In the first game of a 2005 playoff run that would conclude with the Spurs hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Spurs got a reminder that their road to the third championship in franchise history was not going to be easy.
With Denver’s point guard, Andre Miller, scorching them for 31 points, the Spurs dropped Game 1 of their first-round series against the Nuggets, losing home court advantage in the process.
It had occurred to Coach Gregg Popovich on many prior occasions that Miller would look good in a silver and black uniform and his performance that night at AT&T Center reinforced that belief.
“He’s one of those players you look at and say, ‘Boy, I could figure out how to fit him in because he has been such a great player for several teams and he does the same thing,’” Popovich said. “He’s just a pro, the consummate pro.”
On Tuesday at the Spurs practice complex, Popovich began the process of fitting him into the Spurs systems after Miller, the newest Spur, ran through his first full practice session with his brand new teammates.
“His basketball IQ is off the charts,” Popovich said. “What a pro. Tough minded, disciplined and he’ll pick up things very quickly.”
The signing of Miller – the Spurs had to waive guard Ray McCallum to make room on the roster for him – gives the team another veteran guard who can help, especially while Manu Ginobili recovers from testicular surgery to repair an injury suffered during a win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 3.
Ginobili participated in Tuesday’s practice and is expected to return during March, perhaps as early as next week. Nevertheless, Miller is seen as an important addition. He is expected to make his Spurs debut in Wednesday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons at the AT&T Center.
The Spurs signed Miller to a contract on Monday when he cleared waivers after being bought out of his contract by the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is 37 days older than Spurs captain Tim Duncan and will turn 40 on March 19 but his game never has been built around athleticism. Rather, he has played 17 productive seasons in the NBA by understanding how to play and leveraging his passing and shooting skills. Regarded as one of the best lob passers in league history, he once beat the Spurs by lobbing an in-bounds pass to his Trail Blazers teammate, Nicolas Batum, who caught the pass (thrown perfectly over the arms of Tony Parker) and dropped it softly into the basket just ahead of the final buzzer.
Miller’s memory of the play?
“We won,” he said after Tuesday’s practice session. “That was the main thing. That was an exciting time. It was a fun environment in Portland. Me and Tony have battled for a long time.”
Portland was Miller’s fifth stop in a 17-year career that now has landed him in the best position he ever has been in to advance deep into the playoffs and he knows it. He tries not to look at the five NBA championship banners that hang from a wall of the Spurs complex but it is impossible not to be aware of them.
“Of course they’re big and they’re there,” Miller said. “I’ve glanced at them. I’m around legends, I’m around Hall of Famers. I’m around humble people with fundamental values. They understand how to play basketball the right way. That’s the one thing I do respect.”
Parker is thrilled to have Miller as a teammate.
“He’s one of the best point guards of the last 10 or 15 years,” Parker said. “Very solid. Nobody mentioned him over the years but he’s always been a starting point guard and running his teams very well. He’s a great addition to our team and brings another guy who can create. He’s a great passer and if we do a deep run in the playoffs you never know what can happen, especially with Manu being hurt. I think off the bench (Andre) is just a great guy to have.”
*Top image: The San Antonio Spurs 2015-2016 Roster and Coaching Staff. Photo by Scott Ball.