WCF GM 3: Warriors 120 – Spurs 108

The biggest disappointment I have ever felt as a Spurs fan was in 2001 when the Lakers came into town for the much-hyped Western Conference Final matchup of the previous two champions. Phil Jackson famously added an asterisk to the Spurs’ ’99 team and won the 2000 title by narrowly slipping by the Blazers in game 7 which required a 15-point comeback. The Spurs had lost Tim Duncan for the playoffs and so were hobbled in their title defense. The Spurs had home court. The Lakers wanted revenge for the ’99 sweep.

Instead of a classic battle, we saw Kobe drop 45 in game 1, the Lakers dominate game 2, and finally blow away the Spurs in the Los Angeles. Derek Fisher hit a record number of threes, and the Spurs were left to question themselves all offseason.

This year’s matchup had a similar air. The Spurs last faced the Warriors before they swapped Mark Jackson for Steve Kerr and began their transcendant three-year run. Steph, Klay, and Draymond were young but gave enough fight to nearly topple the Spurs back then, who needed some crunch-time free throw misses from Richard Jefferson, and Manu Magic to help steal game 1. The two teams played three overtimes in that series (2 in the first game, and one in the fourth). The Spurs went on to be heartbroken in the Finals, and then followed that up with a title the following year (The Dubs lost in seven games to the Clippers).

Since then the Spurs also got beat in seven vs Chris Paul, and got dumped last year by KD and Russ even though they had a franchise record 67 wins. For all the Spurs have done this season, they are clearly limited. The Warriors improved their 73-win squad with an all-time great. Surely there was no plan that could overcome talent.

I believed SA had nothing for the Warriors except maybe one steal game based on Kawhi’s ability and a good shooting night. Now? We are left to wonder what if? Game three was all but decided once Kawhi was ruled out for the game.

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I would not call the feeling I have about this series disappointment. It certainly does not approach the gut-punch that was Kobe dropping buckets at will in the Alamodome back in 2001. I could not help but feel good about the other Spurs that were giving the Warriors a game for three quarters tonight. Even The Greatly Disappointing LaMarcus Aldridge has an excuse: the playmakers he relies heavily on are out. He has to play beyond his well-established abilities.

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It is hard to feel disappointment when the TV guys are all singing the praises. Pop is getting twitter praise like “look how he is getting production from random guys”. Barring a miracle, this is the end of the line for the Spurs on Monday night and it is in a far better fashion than the Rockets or Thunder left on. Hell, Boston played their final home game (likely) and got whacked by 44. To even lose by 40 on Monday would not stain any reputations any further.

I mean, Manu is going out swinging with all his might:

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This is what you want to hear:

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Without Kawhi, there is no chance. We all will point back to game 1 and that 23 point lead as evidence of something like a chance 1. While I want to bottle that narrative and hug it, I have watched this league long enough to know that one game does not tell the story of a series. Hell, last series was evidence of that fact. Part of what makes the NBA great is the series format allowing for the best team to demonstrate its superiority by mitigating the one-off luck night from the equation.

The first game was as Manu described: Spurs playing at ’10’ while the Warriors were playing at ‘7’. Even in this game, they did not have some role player to rely on. They turned to Mr. Bandwagon himself, Kevin Freaking Durant for 13-straight in the 3rd. While even Jalen Rose pointed to the fact that Kawhi was holding KD in game one, we have to remember that Leonard cannot guard everyone. The talent disparity was the reason most sane people expected a Warrior victory with maybe only dropping a game.

I cannot be disappointed in this team. I do have a few questions about LMA, who has come up pretty small in straight playoff years. That is for another time. The series is not officially over, even though we all can see the fat lady warming up.


  1. And the March 29th game wherein the Spurs did something very similar but with a blown lead in the second quarter instead of the late third. It could be taken as evidence that this was always going to play out as it happened. 

No Belief: Spurs 100 – Warriors 136

LaMarcus Aldridge caught the ball at about 18 feet, immediately looked to pass. Unfortunately, he was completely open for that jumper. He missed badly.

I shook my head knowingly. We know the Spurs are at their best with an aggressive LaMarcus Aldridge using his size and talent to get buckets. Usually, when a guy is off — John Wall — he is either forcing shots because he is frustrated at the defense, or getting the shots he wants but just cannot hit. Those are frustrating for we fans at home but completely understandable. Sometimes you are human.

The other kind of bad night is completely strange to see. Just two days previous Aldridge looked like he was worth every penny the Spurs paid him in the first quarter. No one on the Warriors was able to slow him, let alone stop him. Then in that post-ankle quarter-and-a-half he was passive, harrassed, and fading away when he had space. He looked like a QB shook from too many hits.

While the beat writer theory is that Aldridge simply had no where to go, and could not find the rhythm and space because the Kawhi-less Spurs were supporting him. This is part of the reason he was not completely comfortable. The rest? He did not want it.

I do not buy his excuse about overthinking and being a facilitator. He is 31-years old. This is just who he is. The team is the team. This blog has stressed this previously, and so complaining about one of the better big men in the game is silly.

The frustrating part of LMA is the aforementioned contrast between his good games and his bad. That said, was he the entire reason the Spurs lost? No. Jonathan Simmons was the only player attacking the game and trying to win. Pop said as much. Manu called it a “feeling sorry for themselves” game. It makes you wonder if Pop was trying to instill a little fight with his rant.

That is an easy connection to make, but it ignores the previous round where the Spurs got destroyed at home, with both Kawhi and Tony. Oh and the Rockets were a worse team. Golden State was always going to have a game where they exploded, and the Spurs were due for a let down after that great first game (read: half).

With Kawhi

Honestly, I do not know how helpful Kawhi is going to be if he is at 88%. Generally the Spurs do not risk long-term player health for the good of a series. However, Kawhi put it like this: “We are 8 games away from our ultimate goal“.

When Pop sat Timmy Duncan back in 2000 the ultimate goal was farther away an the circumstances of the injury were different. Kawhi was obviously integral to the big lead last Sunday, but if he is shuffling about he will be will hurt everything beside morale.

The issue was and is belief.

Can you blame them, though? A good portion of Spurs fans (myself included) did not really think San Antonio had anything for the Warriors that night. That’s the nature of the game. The game within grasp was always going to be tomorrow’s game three.

Assuming Kawhi is on the floor and this week’s back-and-forth was more Pop cloak-and-dagger, the Spurs have a good shot. In March, the lead was big early thanks to some hot shooting and Warrior turnovers. GSW manages 10 and 12-point runs where the Rockets were getting 8. That game one 18-0 run was already underway when he left, and they have three guys that can absolutely catch fire like no one we’ve ever seen before.

The hope is that Patty makes some of the looks he was getting. He has had trouble with the Warrior length, but it is nothing he has not seen previously. The added responsibility of carrying the starting PG role is stretching him some.

If Kawhi is 100% and brings his scoring average, the Spurs have a shot. It will have to be an early blow-out that they hold on to and not a game-long back-and-forth shot fest. The Warriors have too many guys that can get a bucket late, and enough defense and savvy that the Spurs’ usual advantage schematically is neutered.

Without Kawhi

He is listed as questionable. My gut tells me he will not play. If the head man were anyone other than Gregg Popovich, Kawhi would absolutely play. As it is, Pop has the clout and job security to bench him and essentially calling it a series. The Spurs have no shot at winning four of the next five against Golden State without Kawhi, but they will not have anything for the Dubs and Cavs in future years without him either. Kawhi is just entering his prime, and visions of Grant Hill in his recurring ankle injury are haunting me.

