The Grind For 8th

The Spurs are in a three-way battle for the final spot in the Western conference and it doesn’t look good. DeMar DeRozan has played incredible basketball in the last month+ stretch but not as good as Portland’s Damian Lillard. Portland is tied with the Spurs and Memphis, whose players are beefing with no-show Igoudala, are looking and feeling good.

Tonight, the Spurs led the struggling Clippers by 15 for a while. The Clips had a limited Paul George and an off Kawhi. I write that having saw Kawhi get buckets and Paul George hit the clutch bucket late. They are so good that they could power though their poor play to still dominate the game. If the Spurs were a better team, we could be frustrated that they did not take advantage of an off night for the home squad. Because they are not a good team, we now that the reason they led by 15 was precisely because the Clips were struggling.

Sean Elliott complained about the Spurs’ lack of situational awareness. This is something that has plagued the team since the Big Three took a backseat. Savvy Manu always knew the time and score and took full advantage of situations. Who is that guy now? Maybe Derrick White. Maybe Patty Mills.

DeRozan has been incredible but cannot do it all. His game — full of contortions and foul-drawing tactics — does not lend itself to drawing the kind of fouls that Kawhi does — more power and direct movements. I do not share the contempt that some other Spurs fans have for him as I appreciate his incredible game. The Spurs still do not have the kind of team that compliments hime fully. There are a lot of non-shooters on the floor and that takes up his space. Marco Belinelli is still struggling and is unplayable right now.

The difference between last season is in the details. The Spurs were slightly good last year and this year are slightly bad. All of these single-digit games mean the Spurs are blowing leads or just hanging around in games they should not be. It is very lukewarm and fully deserving of the last seed battle they are in.

No Help Is Coming

Trading DeMarre Carroll is good for the Holt’s wallet but not for the team. Jabari Young says the Spurs are trying to trade the guy. He was signed as one of those Of Course things, where we all figured that the Spurs were getting a steal on a good player. Instead he has rode the bench. The Spurs have missed before — Pau Gasol — but this was poor and even more damaging because of the Marcus Morris issue this summer.

All of these misses combined with the loss of some quality long-time assistants seem like the root cause of the slightly worse team. The Spurs need a steadying veteran presence that is better than say, Trey Lyles but not too expensive. Someone that can be gotten for Carroll. There is no one out there that can do that, decently.

Youth-ifying that roster spot is cool and fun, but that just means more time needs to be spent on a guy that is learning how to win. The Spurs can use upgrades at the Forbes, Belinelli, and Lyles spots and there are few options there. The Rockets want to dump salary and everyone wants shooters and defense. Marco is shooting near a career-worst (35%. His career worst year was in SAC in 15-16 when he shot 30%) from deep.

I do not buy that you cannot win with DDR and LMA, because both have been part of 60-win teams. The Spurs had to reconfigure their squad on the fly and it has been mistake-filled. They missed on Morris, and lost Bertans in the deal. Davis is having a career year but even he was flawed. He struggled late last season, and is nothing special on defense. Morris was the play, and he is showing out in NYC even though its for a losing squad.

Lyles has been good for the money, but Morris would have brought toughness, defense, and the scoring that was needed. Maybe the Spurs undo all the bad from this offseason and ship Beli and Carroll to NY for Morris and everything goes fine.

(This would never happen).


I do not consider the Clippers a contender, and have not for a few years. Because of that I am always surprised that they give the Spurs so much trouble. My surprise is probably my own fault for underrating them. That said, I think it is more a matter of matching up than it is pure talent. For whatever reason, the Clips are blown out by the Warriors — even this KD version. In this way to early moment, the only way LAC is getting to the Finals is if the Spurs do the dirty work of eliminating Golden State for them first.

It is really way early, but if we were overly reasonable we wouldn’t be watching regular season basketball at all.

The Game

The Spurs started out unsustainably hot. Gasol and Aldridge hit threes, for goodness sake. Sure, they can hit midrange jumpers with consistency, and have range to 23 feet but if we are relying on them to rain threes on squads we are done. It was good to see the squad looking crisp in that 10-0 run to start. Then Doc Rivers called timeout and LA went on a run of their own.

The offense didn’t look as crisp after that, partly helped by the refs’ tendency to not give Kawhi the contact fouls he has been feasting on, but the real concern for everyone was the transition defense. Chris Paul put on a show in that first quarter in which the Clips scored 39. He did that classic point guard thing where he led the break and found a trailing Blake Griffin for dunks. Multiple times.

Concerning Things And Matchups

The Clips match up well because Blake and Jordan are about equal to the Spurs’ big men. So the Spurs then have no comparative advantage inside. Jordan’s size and strength make it tough for Aldridge and Gasol to bully their way to buckets, and Gasol. On the other end, Blake can work over anyone we put on him on the perimeter especially when his jumper is on. Oh yeah and I mentioned him running free for fast break buckets. All of this is helped by Chris Paul, who is savvy enough to make up for the low basketball IQ that some of the Clippers players have. Hell, he makes Deandre Jordan a threat offensively.

