One year ago today the San Antonio Spurs were watching the second-round of the NBA playoffs from the comforts of their respective living rooms.
After becoming only the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in a best-of-seven series, the Spurs’ title window appeared to be closing as quickly as the hairs were disappearing from the top of Manu Ginobili’s head.
But after a first-round sweep of Utah and a 108-92 Game 1 win against the Los Angeles Clippers, the veteran Spurs appear poised to challenge for another Western Conference title. And no one looked more like his early-2000s self in Tuesday’s win than Tim Duncan.
The Big Fundamental led all scorers with 26 points and added 10 rebounds while Ginobili scored 22. Outside MVP candidate Tony Parker finished with 11 of the team’s 29 assists as the Spurts shot 49 percent from the field and 52 percent from beyond the arc (13 of 25).
The veteran core that led the Spurs to three championships in six seasons (Ginobili only the final two) is older and grayer, but you wouldn’t know it from their play this season. Dating back to the regular season, San Antonio has now won 15 straight games. The Spurs have not lost in more than a month and Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are averaging a combined 46 points, 16 rebounds and 14 assists per game in the playoffs.
After shaking off the rust from their eight-day break, the team recaptured its recent form in the second and third quarters against L.A.
“You’re always scared coming in here with so many days off,” Duncan told the San Antonio Express-News. “It makes you scared you’re going to come out here and stumble out of the gates.”
The Spurs had no such trouble while the banged-up Clippers looked worn out in the second half. It was the sixth game in 11 days for Los Angeles, and one full day of rest can only do so much for the team’s ailing stars. Point guard Chris Paul (strained right hip flexor), forward Blake Griffin (sprained left knee), swingman Caron Butler (fractured left hand) and guard Mo Williams (sore right hand) all played through injuries and will do so again as they look to even the series in Game 2 Thursday night.
“Play better. It’s that simple,” Paul said of the gameplan. “Try not to turn the ball over. Try to make some shots. Play some better defense. It’s that simple.”
NBA Playoffs: Scores & schedule