Future

I expect the Spurs to come out looking really good in game three. If the lead is not 20 or 30, then I see a repeat of game one. Hell, even if it is 20 or 30, we could still see a repeat. Pop saw the Warriors only weakness in the form of the bench. He was already limited in attacking that as the Spurs lost that depth, and there is little to no shot of exploiting that when all the cards are on the table up front.

While Jonatan Simmons was the highlight of the second game, that 22 point effort was designed to come off the bench when the Warriors were resting their starters who were thinking about Kawhi Leonard all week. As it was, Jonathan was balling and had no one doing the same when he sat.

After watching Boston get completely embarrassed at home (44 points), the least we can ask for is a competitive game.

2017 WCF G1: Warriors 113 – Spurs 111

The Spurs were up 25-points and after Kawhi Leonard left after another ankle injury, the Warriors stormed back with an 18-0 run and stole the game from the shorthanded crew to win 113-111.

Pop said the Spurs let it “slip away” and blamed some turnovers and poor play for blowing the lead. In the second half the Spurs were outscored like 58-33 after Kawhi left the game. They struggled without Tony and Kawhi as primary ball handlers/ rim attacking threats. LaMarcus Aldridge struggled (especially compared to his 11-point first quarter performance) and the KD and Curry made shots.

Aside from that, game one was a test of some theories.

Theory 1: Layoffs Do Not Hurt You

Result: Wrong. The most talented team ever assembled came out of the gate struggling, tossing turnovers, and missing shots (and free throws!).

Theory 2: Spurious’ WCF Preview How-To-Beat-GSW-Guide

It can be found here, but we will recap it now.

  1. Draymond needs to hurt his team
  2. Warrior’s Carelessness
  3. Kawhi & Aldridge need to be great
  4. Everyone needs to get hot

When the Spurs were up 25, these boxes were checked. Draymond was not destroying his team with technicals (that came after Kawhi left) but he was not his normal self. The Warriors were sluggish and turned the ball over often, and missed shots. Kawhi and LaMarcus were outstanding. LMA looked like the guy in Houston for game six. Kawhi looked like unguardable and mixed in a of playmaking. While Patty was cold, Manu had 9 first half points, Jonathan Simmons was hitting jumpers and Danny Green was 2-of-2 from three while playing good defense. Things were going perfectly.

Theory 3: The Spurs could win a quarter and a half if spotted a 23-point lead without Kawhi.

Nope.

The Game

Let us be real with ourselves. This was likely the best chance the team had at stealing a win. The Spurs had the element of surprise and all of the luck … until the worst possible luck.

The game plan involved some really clever attacks on the Warriors substitution patterns, that allowed the squad to put in lineups that could help off shooters and attack poor defenders. Most, if not all, of the breaks went San Antonio’s way, including turnovers and poor shooting from Klay Thompson.

In the end the other Spurs were not enough of a match for Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. That is not something we can be angry about. Down the stretch Golden State relied on Steph and KD to make plays and they did. The Spurs relied on Jonathan Simmons and LaMarcus Aldridge.

It was not so simple as I am putting it here. Manu was great down the stretch, and the Warriors were smart and disciplined enough to recognize he was the most likely go-to playmaker. When Jonathan Simmons missed his pull-up 14′ jump shot, he was the second option. Shaun Livingston denied Ginobili the ball, and Simmons was left to make a play.

The Warriors made a concerted effort to unstick their playmakers and get good looks for their guys. Steph said they “simplified” things, and when Zaza abused Patty on a series of simple pick-n-rolls that was evident.

When Pop inserted Kyle Anderson for some quality offense (he was great on both ends) they quickly went to Kevin Durant. Kyle had nothing for him.

This week Stephen Jackson said that the defensive scouting report on teams is what makes the Spurs great. They are the best-prepared team in the league. As you might imagine, this is partly why the Spurs can turn some of the weakest individual defenders into useful parts of the best defense in the league.

Kyle Anderson made some quality steals but cannot stay in front of a locked-in Kevin Durant.

The Spurs are consistently good each year because they maximize the talent they have but superior talent often wins. One reason the Warriors are so good is that they also maximize their talent. They also have superior talent.

Kawhi

Obviously the chances of beating Golden State in game two are drastically reduced if he is hurt. Everyone has repeated the similarly very obvious point that the Spurs would have likely stat him for the second game if they managed to steal the first.

The organization will make the best decision for his future health, and prepare the team as best as possible for the series. I do not buy the thinking that Pop risked his health by keeping him out there after he first tweaked it. He had to have gotten the okay to play through it. He looked fine in the minute leading up to the jump shot. Also, given what we saw transpire after he left the court, simply sitting him for health reasons would have meant a similar result if he does not ever play.

Injury risk is part of the game.

Aldridge

I have said previously that the team is the team. The decision to roll with Aldridge and his faults was made two years ago when they gave him a big contract. When he is good, he is one of the best in the game. That first quarter explosion was the kind of thing that only a handful of big men in the game can produce. Unfortunately he is not always at that level. He is not ultra reliable late and he showed that with the disastrous 4th quarter.

LMA 2nd Half:

11 points on 4/13 shooting, 4 rebounds, 5 turnovers.

He was 2/9 in the final quarter, including the missed three to tie. Gone was the aggressive, attacking Aldridge and in his place was the one resorting to a fadeaway too often.

The Other Guys

Dejounte Murray is going to be really good. He is not scared of the moment and played big in his minutes. He still needs a jump shot and to add some more strength so he is not bumped off the ball so often but he is a quality dude.

Patty Mills was bad, but that happens. Danny Green was good in spots. If Kawhi cannot go the only hope is that both of these guys are on. Everyone was kind of shook after Kawhi left, and I appreciate Manu for saying as much. The Warriors hinted at this when praising the crowd “they [Spurs] felt the crowd, too.” If we are going to beat up on LaMarcus, we should also point out that Danny Green allowed Steph Curry to walk by him for a bucket to make it five. Danny also missed the potential tying three right before that.

Jonathan Simmons is having a great week. He won rightful praise for going against Harden, and had a solid outing this afternoon. He cannot bang with Draymond for long periods, but in doses he is the kind of game-changer we all thought he would be.

Pau was bad. He drew lots of cheap fouls and so had to sit, reducing the Spurs’ rebounding edge. He still is not contributing much of anything offensively aside from ball movement, but against this team that is not enough. He needs to get buckets against the likes of Zaza or else it could be Dewayne Dedmon time.

Manu nearly pulled the game out for the Spurs. Mark Jackson blamed Manu’s effort for the three that Steph hit to tie at 106. GSW got two offensive rebounds and then the bucket. Every time I watch the sequence I think of it differently. He could have boxed out better but long rebound are tough to predict. Especially from guys like Curry and Durant. On the other end he was the only one that could reliably create, and scored twice on Draymond, and mixed in a dunk on Shaun Livingston. While it is fun to watch Manu do Manu things, if we have to turn back the clock to 2007 for this series, it is definitely over.

Game Two

I expected a lull in this one, and a strong comeback effort from GSW. The lull was longer than expected but I think Kawhi could have stemmed the tide a bit for the team late. In that alternate universe the Spurs are up 1-0 and facing an angry Warrior team. In this universe the Spurs are down 0-1 and facing that same angry and locked-in Warrior team sans Kawhi.

