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.