Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Atlanta Hawks 100 at San Antonio Spurs 102 - December 2, 2013

The bulk of my 2013 NFL Road Trip is complete. I've seen 27 games, which means just 5 left over the final four weeks of the season. That leaves a lot of open days with not much to do, so the last month will be more of a normal sports road trip, with at least two non-NFL games per week. That started today in San Antonio, where I finally got to see the Spurs and Tim Duncan as they took on the Atlanta Hawks. I say finally because in all of my trips, I have never seen the Spurs live. Having seen the Houston Texans yesterday, the Carolina Hurricanes are the only club I have never seen in person. Just a weird bit of personal trivia about which nobody cares a whit.

AT&T Center

The Spurs used to play in the Alamodome, a cavernous facility that always made their home games seem poorly attended, even when they had 40,000 for a finals game one year. It was first used in 1993, but within a few years, the club wanted to move to a more intimate facility. In 2000, an agreement was reached to build a new arena east of the city, and the SBC Center was the result, opening in 2002. When SBC bought AT&T 3 years later, the name of the arena was changed, it is now one of several venues that uses this corporate sponsor, including the ballpark in San Francisco and the behemoth in Dallas.

I was on assignment for Stadium Journey (doesn't that sound pretentious!) and received a credential, which allowed me to park in the media lot and avoid the traffic both on the way in and out. I arrived nearly two hours before game time and was able to get a number of pictures of the stadium and concourse before the fans entered. Some lucky fans were part of something called the Courtside Experience, which means they entered early and were able to watch the warmups from down low. You can see them in one section below.

There were a number of things I really enjoyed about this arena. First, it was designed for basketball instead of hockey, so that the seats in the corner are not rounded, but facing straight to the floor as the seating bowl is in the shape of an octagon instead of the typical hockey oval.

I was also impressed with the widespread use of bright colours; this is probably the most vibrant venue I have ever seen. Floors and walls alternate blue, green, yellow, pink, and more.

There are paintings and other art works scattered around, each maintaining the colour scheme. Even the seating bowl has the occasional pastel seat. This contrasts with the Spurs, who have one of the most understated uniform combinations in sport.

Make sure to check out the four NBA Championship Trophies just inside the main entrance. I don't know if there is another arena where there are so many O'Brien trophies on public display.

There are banners and retired numbers as well; the Spurs have a rich history from their time in the ABA that is not ignored.

Food here is superb, both in terms of choice and quality. The Spurs added several new concessions for this season and I highly recommend the Big Cheese around section 112, which serves 5 varieties of fresh-made grilled cheese sandwiches. At $7.75, it is not cheap, but I really enjoyed my B.T. Cheese (which comes with Bacon and Tomato). Whataburger and Pizza Hut are options for those who don't like trying something new, while the large Hispanic population means there are many Mexican and Latin food stands around. The HEB Fan Zone on the upper deck has some BBQ that looked quite good as well.

Sightlines are great from everywhere, and with just a single suite level, the upper level is very close to the floor. This makes the stadium rock when the Spurs are on a roll. Fans are really into their team here, appreciating the only presence of the Big 4 in the 25th-largest metropolitan area in the nation. Of course, those 4 championships don't hurt.

The scoreboard is a typical 4-sided video board, with stats above the video. There are also stats boards in the corners of the upper deck.

The only problem here is the area; you are about 5 miles from downtown San Antonio and there is no light rail to the stadium, so you will have to drive. Parking outside the arena is as low as $5, it will cost $10-15 to park within the arena parking lot, but expect a bit of a wait on the way home.

That should not obscure the fact that this is a great venue that houses a great team with great fans and great food. AT&T Center is what a professional sports stadium should be like; with attention to detail, friendly staff, easy up-and-down access, but ensuring the game is the most important thing. I look forward to a return visit.

The Game

The Atlanta Hawks were in town and it was a bit of a reunion as Hawks' coach Mike Budenholzer spent 19 seasons with the Spurs, starting as a video assistant in 1994. It seems when coaches visit their old stomping grounds, the games are closer than you would expect otherwise, and that was the case tonight.

Tony Parker looks like a ghost as he is introduced

The first quarter was even, with neither team leading by more than 3. Atlanta tied it at 23 with 4.9 seconds left, but the Spurs used a set play that allowed Boris Diaw an uncontested layup with 0.9 seconds to go. Keep those numbers in mind.

Atlanta outscored San Antonio 26-25 in the second quarter, with the biggest lead just 4 points in the Hawks' favour.

The 3rd quarter saw Atlanta take an 8-point advantage with 1:57 to go, but the Spurs ended the period on a 10-0 run to take a 73-71 lead entering the fourth.

The Spurs continued with an 11-5 run to take their largest lead of the game at 8, but Atlanta fought back with a 9-1 run of their own to tie the game at 85. The teams traded baskets until we had one minute to go, when Kawhi Leonard hit a jumper to make it 98-94 San Antonio. After a Hawks miss, the Spurs wasted the shot clock, leaving 31 seconds in the game. Paul Millsap hit a quick 3 to bring the Hawks within 1, and Manu Ginobili (above) was fouled immediately. He hit both free throws, leaving Atlanta with one chance to tie it. Remember those numbers from the first quarter? Well, it happened again, as Jeff Teague hit a contested three with just 4.7 seconds on the clock to tie the game at 100 (below).

San Antonio called their 20-second timeout and ran a set play, with Tim Duncan (#21 below) coming off a screen to take a pass from Ginobili and drain the short jumper with 0.4 seconds left. Almost the same timings as those last points in the first quarter. Atlanta had one play but a 3-point attempt by Millsap hit the backboard and the Spurs won 102-100, their 16th straight victory over Atlanta at home.

Duncan was superb, netting 23 points and 21 boards, becoming the oldest player in NBA history to complete a 20-20. All five Atlanta starters scored double figures, with Jeff Teague leading the club with 19.

The game was incredibly fast, coming in at 2:02. There were only 29 fouls called, with the Spurs committing just 10 (the NBA team record is 5 by Dallas when they visited here in 1999). There were 20 lead changes and the teams were tied 17 times. Looking at the statistics, it is tough to see why San Antonio won as they turned it over 19 times to Atlanta's 10 miscues. However, both teams made 42 baskets, with the Spurs needing only 78 attempts (54%) while the Hawks used 96 (44%). Essentially the turnovers and missed shots balanced each other out, and the Spurs outboarded the Hawks 48-39 and outscored them 12-5 at the line, so I suppose that was ultimately the difference. Honestly, in a game as close as this, it is tough to say why one team emerged with the win, you can pretty much choose your narrative and find a stat to support it. The teams play in Atlanta on January 24th and I'd have to say that game would be worth a visit if you are in the area.

Next Up

I'm staying in San Antonio for a couple of days and will see the AHL's Rampage hosting Iowa on Wednesday night. Check back Thursday for a quick recap of that one.



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