Game three was always going to be the best chance of a Spur victory and this game would have only been icing. The scary part of Golden State was evident in this one, however. That 18-0 run was the kind of eruption that put away Portland and Utah, but merely cut the deficit in this one. I do not see the Spurs building another 25-point lead to protect them from that roster next game. Klay Thompson is due to explode soon. He missed a few wide-open looks from deep that should have put the Spurs to bed sooner that we saw.

WCF Preview: Spurs vs GSW

Everyone you ever trusted with setting probabilities is predicting the Spurs are going to lose the first game and the series.

The Warriors are 3-1 favorites to win the NBA Title, and that means taking on the presumptive Cavalier squad with the best player in the NBA. They are stacked and the weaknesses that helped fell them last season are erased and strengthened. Curry? Healthy. Draymond? Under control. Harrison Barnes? Upgraded to Kevin Durant.

Against both the Thunder and the Cavs, the physicality of the playoffs (read: refs allowing more contact) allowed teams to beat up on Steph Curry and made it difficult for the offense to have the same flow. Enter Kevin Durant, contender for best one-on-one player in the game. He is a 6’11” ball handling shooter who likes to get to the rim. He spent the last decade bailing out the most simplistic offense in the league with hero ball. Now he gets to bail out the best offense of the last half-decade with the same.

The Spurs held the Rockets to their three lowest point totals of the season and still managed to lose twice by 20+ points, including the game one destruction. Over the last three years the Spurs have had some success slowing the Warriors. In 2015, the Spurs beat the Dubs twice in the regular season. Last year in the 73-win season the Spurs gave the Dubs one of their nine losses. This season SA won two-of-three.

Those regular season battles mean little aside from some indication that the Spurs are not overwhelmed by the best the NBA has to offer.

If you want to look at this past regular season for some solace, look at five quarters — the first game where Jonathan Simmons had himself 20 points, and the first quarter of the March 29 meet up.

The other game was held between two sets of C-squads, and will not be indicative of what we will see this week 1. The Dubs have fully integrated Kevin Durant, which makes the first game a bit irrelevant as Curry and company were more focused on integrating him than anything. Steph is back to his old form and that means he is comfortable looking for his shot. Durant serves as yet another non-standard ball handling force that can attack the rim, shoot, pass, and also be a rim protector. In the very brief moments where Klay and the shooters went cold, KD was there to provide offense.

Spurs Need Offense

The Spurs are saying that the Rockets helped them prepare for this GSW challenge more than the Grizzlies prepared them for the Rockets.

That’s true defensively, but neither of the teams prepared them for the difficulty scoring they will encounter next round. Over the last two years the Spurs have been able to control the pace but have had trouble scoring against the length and versatility they bring.

Kevin Durant not only scored against Kawhi last year, he also defended well. Kawhi will be better on Sunday and will face his toughest set of defenders yet. Memphis had a 39-year old and rookies for him and he lit them up for six games. Trevor Ariza was more of a challenge but Kawhi still managed good-to-great outings before going out with injury.

The Dubs will throw Klay, KD, and Igoudala, and occasionally Green on him. They are all rangy 6’7″+ with length and two of whom are defensive specialists. Kawhi is great, but the will have trouble and will not find it as easy as he has the last two rounds.

Ryan Anderson did a frustratingly good job on LaMarcus Aldridge through the first round, and it was only until James Harden tried to defend the Spurs’ big man that #12 found his rhythm. Draymond Green is a much better defender than anyone the Rockets have or had at any of their big man spots. LMA has had decent success against the Warriors especially when he gets out running. He is taller than Draymond and so can get shots over him pretty easily. Of course, this is when he is the good LMA.

Here he is at his best against two quality defenders in last season’s playoff game 2 2

That LaMarcus Aldridge will give the Warriors trouble and make it easier on everyone, including Kawhi Leonard. Of course, this is what the Spurs had in mind when they signed him. They did not anticipate the 4-point games that go along with the 34-pointers also.

The rest of the Spurs cannot have an off night. The throughline between the five quarters of good basketball was shooting. In the March game, the Spurs huge first quarter lead came because Patty and Danny Green were on fire. It did not matter later as Kawhi had a bad game (7/20 and 5 turnovers) while the Warriors unleashed 67 points (to the Spurs’ 44) in the second and third quarters. The 37 in the second has been the Dubs’ calling card in these playoffs.

While the Spurs will not be a sieve all series like Portland was in Golden State’s first round series, they are not perfect and the Rockets were able to score freely at times. Much has been made of the Spurs’ defensive rating (a smidge higher than the Warriors for first place) but the Jazz had the third best in the league and got smoked in four straight games. The Spurs are more talented offensively and the Jazz had some injuries that slowed them but still, the Dubs were not really tested in that series.

The Jazz played games one and three at their pace (91.6 possessions per 48 minutes on the season, 1 & 3 averaged about 91.5) and still dropped both by double figures.

The Spurs will need to play at their pace (about 94 possessions per) and shoot well to win. In that way, they will be doing what they did against the Rockets.

It is unsurprising that the Spurs-Rockets series was played at about 93 possessions per game. You can surmise the winner based on the pace alone. Rockets’ wins in games one and four averaged 100, while the Spurs’ wins included comparatively glacial 87 (game three! in which they had 121) and 89 marks.

How Do The Spurs Win?

A game? Yes, it is that serious.

The Warriors have very few weaknesses, and they are usually self-inflicted.

1. Draymond Green Self Destructs

If Draymond goes crazy, he takes away their own best all-around defender an one of their better playmakers. He gifted Game 5 of the 2016 Finals by punching/kicking yet another groin. He has been calm and composed these playoffs but that is also because the Dubs have yet to be challenged. The kind of frustration that comes with a solid defense not letting the Warriors’ offense flow and the ball sticking with Durant for too long could be the right spark.

2. Carelessness

Golden State are also prone to carelessness brought on by … arrogance … boredom? Much like James Harden helped the Spurs with some careless passes late in game five and early in game six, the Warriors do throw the ball away.

Curry's failed behind-the-back pass to Thompson (Game 7)

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<th aria-label="Offensive Rating" data-stat="off_rtg" scope="col" data-tip="Offensive Rating
An estimate of points produced (players) or scored (teams) per 100 possessions”>ORtg

<th aria-label="Defensive Rating" data-stat="def_rtg" scope="col" data-tip="Defensive Rating
An estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions”>DRtg

<th aria-label="Pace Factor" data-stat="pace" scope="col" data-tip="Pace Factor: An estimate of possessions per 48 minutes”>Pace

<th aria-label="True Shooting Percentage" data-stat="ts_pct" scope="col" data-tip="True Shooting Percentage
A measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.”>TS%

<th aria-label="Effective Field Goal Percentage" data-stat="efg_pct" scope="col" data-tip="Effective Field Goal Percentage
This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal.” data-over-header=”Offense Four Factors”>eFG%

<th aria-label="Turnover Percentage" data-stat="tov_pct" scope="col" data-tip="Turnover Percentage
An estimate of turnovers committed per 100 plays.” data-over-header=”Offense Four Factors”>TOV%

<th aria-label="Defensive Rebound Percentage" data-stat="drb_pct" scope="col" data-tip="Defensive Rebound Percentage
An estimate of the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor.” data-over-header=”Defense Four Factors”>DRB%

Miscellaneous Stats Table
Offe Offe Defe Defe Defe Defe
Rk Team W L eFG% TOV% FT/FGA
8 Golden State Warriors* 67 15 115.6 104.0 99.8 .597 .563 13.2 .485 13.5 74.9 .198
17 San Antonio Spurs* 61 21 111.1 103.5 94.2 .564 .524 12.6 .492 13.5 77.6 .192
League Average 108.8 108.8 96.4 .552 .514 12.7 .514 12.7 76.7 .209
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2017.

