With quarterback Tony Parker sidelined by back stiffness, and backup Dejounte Murray still mending a sore left groin, Patty Mills assumed the starting point guard duties in San Antonio for a third consecutive game. Despite a solid 13-point, 6-assist outing from Mills, the Spurs fell to the Blazers 106-110, dropping to a game and a half behind the Warriors for the top spot in the West.
Mills is averaging just over 16 points in his recent string of starts, and hit what teammate Manu Ginobili would likely describe as “Big Shots” against his former team. Stalwart emcee Damian “Dame Dolla” Lillard led all scorers with 36 points while his backcourt running mate CJ McCollum pumped in 26 points for good measure.
“We just didn’t guard them tonight as well as we needed to,” Coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after the game. “I thought they were super. They deserved it.”
Perhaps more than any season in recent memory Coach Popovich has been tasked with blending fresh faces and melding unfamiliar bodies into a cohesive rotation. Injuries to key personnel have also played a factor, leading to newcomer Dewayne Dedmon assuming a starting role ahead of six-time All-Star Pau Gasol. The Spaniard has blossomed as a reserve, showcasing his shooting stroke from beyond the arc to help bolster the bench.
As San Antonio continues its pursuit for home-court advantage throughout the post-season, it will be interesting to see if Coach Pop sticks with Mills as a starter for the final stretch of the schedule. The Spurs have been practically unbeatable this season when Mills scores in double figures, and what he lacks on the defensive end in size, he generally compensates for with effort.
Easily regarded as the most overlooked member of San Antonio’s historic Big Three, Parker is still an NBA Finals MVP, and will expectedly resume his starting role when he is ready to return. League MVP’s like David Robinson, Larry Bird, and Steve Nash can all attest that back pain is no joke, so depending on the severity of Parker’s ailment, a Gasol-like transition to reserve status could be in order.
Given the outstanding regular-season performances from both Dedmon and Mills, it is becoming more apparent that the Spurs will only be able to hold on to one of them during this summer’s free-agency scramble. Like Parker before him, Mills has matured before our eyes in his six seasons with the Spurs. If this is indeed Patty’s last ride, maybe it’s time for Pop to hand over the keys.