Originally Published: December 19, 2013

1. The Great Fake-Out: Spurs Subs Stun Dubs

By Ethan Sherwood Strauss | ESPN TrueHoop

OAKLAND, Calif. -- There's no official term for what happens when the San Antonio Spurs rest their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

When asked about what his team calls these games, Gregg Popovich replied with, "You can make up a good one. Just say I said it. I don't give a (expletive). I'm too old to care."

So, with Popovich's blessing, the Spurs' 104-102 bench-fueled ambush of the Warriors can be called a "fake forfeit."

It appears as though San Antonio's ceding a game for the sake of rest, folding so it can better play another hand. That meek appearance doubles as a trap, as these starless games can be surprisingly competitive. Most notably, the Spurs came within five points of beating the Heat in a nationally televised game last season, one that cost them a fine for the surprise resting of Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Danny Green.

Patty Mills
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesPatty Mills and the rest of the Spurs' second unit weren't scared of the Warriors.

Despite the risk of a fine, this fake-forfeit approach provides several advantages. The primary one is rest for your older players. Another is that your opponent can only be so happy with a victory.

There's one advantage in particular, though, that the Spurs love and laud: Role players gain experience on the bigger stage.

Popovich explained, "Well, with all young players, experience is important and being in situations that are pressure-packed where people depend on you are important. Each one is helpful."

While many of these "young" players aren't basketball neophytes, they have less experience and responsibility than the Big Three. This is an opportunity for these understudies to gain greater facility with a system that's resulted in five Finals trips and four NBA titles.

The Spurs played nothing like flustered youngsters as they continually sliced the Warriors in pick-and-roll. Their bigs set solid screens, and open shooters were found from a myriad of angles. Without Duncan, Ginobili or Parker, San Antonio proved it could sink 11 mostly open 3-pointers.

Role players with ties to the Bay Area shined especially bright. Patty Mills scored 20 points and former Warriors draft pick Marco Belinelli had an incandescent performance, claiming 28 points in 29 minutes.

"This is close to my school so it's almost like a home-court advantage for me," said Mills, former St. Mary's (Calif.) star. When asked if he played at Oracle Arena before turning pro, Mills laughed and recalled, "I was the guy who parked deep in the parking lot and walked all the way to sit up in the nosebleeds. That was about it."

Mills was involved on perhaps the biggest play of the game, when he saved a stunning blocked shot from squirting out of bounds. With under two minutes left, and the Spurs up by 1, Stephen Curry nabbed a steal and charged on a fast break. Suddenly, the normally ground-bound Boris Diaw became a blur, erasing Curry's layup attempt with an emphatic chase-down swat.

"I like to do that because it's harder to catch a little guy," Diaw recalled of the block. When asked if he was a LeBron stopper -- he did well guarding James in the Finals -- or a Curry stopper, Diaw responded with a confident "None. I am not a stopper."

The play that more obviously swung a frenetic fourth quarter was Tiago Splitter's game-winning tip. Amid a scrum of players desperately seeking control of the ball, Splitter rose above all and softly tapped it in.

Splitter wasn't exactly bragging about his big shot.

"I was lucky to be there in the perfect moment," he said.

Lucky or not, few moments are as perfect for a Spurs team that prides itself on incorporating an entire team effort.

"Tonight was definitely a sweet win," Mills said.

Perhaps few victories are sweeter than the fake forfeit.

Dimes past: December 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18

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