The season numbers do not tell you much. Turnovers happen in the intensity of the playoffs, but the Warriors will help SA out with some lazy passes. Steph will try something risky, or Draymond will be loose with the ball. It happens.

3. Kawhi & Aldridge

Kawhi will have to play much better than he has historically against the Warriors. I already mentioned the challenge in front of him in going against a barrage of quality defenders on a good defensive team. He has the ability, and all he needs is a little luck. He gave the Warriors 35 in the season opener, after all.

The Spurs will need 35-8-5-5 from their best guy. Aldridge will need 20-10. The attention created by those two will create the kinds of shots that Danny and Patty can thrive with. As with the Rockets, Golden State will run on misses and get those back-breaking transition threes. We saw Danny Green get roasted in the open court by Lou Williams and Eric Gordon. Now imagine Kevin Durant flanked by Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. They cannot run (so easily) while taking the ball out of the net.

Aldridge will likely have a frustrating game or two, but if the Spurs are going to win (one game) it will be because he is taking advantage of Draymond Green’s height, Zaza’s lack of foot speed, and Javale McGee’s impatience.

4. Everyone Get Hot

This, of course, is so simplistic that it almost is ridiculous to type. It is a key, however. In the Spurs’ best games against the Warriors the other guys shot really well. Danny Green, and Patty Mills are most dangerous when they take pressure off Kawhi with their own transition buckets. The Spurs will need more than those two. They will need Jonathan Simmons to continue to make what-the-hell threes. In the opener, he hit a couple wide-open looks and that buzzer-beater. Against Houston he had similar buckets.

We know J-Simms can get hustle-buckets, but the Warriors will let him take those stand-still looks from distances. They can win if he is drilling those.

Tony will be missed for many reasons, but one of which is his decent shooting touch from the corner spots. Patty is much more dangerous, but Dejounte Murray is not. Murray has no fear and will attack the bucket off swing, but we are trading two for three in that situation.

Predictions

As much as I believe in the power of Pop and the Spurs Way, I also am realist. The Spurs Way could not overcome the Thunder playing to their potential last season. It could not overcome Chris Paul in game seven the year prior. It could not overcome LeBron in 2013. For portions of the mid-2000s it could not overcome Kobe & Shaq.

This game is simple — put the ball in the basket — and the Golden State Warriors have three of the game’s best talents at doing that very thing, with a staff that is near the equal of the Spurs’ own. They also have more good-to-great defenders than do the Spurs. Oh, and home court advantage.

The Cavaliers were able to overcome last year’s historically great GS team because they had the game’s very best player, but still needed to come back from down 3-1 and catch more than a few breaks. He also had loads of help from a locked-in Kyrie Irving.

These Warriors are approaching the best of that Warriors team, are healthier, and vastly more talented along the front five.

Kawhi may very well be the game’s 2nd-best player, but he is not (yet) the playmaker that LeBron is, nor is Aldridge the dynamic scoring equivalent of Kyrie Irving. The Spurs also come in the more injured team.

Against Houston the Spurs had scoring droughts the likes of which Golden State will feast upon. That run in game five in which SA missed 11-straight? Houston failed to take advantage. James Harden no-shows in game six? The Warriors are not a one-man team. They can absorb a no-show game from a star. Last year Klay Thompson carried the squad while injuries nagged at Curry throughout.

If Houston was a good tune-up for Golden State, the Jazz were a good one for the Spurs. The Warriors were not flummoxed by the motion offense, nor were they seriously slowed by the length and smart defense the Jazz brought. Meanwhile, the Spurs had to reach deep down deep to win and came out the other end banged up.

The Spurs are better than the Jazz and there is too much savvy on the team to not challenge the Warriors more than Portland or Utah did, but I cannot see the Spurs getting more than one game out of this.

Warriors in five.

(I hope I am absolutely wrong.)


  1. I say this fully aware that the Spurs just destroyed Houston without Tony and Kawhi. That loss had more to do with Harden and the Rockets laying an egg than the Spurs’ abilities. Although every Spur was locked in. 
  2. Again, I do not know how the Spurs stayed in that game, nor how they lost. Patty probably should have pump-faked Adams and got a clean look. Danny Green probably should have thrown a better pass before that. Patty probably could have pulled it out and gave it to Kawhi as the trailer. So much happened after Dion Waiters fouled Ginobili. 

Kawhi And Harden No Shows: Spurs 114 Rockets 75

First, let us get this out of the way:

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One of my earliest Spurs basketball memories was the infamous 1995 Spurs-Rockets tussle. This, especially after the game one destruction, was sweet. The Rockets and Spurs have avoided each other over the last 20+ years mostly because Houston has been fairly poor. With the Mavericks returning to near-irrelevance, it is fun to be Kings of Texas again.

While I predicted the Spurs to win in six and in doing so questioning everyone and everything, I both fully expected a loss tonight but would not have been surprised by a win. As much as I believe in the Spurs Way, talent is important and the Spurs are down their own MVP candidate. As it was, this series began with San Antonio questioning the heart and ability of LaMarcus Aldridge in a 25+ point loss, and ended with the Rockets questioning the heart and ability of James Harden in a 39-point loss.

On twitter, the argument is already being made that this series turned in the last minute of Game 5. This is true and unsurprising because that is basketball. Entire fortunes, careers, and legacies have and will be made on the bounce of the ball 1.

Playoff basketball is also very different than regular season ball and we have seen this most obviously in the Rockets’ performance this postseason against both the Thunder and the Spurs.

The postseason is tougher (obviously) because teams are better, more focused, and time to adjust. The Spurs took away some of the bread-and-butter stuff the Rockets like — the fouls on James Harden — and dared the 6-8th man to beat them consistently. Those other guys did beat San Antonio in games one and four, but they did not over the series.

That is both the beautiful and frustrating thing about a seven-game series. Any random guy can get hot for a game and beat you, but it is less likely that that same random guy will get hot for four out of seven.

Game Six was about James Harden’s no-show when Kawhi was out with a bum ankle. We all had a feeling that Pop was going to sit Kawhi for a (probably) seventh and deciding game. The Rockets were favored to win and the best we could probably hope for was a strong first half before the Rockets’ superior depth took over.

But it never happened. James Harden was in a funk 2 and the rest of the Houston squad had nothing for Jonathan Simmons and LaMarcus Aldridge in the second quarter.

Pundits nearly universally characterized the Spurs and Rockets as one-man shows. The Spurs were (overly) dependent on Kawhi for points and the Rockets (by design) reliant on James Harden’s ability to create. The real story was that the Spurs do rely on Kawhi because he is so good and efficient. The Rockets hit another gear once James Harden sits and the bench mob could come in and obliterate the opposing second team.

Eric Gordon, Lou Williams, and the rest of the Houston guys were bad more often this series than they were good. There is the story. When Kawhi was hurt in game five until the buzzer sounded at the end of the fourth in game six, Jonathan Simmons and the others outplayed the entire Rockets team.

Welcome Back, LaMarcus

On Zach Lowe’s podcast, Jeff Van Gundy mentioned LMA has been shooting off-balance. After the game LaMarcus said he benefited from getting so many touches and was able to find his rhythm much easier. I am sure it is combination of both of these. If Ryan Anderson was able to bother Aldridge so much in the first game, I imagine Draymond Green will shut him down in the next series. That said, maybe a different offensive approach will help solve the great defensive question that is GSW. That is for another blog post, however.

