able to coast to an impressive victory without many worries. You  could tell it on the bench throughout the game as there were more smiles and laughter among the Spurs than in any game in a long time.

Here’s a look at how they finished the homestand with the strong triumph.

The game, simply stated: The Spurs jumped on Phoenix in their quickest start of the season and cruised to another Southwest Division-clinching triumph despite sloppy ball handling for most of the second half.

Early surge: The Spurs put the game away in the first six minutes by hitting eight of their first 11 shots, including a 5-for-5 spree in the run for Duncan. Kawhi Leonard capped the run with a 3-pointer after a nice pass from Duncan, giving them a 21-4 lead. Phoenix struggled by missing eight of its first 10 shots and Coach Alvin Gentry effectively surrendered when he pulled All-Star guard Steve Nash after a 20-second timeout after Leonard’s 3-pointer.

Pouring it on: The Spurs took their biggest lead of the game at 58-30 with 3:50 left in the first half after an 11-0 run keyed by DeJuan Blair’s layup. The run  included back-to-back baskets by Tony Parker and a three-point play by Leonard.

Too little, too late: Phoenix made the final score look more presentable after a 16-2 run late in the fourth quarter. Sebastian Telfair accounted for seven of the points and Hakim Warrick added six, with Telfair’s free throw pulling the Suns within 97-85 with 2:41 left. The Spurs had five turnovers during the Phoenix run, including three on their first three possessions. And they also misfired on five of their six shots in the collapse as Popovich called a timeout and a 20-second timeout to change momentum.

The clincher: Patty Mills’ deep 3-pointer snapped the late run with 2:28 left in the game, boosting the Spurs’ lead to 100-85. Mills added two free throws and James Anderson added two more to boost the Spurs’ lead back to 105-87 with 59.7 seconds left.  

Player of the game I: Tim Duncan had another huge game in limited playing time as he produced 19 points, 11 rebounds and played only six minutes in the second half.

Player of the game II: After Nash left the game, Telfair took over the offense and produced season-best totals of 21 points, six rebounds and also added four assists and three steals.

Player of the game III: Leonard was efficient in a strong game that showcased his perimeter shooting and his defense. He notched 14 points, including 3-of-3 from 3-point range, and also added five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Unsung hero: After barely playing in the second half in recent games, DeJuan Blair had more favorable matchups with the Suns. He responded with 10 points, four assists and two steals.

Attendance: Another sellout crowd of 18,581 turned out Saturday night at the ATT Center for the finale of the three-game homestand. It was the Spurs’ 24th capacity crowd in 30 home games this season, including 21 of their last 23 home dates and their 17th in a row. The last non-capacity home game came Feb. 2 against New Orleans.

Did you notice I: Phoenix unsuccessfully attempt to single-cover Duncan during his early scoring binge. And as soon as they double-teamed him, he beat the defense by whipping the pass to Leonard for the 3-pointer that boosted the early lead to 21-4.

Did you notice II: I’ll be curious about some of the reports from fans watching in high definition. But the day-glow orange shoes worn by Grant Hill and Raymond Childress were stunningly bright for those of us at the ATT Center and reminded me of something Adidas would have Baylor’s basketball team wear. 

Did you notice III: It was move that Gregg Popovich said was done only for resting purposes, but Danny Green did not leave the bench in the second half as Manu Ginobili started the second half in his place.

Stat of the game I: The Spurs clinched their 18th division title since joining NBA in 1976, tying the L.A. Lakers for most division titles in that span. And since Tim Duncan joined the Spurs in 1997, San Antonio has claimed nine division titles, which is the most in the NBA.

Stat of the game II: Their quick start enabled the Spurs to claim a 35-13 lead after the first quarter — their largest first-quarter margin of the season.

Stat of the game III: The Spurs raced for a season-best 29 fast-break points,  converting 10 of 16 shots. It topped their previous best of 44 fast-break points set March 21 against Minnesota.

Stat of the game IV: The victory kept the Spurs a game behind Oklahoma City, which won earlier Saturday at Minnesota for the best record in the Western Conference. The two teams are even in the loss column. San Antonio has 42 victories, compared to Oklahoma City’s 44. The Spurs have eight games remaining and the Thunder have six. The Spurs also have the tiebreaker between the two teams, winning the season series 2-1.

Stat of the game V:  In the first quarter surge, the Spurs outrebounded Phoenix, 17-8, had 10 assists compared to two for the Suns and had four steals to none for the Suns.

Stat of the game VI: Phoenix was limited  to 36 percent shooting in the first three quarters of Saturday’s game.

Weird stat of the night I: The Spurs had a season-worst 24 turnovers, including nine in the final quarter and seven in the final 7:29.

Weird stat of the night II: When Patty Mills grabbed an offensive rebound of Stephen Jackson’s 3-pointer with 10:47 left in the game, it was his first offensive rebound since joining San Antonio.

Weird stat of the night III: Steve Nash’s 5:54 of playing time was the second-lowest of any start in his career. It is topped only by the 4:43 he played against Dallas on Dec. 17, 2010.

Weird stat of the night IV: Duncan’s fast start enabled to continue a sizzling surge over the last five games. Duncan is shooting 62.9 percent from the field (39 of 62) and averaging 18.6 points in 27 minutes per game.

Weird stat of the night V: After matching his season high with seven turnovers with six in the second half Thursday night against Memphis, Tony Parker had no turnovers in 21 minutes. It was his eighth clean game this season, including his second without a turnover in the last three games.  

Weird stat of the night VI: The Spurs’ starters had a collective plus-minus score of plus-130. The Spurs’ bench was minus-60.  

Not a good sign: The Spurs had a season-worst 24 turnovers and combined with the 18 against Memphis, the two-game total is also their season worst at 42. Their previous two-game high of 37 came against Portland (previous season high 23) and Phoenix on Jan. 13-15. 

Best plus/minus scores: Duncan was plus-31, Parker was plus-27 and Blair was plus-25.

Worst plus/minus scores: Gary Neal was minus-16, Mills was minus-14 and Diaw was minus-11.  

Quote of the game: ”You have to actually guard him. You have to be somewhere in the area he is in,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry, on his team’s defensive struggles with Duncan.

How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs will rest Sunday before starting a punishing back-to-back-to-back with road games Monday at Golden State, Tuesday at the Lakers and Wednesday at Sacramento. The Suns will start a critical four-game homestand with games Monday against Portland, Wednesday against Oklahoma City, Thursday against the L.A. Clippers and Saturday against Denver.

Injuries: The Spurs were healthy. Phoenix played the final 42 minutes without Nash, who tweaked an injured hip and sat out the rest of the game.

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