The topic of Jeremy Lin — New York Knicks point guard, international sportsman, Sports Illustrated cover boy, curer of the common cold — came up before and after the Spurs escaped with a 113-106 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
A night earlier on the same floor, Lin capped off an amazing comeback, an amazing week, by hitting a game-winning 3-pointer to sink the Raptors.
“It seems incredible,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game.
“There’s no bigger story than Jeremy Lin right now,” All-Star point guard Tony Parker said afterward.
Drawing substantially less attention than Lin’s rocket-ship ride to untold superstardom, but occurring in plain sight in the same building Wednesday, was this: The boring old Spurs, doing what they do best.
The Spurs, forgotten contenders, won their NBA-best ninth in a row, and it wasn’t always pretty.
Parker, doing his best Jeremy Lin impersonation, went for 34 points and 14 assists to steady the Spurs (21-9) through some uncertain moments in the second half, sealing the deal with crucial shoot-or-pass decision-making down the stretch.
With the victory, the Spurs improved to 5-0 on their rodeo trip, ensuring a winning record on the annual trek with four games to play. It is the Spurs’ longest rodeo road streak since opening the 2005-06 edition by winning six in a row.
After starting 0-5 away from the AT&T Center, the Spurs have steadied to 8-8 on the road, applying increasing pressure to first-place Oklahoma City in the Western Conference.
“We’ve won nine in a row,” Parker said of the Spurs’ longest win streak since December 2010. “If nobody talks about it, that’s fine. We’ll keep playing good basketball.”
Pounding the rock has never been as back-page sexy as this imagination-capturing that Lin is doing. The Spurs don’t mind. In fact, there’s a sense Popovich likes it that way.
“Here in San Antonio, (a win streak) really doesn’t mean that much,” said Richard Jefferson, who had 10 points. “Pop still comes in here wanting us to get better. Nothing changes. He’s going to be mad at every timeout.”
True to form, Popovich refuses to lose himself in his team’s recent hot streak.
“I’m going to go ahead and guess we’re going to lose at some point,” he said.
That day wasn’t Wednesday, but it could have been. The Raptors (9-22), though sparse on victories, have been hanging with some NBA big boys of late.
Tuesday night, they nearly became the first team to take down Lin. Then they took aim at the hottest team in the NBA.
After falling behind by 14 to the Spurs, Toronto came back, hitting its first 10 shots of the second half to tie the score.
Ultimately, the Spurs kept their streak alive — and survived 29 points from Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan — the same way they’d won the previous eight. Parker played like the All-Star he is, directing traffic and thriving at the foul line (12 of 12).
“Tony has been carrying this team,” Jefferson said.
The Spurs got further contributions from all over the roster, including 13 points and seven rebounds from Danny Green, 13 points off the bench from Tiago Splitter and three seconds of playing time in the fourth quarter from Tim Duncan. They also got 11 points from some guy named Manu Ginobili, who has played in only three of the Spurs’ last nine victories.
Ginobili’s gradual return to All-Star form, after missing 22 games with a broken hand, is the X-factor for the Spurs. Wednesday’s double-digit effort was another positive step.
“It’s a slow process,” Ginobili said. “At 34, it’s not the same as when you’re 22.”
But some things around San Antonio never change. The Spurs keep winning, keep coming. And it doesn’t seem all that incredible.