Right now, let us appreciate the Aldridge we last saw a year ago in the second game of the Thunder series. He scored 40 then, and got 34 tonight. His jumper was falling, which makes everything easier, but he also was scoring within the restricted area.

He has improved from his poor game one performance in each game, but tonight he finally put up the numbers we thought would be required nightly to win the series.

Jonathan Simmons

If Tony Parker was the surprise of the first round (that sounds ridiculous but that is where he is in his career), then Simmons is the star of this one. He is a fan favorite because of his hustle and his highlight reels, but he spends more than a few weeks in Pop’s doghouse throughout the season (Dewayne Dedmon does also). This week, we saw the best of J Simms, as he did his best Kawhi impression defending James Harden and getting buckets (18 points!) on the other end.

If you told me our small forward would hold Harden to to one bucket and about 8 turnovers to end game five and start game six while also contributing huge buckets on the other end I would have been unsurprised. “Yes, Kawhi is great. That is what I expect.” That is how good Jonathan Simmons was these last two games.

When he raises his three point percentage about 10 points, he will be really good.

Quick GSW Thoughts

As well as our favorite team played tonight, a good portion of the last two wins were because of Rockets flaws. Golden State has few flaws, and those few are masked by otherworldly talent.

Steph Curry is prone to tossing carless passes like James Harden, but Klay Thompson will not have as many no-show games as Eric Gordon. Danny Green got roasted for buckets by Lou Williams and Eric Gordon in game four, that is going to be Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant (whom Kawhi could not stop last year).

The Spurs blew out the Warriors in the first game of the year but GSW has gelled since, and managed to comeback from a 20-point deficit early in March. That was sans-KD. He is back, and looking like the un-guardable 7-footer he is. The Jazz were something like Spurs-lite, and only managed to be down 10 after some really impressive stretches. The Spurs have more all-around talent than Utah — Aldridge is more offensively talented than Gobert, and Kawhi is more athletic than Gordon Hayward and equal in shooting — but is coming off a tough series and dealing with injuries.

Golden State is heavily favored to win the next round for many good reasons. While the Spurs’ defense should slow them down, the question will be if SA can manage enough scoring. Manu mentioned this in the post-game.

Last year the Spurs held the 73-win Dubs to some of their lowest scoring outputs all year, and set the blueprint for guarding the Steph/Draymond pick-and-roll. They switched Aldridge out to Steph and trusted him to slow Curry enough. For all the criticism the Spurs have gotten during this Rockets series, they held Houston to three of their lowest scoring outputs all year.

The question in the next round will be if SA can score enough on the switch-everything length the Warriors have.

Right now, let us enjoy the tough series win.


  1. Do the Spurs three-peat in the mid-2000s if Derek Fisher misses that .4 shot? What if Bob Horry misses the three against Detroit? He missed a very similar one in 2003 after the Lakers made a 16-point comeback to make it a 2-point deficit with seconds to go. 
  2. I am being very generous here. I have seen some people say it was point shaving, poison, sickness, injury, and more. 

MANU: Game 5 Spurs 110 Rockets 107

I have listened to 22 years of basketball punditry. The handful of oft-repeated television tenets are burned in my brain, deep in the crevices of my mind: will to win, carrying the team on your back, finding a way.

I cannot help but think about those things on a night like this, where the Spurs simultaneously confirmed and refuted those tenets. Manu Ginobili played outside of his mind in winning time. Kawhi Leonard did not play through the pain of a sprained ankle. James Harden did not rise to the occasion.

I personally have not played at anything resembling a high level of any sport, and yet I have looked into teammates’ eyes and seen that the moment was simply to big for them. I cannot imagine the pressure of an NBA playoff game, having bricked a game-winning three in a rec league game 2 years ago myself.

Sometimes a person is at the mercy of circumstance, and they are left feeling betrayed by Lady Luck herself. 1 Tonight an MVP-candidate had an awful 4th quarter and overtime period in a pivotal road game five. He was clamped up by a former D-leaguer, and a 39-year old HOFer who was averaging 3-points per game this series.

For all of James Harden’s career and season accolades, I am sure he would trade them all for Eric Gordon to make the three that would have put the Rockets up by one with 15 seconds or so. That is this game we love.

Late in the fourth quarter Manu Ginobili drove by Clint Capela, newly minted shot-blocking force, and finger-rolled a classic Manu layup. He drove accross the paint — all elbows — and deftly flicked the ball off the glass with enough spin to put it in the basket. This, and not that righty dunk, was the most important offensive basket considering the moment.

Manu has never been scared of the moment, and up until recently he had the requisite athletic ability to shine therein. That is life.

Game five had a few vintage Manu moments, but one of the things that is going to be lost when he is long retired is how inspiring he is to his teammates. Usually when Manu is making plays, the rest of the team follows. That 2005 Big Shot Bob three? Manu drew the double-team because he was on fire down the stretch. Tonight Patty and Danny Green and LaMarcus Aldridge made gigantic shots in the final minutes. If any of those guys miss, then we would have a repeat of last year’s semifinal game 5 that saw Tony Parker miss a free throw and a 20-ft jumper in the final minutes.

The game is the game. Make or miss league. Etcetera.

The Game

The halftime score was 60-58 Rockets, the pace was played at the Rockets preference. Pop tried his big lineups, tried his small lineups, played Simmons, benched Murray, encouraged a faster pace, and saw his team pull out the game in the most awful offensive OT by two good teams. It all could have backfired if some Houston shots went in, or some San Antonio shots missed.

There are few surprises after five games of playoff basketball. The adjustments have been made, the injures had, and the sicknesses overcome. The Spurs are still defending Harden the same way they have all series. Aldridge was in space with him the same way he was in games one and four. The Rockets attacked the hoop and fired a ton of three point attempts.

The Spurs’ advantage was always their superior size and disciplined on both ends. The Rockets rely on their superior shot-making ability and talent advantage on the wings. Tonight the Spurs benefitted from their size on the offensive glass, while the Rockets stretched the Spurs out and got to the rim and countered threats with long range bombs off of kick outs. That is to say that both teams played their game and only just slightly bothered the other. It came down to shot-making.

In the final stretch, the Ryan Anderson and Lou Williams both missed catch-and-shoot threes. That was the difference between a 10-point Rocket advantage and the three points it was with 5 minutes left to go. Danny missed, Ariza missed, Danny again, Manu missed, then Aldridge got a put-back.

It was frustrating and illogical at some points. I mean, with three minutes left and the Spurs down one, LMA had the ball in the restricted area, pumped and passed out to Patty Mills for corner three … that he missed. James Harden took the ball down and got a huge bucket at the rim for a three point lead that felt gaping.

I do not mean to recite the final minutes play-by-play here, but I want to point out the moments that each team missed what could have been game-deciding buckets.

Patty Mills drove down and made only 1-of-2 after Harden got the big bucket. It was 96-94 at that moment. Both teams’ fans on twitter were feeling like they were letting the game slip away.

Eric Gordon beat the buzzer for a back-breaking three. Until Patty got his 20th point with one of his own. Kevin Harlan had just finished saying that the Spurs had missed their last nine when Patty was rising in Beverley’s face to pull that shot.

James Harden had his team up 99-97 hen he drove on Aldridge and dished to Beverley in the corner — a deadly spot — but the pass was too far off and Bev stepped out of bounds. The Rockets have literally run that play hundreds of times this season with lots of success. Then Aldridge floats a risky lefty floater over Eric Gordon — the kind that I have seen him miss a ton of times. It is tied. Lady Luck.

