Notes on a scorecard: The return of the Spurs’ perimeter game

All season long, the Spurs have relied on their outside shooting to carry them to success.

It’s not suprising that with shooting percentages of 24.0 percent (against Portland), 27.6 percent (against Boston) and 26.3 percent (at Houston) have resulted in three losses in the team’s biggest collective shooting slump of the season.

That’s why the team’s quick start in their 114-97 victory over Phoenix Sunday afternoon was so vital.

The Spurs hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter as Richard Jefferson and George Hill both sank two apiece.

Hill’s entry into the game marked where the game turned. The Spurs were trailing when he came into the game.  The Spurs made seven of their next eight shots, including five from Hill. Two of them were 3-pointers.   

It didn’t stop from there until the Spurs finished at 15-for-29 from behind the arc. Their 51.7 percent from beyond the arc was their highest since hitting 60.7 percent against Miami on March 4. It marked one of eight times this season the Spurs have hit above 50 percent of their 3-pointers this season.

With Tim Duncan playing inside, the Spurs obviously are getting different looks when other teams have to account for him. Five different Spurs hit 3-pointers in the long-range barrage.

“We shot it a lot better,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It makes things a little bit easier, that’s for sure.”

Popovich was greatly understating the obvious there.

The Spurs have hit 12 or more 3-pointers  in 12 games this season. They are 11-1 in those games.

The outside shooting binge paved the way for the Spurs to halt a six-game losing streak in the best way possible for them.

No starter played more than Tony Parker’s 28 minutes, 12 seconds. Manu Ginobili was limited to 23:43. Antonio McDyess played 18:29. And most importantly, Duncan played 18:19.

The victory, coupled with the Lakers’ loss against Denver later Sunday afternoon, gave them some breathing room heading into the final 10 days of the season.

Here are a few notes and factoids from Popovich’s 794th victory with the Spurs. He’s one triumph away from catching Red Auerbach for second place on the NBA’s list of most coaching wins with one team. Jerry Sloan has the NBA record with 1,127 triumphs.

  • Hill torched Phoenix for 29 points. It was tied for third on his career-scoring list, topped only by a pair of 30-point efforts including his game March 27 against Memphis. He also tied his regular-season career mark with four 3-pointers. His career high of five 3-pointers came against Dallas in last season’s playoffs.
  • Matt Bonner busted out of his slump by starting his emphasis on inside shooting and then moving outside as he produced 16 points and 11 rebounds. It was his eighth career double-double and first since notching 11 points and 10 rebounds on Nov. 18, 2009, against Dallas. Bonner also came within one assist of matching his career high of five assists.
  • Something about playing on Sundays must agree with Bonner. His big game came on the same day of the week as his 7-for-7 performance against Oklahoma City on Nov. 14. Bonner is hitting 62.2 percent of his 3-pointers on Sundays. His 3-for-4 effort against Phoenix was the first time he topped 50 percent of his 3-pointers since his 6-for-7 effort against Miami on March 4. During his previous 14 games before Sunday, Bonner had hit 22 percent of his 3-pointers.  His 16 points was tied for his fourth for his highest  scoring game of the season and was his biggest game since the March 4 game.
  • Gary Neal’s 15-point game was his highest scoring game since his career-best 25-point game effort against Denver on March 23. Neal also is in a mini-surge in his last two games after hitting 26.1 percent in two games before the Houston game. Since then, Neal has averaged 12.5 points per game and is shooting 62.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 63.6 percent of his threes in his last two games.  Neal also matched his career high with four assists, last set March 6 against the Lakers.
  • Jefferson’s quick start enabled him to match his top 3-point shooting game of his career. He hit all four 3-point attempts, matching his previous career-high game without a miss of four set March 19, 2008 when he played for New Jersey. His 12 points on Sunday was his fifth double-figure game in his last eight. His seven rebounds were his biggest game since Jan. 21 against New York. And he’s shooting 55 percent from the field, 69.2 percent of his 3-pointers and averaging 10.3 points in his last three games.
  • Duncan notched eight points and four rebounds in only 18:19. It marked his smallest playing time in a game where he wasn’t injured since Feb. 12 against Washington, where he posted 12:10. And his reduced role snapped a recent surge where he averaged 21.5 points and 13 rebounds in his last two games since coming back from a sprained left ankle.
  • Ginobili’s reduced playing time contributed to him scoring six points in 23:43. It marked the third time in four games where Ginobili has failed to score in double figures. During that span, Ginobili is averaging 10 points per game, hitting 36.6 percent from the field and 18.8 percent from beyond the arc.
  • More concerning, Ginobili failed to go to the foul line for the third time in his last four games. He’s done that six times this season.
  • Parker struggled through his second worst shooting night of the season as he hit 2-for-11 from the field. His only worse game this season was a 1-for-6 shooting effort in the loss at the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 1.
  • Parker notched eight assists for the 27th time this season. When he’s collected at least eight assists, the Spurs are 26-1 this season.
  • There was an interesting substitution pattern as DeJuan Blair didn’t enter until the second half. Blair accounted for two points, tying his single-game low since being demoted out of the starting lineup on March 9. But his eight rebounds were his second most since the change, topped only by nine rebounds March 12 at Houston.
  • One concern to close out the game came with San Antonio’s sloppy ball handling — understandable because of their big lead. The Spurs had eight of their 16 turnovers in the fourth quarter, including five during a span of 2 minutes, 19 seconds late in the game. James Anderson had four to lead the team. 
  • The Spurs jumped on Phoenix for a 31-point lead on Ginobili’s layup with 8:23 left in the third quarter. It was their largest lead since leading by 31 against Miami on March 4.
  • San Antonio’s 70 points in the first half, capped by a 15-footer by Hill at the buzzer, was their second most this season. The Spurs scored 72 points at Washington on Feb. 12.
  • The Spurs shot a little better from the foul line with 13-for-18 (72.2 percent). But they are still struggling with 67.5 percent from the line over the last six games.
  • Phoenix is one of the league’s worst rebounding teams and the Spurs took advantage with a 51-37 rebounding edge. It was the fourth-highest total of rebounds for San Antonio this season.
  • After allowing their last four opponents to score at least 100 points, the Spurs limited the Suns to 97. It was only the fifth time the Spurs have limited an opponent to less than 100 points in their last 14 games. They are 40-7 this season when limiting opponents to less than 100 points.
  • Bonner  led the team with a plus-31 plus-minus score. Other top San Antonio producers included Hill at plus-28,  Neal at plus-22 and Ginobili at plus-21. Anderson had the worst score at minus-23, with Blair at minus-10. 
  • All 12 San Antonio players on the roster scored. Danny Green, Chris Quinn and Da’Sean Butler were inactive.

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