by Jeff McDonald
It was in Boston, back when the Spurs’ injury woes were palpable but not yet laughable, that coach Gregg Popovich was asked how he handles a rotation getting shorter by the day.
“You look down the bench, and you see who’s down there,” Popovich said. “And you say, ‘Yeah, you. You go in.’”
When Popovich looked to the far reaches of his bench Wednesday, he saw three players who had logged time in the Development League in the past two weeks.
While they await reinforcements from the injured list, the patchwork Spurs cobbled together another victory, using a bench-heavy lineup to blow open a tie game in the fourth quarter before thumping Milwaukee 110-99 at the AT&T Center.
The box score will show veterans Tony Parker (22 points, 10 assists), Tim Duncan (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Gary Neal (22 points) did the heavy lifting.
Yet the Spurs (15-4) also got key bench minutes from players recently plucked from the basketball bush leagues.
Nando De Colo had seven points and two rebounds, and was instrumental in the 18-3 run the Spurs used to break away from the Bucks at the start of the fourth quarter.
Cory Joseph packed his 10-minute shift with hustle plays. James Anderson started the second half at small forward, played 11:45, and was part of the Spurs’ most fruitful lineups.
“That was our best group all night,” Popovich said.
Called up before Wednesday’s game, when Patty Mills (ankle) joined wings Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Jackson and Danny Green on the injured list, Joseph took a roundabout route to the AT&T Center.
Having discovered he had the wrong set of shoes with him in Austin, Joseph drove to San Antonio after Toros practice Tuesday, spent the night, then went to the Spurs’ practice facility before dawn Wednesday to retrieve his footwear.
Joseph had just returned to Austin for D-League practice when his phone rang. It was Toros general manager Sean Marks, summoning him back south.
“I had to turn around, get my stuff and go all the way back,” said Joseph, who had two points, two rebounds and two assists. “It was definitely worth it.”
Dispatched to the Toros for extra work during the Spurs’ recent three days off, De Colo scored 14 points with eight rebounds in a win over Idaho on Sunday. It was his lone D-League appearance before being recalled Monday.
“It’s not the same game as the NBA,” said De Colo, a rookie guard. “But I think it was a little bit better than a practice game.”
The score tied at 76 heading to the fourth quarter, De Colo started the Spurs’ go-ahead run in an inauspicious manner — getting goaltended by Bucks forward Larry Sanders.
Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles so vehemently argued the call, it resulted in a technical, and Neal’s free throw gave the Spurs a three-point lead.
It would get worse for the Bucks (8-9), with the Spurs scoring 18 of the quarter’s first 21 points and eventually pushing their lead as high as 17.
The Spurs shared the ball better in the second half, and they tightened up their defense. A Milwaukee team that scored 58 points in the first half managed just 41 in the second. De Colo was an integral part of the Spurs’ fourth-quarter run, moving the ball and setting up teammates — particularly Tiago Splitter, who had 10 of his 15 points in the final frame.
“The stats were not fair with him today,” Manu Ginobili said of De Colo. “Seven and two doesn’t say much, but he was key.”
Then there was Anderson, who two weeks ago didn’t have an NBA job.
The Spurs signed him away from Rio Grande Valley on Nov. 21 as a warm body to fill in while others’ injuries healed. Wednesday, Anderson was symbolic of what can happen when Popovich peers to the end of his bench.
“You’ve got to stay prepared and stay ready,” Anderson said. “You never know what he’s thinking.” Spurs Nation