Kawhi then misses a lefty scoop because his ankle does not let him get lift. Then Patty fouls Harden on the screen. Harden gets cheap free throws, just like he has all season. In an alternate universe the headlines say something to that effect.

Enter Manu, who gets a huge bucket like Kawhi did the last series. Kawhi passed the ball over to Ginobili with 10 seconds on the shot clock after getting the ball as the first option on the early action. If Kawhi is not gimpy there, this would be his moment. Instead we called on Manu and he delivered.

Jonathan Simmons

Mr. Can’t Go Back took the charge of the game. If you are Houston fan, this is where you complain about the refs and the play-calling. Instead of going 2-for-1, James Harden went right at Simmons.

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The Spurs followed that with a silly possession that ended without a legal shot.

That defensive play was not a luck thing. In the post-game scrum they asked Jonathan if he was the Harden-stopper, and he quickly declined that implication.

Still:

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Overtime

Kawhi was benched. He was not much of a decoy when he was battling through the injury, nor was he very effective defensively. In a game where the Spurs are struggling to find guys to cover ground, playing Kawhi had little upside. It is the kind of move that Pop often gets praise for, but can backfire and fuels the anti-Popovich faction that likes to point out the awful flameouts in Spurs history under his watch.

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Whoever won this game was going to feel fortunate. Manu was still cooking, just not scoring. He pump-faked a shot, drove, then dealt Danny a smooth behind-the-back pass. Danny missed.

The Rockets continued their insistence on running with Harden, who was exhausted and had no legs for his jumpers. The Spurs got offensive rebounds but could not hit anything.

Aldridge turns it over just under three minutes. Harden leaves a three short.

Neither team is proud of these possessions.

Manu got to the bucket and produced a chance for Aldridge to tip the ball in. It was called interference. There were more than a few situations that went against both squads.

A few seconds later Harden Euro-steps into a pass to the corner for Beverly — the kind of pass I mentioned earlier that was usually successful. Here it felt like a back-breaker. It might as well have been a ten-point shot for all the distance 3-points felt at that time. The Spurs were in a drought extending back to the fourth.

Then Simmons made a play. He got himself two free throws out of it. Then a Manu steal on Harden’s kick out pass. Then Danny with a 26-footer. The lead!

The camera pans to a woman screaming. I feel the same way. She is me. I am her.

Oh then Harden gets a hockey assist to Anderson’s three. Spurs are down two under a minute. Then Danny Green attacks Harden’s close out and gets a bucket and a homer call And-1.

The Spurs are looking for a stop against a team that rained down 22 and 19 threes in two games against them this week. Eric Gordon goes cold. I am briefly reminded of one of the regular season games where he missed from a very similar spot in a very similar situation.

I did not like the reductive nature of the series analysis by the NBA blogosphere: Rockets will win or lose by the number of threes they make. Sure, but that applies to the Spurs also. Patty Mills made 2 of 5 threes in the last game. Tonight he went 5/12. The Rockets made only three fewer threes this game than last.

For all the fire-power on D’Antoni’s squad, he only went 7-deep in a game that went to OT. That decision contributed to the poor offense late. Everyone was gassed and threes are harder to make when the legs are gone.

Future

Either of these teams could have won this game. Either of these teams deserved to lose. Houston will feel the more aggrieved, though. The Spurs lost their MVP in the most crucial moment and got contributions from everyone that was maligned this postseason.

Aldridge had 18 and 14 including 9 offensive rebounds. Simmons had 12 and 3 steals, including his shutdown of Harden late. Patty had 20 and Danny made up for getting roasted defensively by getting seven huge OT points.

The defense was fantastic. The offense was good early, but struggled late. Kawhi said he is going to play next game, but if he is not healthy enough to play at a good enough level to carry this team the Spurs are going to be underdogs for the next two games, let alone against the rested, over-talented Dubs.

If Kawhi is able to contribute (he had 22 and 25!), I cannot see the Rockets bowing out easily in Houston. Their bench mob will play much better. Gordon, Ariza, and Lou Williams combined for only 26 points. Gordon had 22 by himself last game.

I picked Spurs in six and so will stick with that. I also predicted we would question any and everything we believed. And lo, it has come to pass.


  1. John Starks, Vice Carter circa 2001, Brent Barry circa 2008 

Gm 4: Rockets 125 Spurs 104

You know what? The beginning quarter did not look much different than the game three version, outside of Houston hitting a few more of those threes they took. The entire game felt like last game should have went, with the Rockets feeling good and going off. This series is already weird, and I do not know if anyone has a good sense of it.

Some attribute the variance to the three point shooting — if the Rockets make them it is over — and others (Pop included) to the defense. Count me among the latter, as the threes come from poor defense. Sure, James Harden hit a couple stand-still threes from the corner, and a fall-away in Gasol’s face, but that did not make the game.

Much like in Game 2, when the close game was blown open by a Spurs run, this one was close until the third quarter run by the Rockets. The period began with a Gasol bucket that cut the game to two, it ended with a Ryan Anderson buzzer-beater to make it 15.

In between the Spurs had multiple chances to stem the run, just like in the first half. In a surprising turn, outside of Aldridge, there was not much going for SA. In the third, Kawhi had 2 points on 1/4 shooting, 2 fouls, and a turnover (offensive foul). He was off all night, going 7/14 on the shots he usually makes more of — those 6-10 foot jumpers he feasts on. Oh, and he only managed three free throws and missed two of them.

Still, Aldridge nearly single handedly carried the team back to within striking distance. The lead shot up to 18, with five minutes left. Aldridge and company got it down to 10 two minutes later, and again on a Patty Mills jumper in the lane (after stealing it away from Lou Williams on the ground).

Then the Rockets started hitting some of their open looks, started hitting not-open looks, and then it was about done after Pop’s bench brigade failed to muster a rally in the early fourth. 1

Defense

I am not exactly sure what Pop means when he says “transition” but this is right in that general description area. Usually people think of “transition” to mean “fast break” but the Spurs did not really give up many of those. This is not going to be in the latter category because the defense is set. Still, it is a transition period as the Rockets are very early in getting in the half-court set. Lou Williams walks by Danny Green here for a dunk. It was difficult for the defense as Ryan Anderson was the lone big man and right here it is a five-out set.

Lou Williams

This was much earlier and fast break points, but Pop was very upset with this.

Harden Dunk

Chuck Barkley made a good point about Eric Gordon being a second ball-handler in the third for them. Where in the usual starting lineup (Harden, Anderson, Beverly, Capela, Ariza) Harden is the only playmaker and real finisher at the rim, the one with Gordon (in place of Anderson) presents problems. Gordon moves much more (and better) off the ball than Ryan Anderson, and can create his own shot.

Really, Lou Williams did a lot of damage. The Rockets were getting to the rim with no one there to challenge. I am thinking is mostly what Pop means when he is discussing the transition defense. In any case it is bad defensive basketball.

We also so some of the same game one problems offensively — the misses leading to run outs. The Spurs were generally patient getting the ball to LaMarcus inside (ten straight in the third!) but the patience lacks crispness. The Rockets are still changing the looks they give Kawhi, but he was not having trouble getting to his spots, just making them.

This was a clear example of a game that needed Tony Parker. The third quarter got away from the Spurs as the pace picked up. He could have calmed things a bit, and provided (hopefully) some scoring. While Dejounte Murray was solid if unspectacular, he still made some rookie mistakes. While he was doing some solid slashing to the hoop, he does not get the team into the sets quickly or comfortably, nor does the team look particularly comfortable running the stuff with him out there. These things inform one another, obviously.

James Harden and all the drivers made a point to not always attack the rim, but be more patient and find cutters.

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That is a tough cover for LaMarcus Aldridge, who has to go from 3-point line, to the block to the 3-point line quickly. That is the challenge, however. You still want Ariza being the playmaker than Harden, who finished with 12 assists tonight. The Rockets found a slight adjustment to reduce the value of Pau defensively (I cannot believe I wrote that). It was a slight one that really was about being more patient, compared to game three’s more assertive.

Future

It seems reductive but if Kawhi was producing buckets at the same kind of clip he was in the last few games, this thing would have been much closer. Playing What If is a big part of fandom but it does not change anything.

Ironically, the Rockets losing Nene might change things in their favor. The super small lineup should be punished by the Spurs big guys — more of Aldridge eating vs Harden in the post — but those gains can be cancelled out by easy run outs and Eric Gordon raining threes and getting to the cup.

We already knew the series dynamic was going to be size vs pace-&-space, but the extremity is a little surprising. Every Spurs lineup is compromised without Tony, and tonight it showed.

The Rockets were going to have a home game where they exploded. Game four was that game. Mike D’Antoni took some solace in the fact that his guys were only down three in game two, before the Spurs went on a run. We too can feel some confidence knowing that this game was a little closer than the final score indicated. The Spurs were within two early in the third before things fell apart.

The team finds itself in the same position as last year when they faced OKC. Then they split both home and road stands, only to go ice cold in game five down the stretch. Hopefully they exercise some demons on Tuesday.


  1. Jonathan Simmons vs Eric Gordon had like 12 straight between them for a second. 

Gm 3: Spurs 105 Rockets 92

Patrick Beverly annoys me in video games. I played as the Thunder and my cousin as the Rockets, and when he put Bev on Westbrook he frustrated me with steals and tough defense. This was a couple of months ago and ever since I have irrationally not liked the real version either, after having previously had no opinion of him other than that he looks like a mechanic 1.

In Game 1, we knew Patrick Beverly was going to bother Tony Parker after giving the presumptive MVP a hard time in round one. And so it came to pass. TP didn’t have his best game, getting ripped and even blocked (by Lou Williams, no less). Was it Beverly or was it just a bad game? A little of both, probably.

Tony got the better of The Mechanic on Wednesday but obviously will not be able to continue this little battle. Enter Dejounte Murray, rookie PG with no fear. Before the game he reportedly told Pop “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

As it was, he may have been mentally fine, but The Mechanic was in the dude’s chest for every minute of the first quarter, getting two steals, forcing Murray to think about things and get a little rattled after a while. Dejounte lost the ball while turning on a fast break with no one around him.

Beverly does not let you get comfortable with your dribble, and his style of defense takes some time to adjust to. Tony Parker needed a game, and Dejounte Murray probably needs one as well. The good news is that people can adjust to anything after some time. The Spurs adjusted to Memphis’ physicality and size but then needed time to adjust to the Rockets pace and space. So it goes.

My gut was telling me the Spurs were in for a beating tonight. Tony Parker is and will be missing and this is the first game that adjustments begin. This is not a regular season rotation experiment, but a playoff game wherein the opposing coaching staff is doing scouting for all of your options full-time. The game three bump happened only for Harden, who scored 43 points and found his three point shooting stroke again. The Spurs missed something like 100 jumpers (actually they shot 9/26 or 34% from the field, including 1/8 from three) in a quarter that Pop called “the worst display off offense I’ve ever seen.”

The entire first half was ugly, although the Spurs played better in the second. The squad managed 43 at the half (to the Rockets 39). That is only four points more than they managed in the first half of game one. While the Spurs offense was not producing buckets, it was patient and focused. That, remember, was the key to winning the second game.

LaMarcus Aldridge made a welcome appearance as an All-Star quality forward in this one. He was assertively shooting his turnaround, his catch-and-shoot 20-footers, and even tried a couple of threes. The team made a concerted effort to get him the ball in his spots, and out of timeouts, so credit is due all around. Pau is a great passer and has been great sneaking good passes to him for buckets. He did so last game, and slipped the bounce pass to Aldridge late in the fourth that was was an three point play.

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Kawhi finished 9/20 and missed two free throws. This, in his terms, was an off-night but he managed to be amazing anyway. After 19 years of overlooking the consistent greatness of Tim Duncan, I am making it a point to appreciate the Kawhi brilliance.

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Of course the other guys stepped up and made plays. Jonathan Simmons had that above, a clutch end-of-quarter three, and a great pass to LMA for a bucket. Outside of Trevor Ariza’s 12 points (five of five from deep) the Rockets were outplayed by the Spurs bench + other guys. It made all the post Game One reaction to the blowout seem knowing and not simply just player-speak. “It was just one game, we have to go out and do better.” That seemed trite but as Chris Paul might say, what do you expect them to say?

It remains no less true after this game, also. To win a series you need to win four, and so far the Spurs have simply won two. There is more work to do. Mike D’Antoni should make adjustments, but I have seen some people question his ability to do so.

The one adjustment they did make coming into Houston, was to attack Pau more violently.

Rockets Adjustments

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Harden, after missing more than a few layups in the second game, looked to dunk the ball more often instead of laying it in. That isn’t to say that James did not get layups this time because he did. Ariza was more forceful also. Tellingly, as was highlighted by the ESPN crew, the Spurs forced more midrange shots than the Rockets typically enjoy.

Look at the shot charts for game one and game five. Look at those midrange attempts.

Shot Chart Comparison

Remember the difference in playoff games is a handful of shots, usually. Taking even five more shots at midrange is better for San Antonio than the Rockets shooting five more threes, or five more layups.

Of course it also helped that the Spurs have insisted on not letting James Harden bait them into cheap fouls, where he can go to the line and rack up free threw attempts. He was more than a little frustrated with the calls he wasn’t getting and that is great.

Defense

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That is quality defense. Grant Hill commented on how the Spurs were using their anti-Suns defense from the mid-2000s. Then, then stuck to the Suns’ shooters and played two vs two. Then it was Nash/Amaré and now it is Harden/Capela. The Beard had 43 last night, and it was not near enough. When he tried to force a pass here and there, Patty got a steal, or nothing happened. Ryan Anderson, he of the 16 points per game average in San Antonio, managed just two.

In Game Four the Rockets will shoot a little better, but so should the Spurs.


  1. Every time my cousin got a steal with Bev he shouted ‘THE MECHANIC’ and I laughed and got angry at the same time. Lesson: Do not play video games. 

Spurs – Rockets Thoughts

In some future iteration of the Spurs, maybe Kawhi completes his training with a lesson on Lebron-like play making, where we can surround him with shooters and dominate offensively.

Until then, the Spurs are going with a 90-era big man game. (The Spurs have been good so long that Pop can throw it back to previous pages in his playbook). This version includes more shooting big men in LMA and Pau but still relies on size inside.

The peculiar thing about Memphis was that they were the doing the same thing as the Spurs. This, among other things, makes them a bad match up for nearly every team. When a team plays solid, smart basketball and accentuates its strengths while minimizing its weaknesses, it is a tough team to beat. If that seems reductive and easy, then yes, you have realized that this game is a simple one.

The Spurs’ weaknesses are age, overall athleticism, and versatility. This has been known. Pau is immobile and a liability defensively. He does not score enough to mitigate this defensive liabilities and so we see the similarly one-dimensional Dewayne Dedmon starting (usually). David Lee brings enough energy to make up for mistakes, or relatively limited offensive game to get hustle points. Still, the Rockets won’t scheme to stop the team from running the offense through Lee.

Of the Spurs’ ball handlers, Tony Parker had the worst regular season of the two starters (Kawhi being the other). Manu was good enough, but has had all of 11 minutes of quality play in six games. Patty has been feast-or-famine, and if he is not hitting open jumpers he is only a liability defensively. Danny Green brings defense, and so if his jumper is broke all is not lost, but his missing threes is one of the most frustrating things to see for every SA fan.

Aldridge needs room to operate, and can hit the pick-and-pop, but is not enough of a defensive presence inside to build a defense around. His mobility outside has been good, but without Tim protecting the rim, the Spurs have looked a little vulnerable. Dewayne Dedmon is not a rock inside, even if he has been useful.

We know all of the above because we have watched this team for 88 games now. It is easy to forget that they won 65 of those. That’s pretty damned ridiculous. Kawhi has carried the load, and it is easy to get worried about that notion until you remember that the Spurs won a couple of titles with that formula. The Cavs nearly did the same two years ago. It is possible, though difficult. Complaining about help is futile until the offseason arrives and the negotiations can begin. The team is the team.

The strengths then, are these. Kawhi is the best two-way player in this league night-to-night (Bron and Durant can do something similar, but do not every night). Aldridge can still get 40 on his night, brings big-man mobility, and a high basketball IQ. Pau and Manu bring savvy, competitiveness, and passing. The rest of the roster brings shooting, defense, energy, and enough pieces to match up against most of the league’s problems.

Kawhi is on a run of offensive efficiency and explosiveness not seen since Peak Tim in the early aughts or Dave Robinson in the mid 90s. I hope you are enjoying the spectacle.

Tony can be 95 Clyde Drexler, 2011 Jason Kidd, 2006 Gary Payton, shadows of their peak greatness but still effective, savvy veterans who have gas in the tank.

If LaMarcus can’t be a 20/10 guy as a secondary scorer, if he can pull out the glimpses of defensive stopper he showed in the regular season, combined with the timely bucket-getter he has always been, the Spurs will be fine. If the knock on LMA was that he wilted as the primary guy in POR, maybe being the second guy is more suitable. He isn’t as ferociously competitive or versatile as 2008 (same age then as LMA now) Kevin Garnett, but he does not have to be. He is versatile enough and just needs enough desire as by-product of the competitor that is Manu or Kawhi.

When the Spurs accentuate their strengths, LMA is getting 15/9, making under-the-radar defensive plays, Kawhi is dominating, and shooters are feasting on open looks.

While the Rockets will stretch the Spurs, they do not have the athletic advantage Amaré had over Duncan, which was one aspect that gave the Spurs so much trouble. Capela is not a bum, but he is not an offensive force like peak Stoudemire was, and any combination of Nene/Anderson with Harden approaches the force that was Nash/Amaré (when it comes to these Spurs).

Ultimately, what gives everyone pause is the thinking that Kawhi needs more guys to hit shots, which was and is the story of every super star. See the Chris Paul postmortems this morning.The Spurs shot a league-best from three this season, but had a couple of struggle-fests in Memphis. The key to those games was not that the shots were missed, but that they were wide-open misses. This still is a make-or-miss league and all you can ask for is a good look at the cup. LaMarcus had a difficult matchup against two quality 7-footers who like to bang inside (not too different than the problems posed by the Thunder last season, which explains a lot).

The Spurs coaching staff and roster has proven that they will make you take the toughest looks in the league. Meanwhile the Rockets are built to maximize the variance that is making of the toughest looks in the league — the longest distance three. If the Spurs go down because Ryan Anderson is making 35-footers then so be it.

Spurs in 6. A tough six where we question everything and everyone a la the Memphis series.

Grandpa Juice And Clinching The First Round

Game Five

Patty called it ‘grandpa juice.’ Pop smirked when Manu got up from his face-scuffing tackle with fellow old man Vince Carter. Everyone was pleased to see Manu be Manu again, even for only a short while, and even only to the point of producing 10 points.

The time has long past where Manu was relied upon heavily, but he is still important to this team. The problems with his age is the consistency. It is hard and unpredictable to bounce back and get out of funks. Manu said that age makes it difficult to get by people, and that takes away most of his game.

Speaking of Classic Manu:

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In the end, Manu’s burst was all of a handful of minutes and only tangibly worth eight early points. If it really did inspire Patty’s 20-point burst — that was reminiscent of his output way back in 2014 against Miami in Game 5 — then it was all the more useful.

If we are being realistic, it was more of a return to form than anything. While the Grizzlies did figure some things out about the Spurs — that no one not named Kawhi could guard Mike Conley and that they could tire Aldridge by having two big guys battle him all night — the Spurs were still getting the looks they wanted. In Game 4, SA missed all the wide-open shots. Was it really a surprise that the league’s best three point shooting team (by percentage) started hitting more?

Game Six

Sitting here a day removed from the clincher, three things stand out:

1) The Spurs were down 81-88 and Kawhi went on a one-man run that is the stuff of NBA Legends. The jumper + the foul and the step-back three point shot got the Spurs back into the game making it 87-88. He created two great looks for himself and converted, turning the game into a one-possession situation with just over 5 minutes to play, shifting the pressure to Memphis.

2) Kawhi dishing and Tony stepping up. Kawhi dished to Tony and David Lee down the stretch. Kawhi dished to Lee for a dunk, stole the ball from Ennis, then dished to Parker for a jumper. The game went from 92-92 to 96-92 with 1:41 left. Tony had this catch-and-shoot jumper but also assisted Patty and hit another clutch jumper to make it 98-94.

3) David Lee. He had the aforementioned dunk, but also the tip-out for a rebound after Vince Carter’s two free throws to make it 96-94. He had two offensive rebounds and four points in the final three minutes (one off Aldridge’s jumper and the tip-out to Leonard)

At halftime, Charles Barkley was repeating the line about the Spurs not having any help for Kawhi. While it is generally true — Tony isn’t what he was, and Aldridge is below his average — the team was not playing poorly.

These last couple of games the Spurs found themselves a counter to Zach Randolph in the starting lineup — TP roasting him from fifteen feet. He called it being aggressive.

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Throughout the season, Parker has said on multiple occasions that his job these days is to get Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge involved early. But the point guard talked with Popovich throughout this series, and the Spurs gradually devised a different plan of attack. Parker and Popovich discussed how Memphis showed a tendency to run under several of San Antonio’s pick-and-rolls, and the Grizzlies were also denying Aldridge the types of shots he likes to take.

Where the team usually likes the LMA matchup inside against most teams, he had a difficult time scoring regularly against Z-Bo. Was he tired from defending Marc Gasol? The drop off was similar to the one he faced against OKC last year. One theory goes that his pick-and-pop game is limited and is easily figured out after a few looks and film session.

That does not bode well for the potential WCF matchup against Draymond inside. That’s for then, though.

Right now the physical challenges shift from strength to endurance. Tony Parker has previously mentioned the mental challenge inherent in defending a team that likes frequent deep threes.

Tony is going to have a tougher time against Patrick Beverley than he did on Conley, who is not known for defense and who also had to carry a scoring load. Trevor Ariza is a good defender, but did not do much against Kawhi in the regular season. He probably will make things tougher than Ennis and Green did, but Kawhi is at the top of his game right now. As we saw over six games, the key to stopping Pop’s squad is stopping the other guys.

It should be fun.