All that said, the Spurs are not as bad as they played. While both teams played the night before, San Antonio was the only squad missing two starters. The defensive rotations are still slightly delayed because of confusion, and the substitution patterns are a work in progress.

When Danny Green and Tony get back some of those things will work themselves out. Tony Parker is not an All-Star threat anymore, but he still knows the defensive rotations inside and out. Meanwhile everyone else is getting better and these kinds of games are invaluable in producing the deep benches that the Spurs are famous for.

Unscientific List of Guys Who Caught My Eye Tonight

  • Lapprovíttola is fun to watch. He has no fear, and is only going to be a bigger part of the Spurs going forward.

  • Jonathan Simmons really gets lost defensively sometimes. All those highlights you see of him do not show the reasons he was in the dog house last year. That kind of stuff. I still like him but I still noticed it

  • Every time Bertāns shoots it I know it will go in. I am surprised when it does not. I like Dāvis Bertāns.

  • I know this is a slight contradiction but LMA was 3/3 from 3. This is a return to his Portland days when he was hitting them regularly.

G6: Missed Opportunity

I don’t like wasting great nights from role players. Marco Belinelli had an incredible game last night (23 points on 7-11 from three) much like Doc’s kid had in game four. The Clippers didn’t waste his out-of-nowhere performance, but the Spurs wasted the Italian Bomber’s.

This was partly because in Game 4 LA big guns went off. Chris Paul had 34. The Spurs’ big three didn’t perform. Kawhi and Tim had 12 each. Tony had eight. Manu had only three points on 1 of 6 shooting.

Popovich called the team ‘soft’ and while I’ll defer to him, it was mostly about effort. The Spurs didn’t play like they cared as much as LA. To be fair, no one plays as hard as a team that is going to be eliminated. The Clippers pulled out all the stops. The Spurs played like they were shocked (shocked!) to be going against such a committed team.

I don’t belive in jinxes. That isn’t to say that there might not be something we can’t put our scientific fingers on that makes us feel like we jinxed things. I don’t know. You don’t know. I never had the feeling like SA was going to completly shut down the Clippers last night. This Spurs team is good, but it isn’t the same one from the last two years. Manu is a shell of himself. Sure, Kawhi has taken a leap in ability and consistency, but he isn’t getting Chuck Barkley to shout his name. Danny Green, for one, isn’t playing at the same level that made San Antonio embrace him. That thing that SAS had the last couple of years has been gone all season. They didn’t get right until late in the season, and while we all figured it was just a bit delayed, the things that made them lose early on are the same things that are making them lose now. Timmy is consistently ballin’ like he was early, but he’s being left out to dry by an inconsistent supporting cast. Which makes this whole thing feel like 2002 in more ways than one.

I say these things because I know the Spurs better than I do the Clips. LA has been fantastic in spots, and certainly look like they have a Hall of Fame point guard passing to a dynamic, athletic inside combination, all coached by a championship-winning guy. This series could easily have been over were it not for a fortunate bounce the Spurs way in a couple of games. Games One and Three were one-sided, Two and Five were toss-ups. Four and Six were solid wins by good teams on the road. Surprise: Those wins were by LA in SA. That is scary, as I’m realizing slowly the fact that this means the Spurs have been outplayed this series.

Right now the Spurs will be the desperate team staving off elimination on the road against a Chris Paul-led team in which he likes to throw lobs to athletic big men. Lets hope we get a flashback to 2008.

Game 4: Paul’d

We all know it is a little strange being a San Antonio Spurs fan. They haven’t won titles the conventional way. No back-to-backs, no media darlings, no pretty basketball (for the first three titles).

The Spurs have been counted out a few times in the course of the Duncan reign. Hell, they were done after getting dumped by the Mavericks in the first round in 2009, and swept by the suns in 2010. They were too old to hang with teams like the Grizz in 2011. Then not ready for the new breed OKC in 2012. Then missed their window in game 6 in 2013.

The Spurs have won one title in the last seven years. So has Boston. The two franchises are in vastly different spots. The Heat won two titles, same with the Lakers. Where are they now? Garbage squads.

The above is a long way around of saying that I still believe the Spurs have enough to oust the Clippers. Their athleticism was always going to give the Spurs trouble, because it is in the right spots. The Heat had athleticism, but it was on the outside where we could mitigate that. One reason SA struggled so much with OKC the last three years was Serge Ibaka dominating inside. The Spurs offense creates shots at the rim and from three. But when teams have a guy like Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin that can recover from mistakes with such ferocity, that creates a problem.

On the other end, Chris Paul is playing like he did in 2009 when he destroyed the Spurs in three games. Yeah, he’s been on bad teams for his nine years, but he’s still very good.

It would be nice if Tony Parker was keeping pace with him but instead he was missing clutch free throws in game 4. The hope was that the game three blowout would have given Tony and Manu (and Tim, to a lesser extent) the rest they needed to essentially close this thing out in Game 4.

Instead, Tony was still laboring to score1, and Manu was giving away the ball and three-point plays. 2 While I don’t see that changing dramatically in the next few games I don’t see Austin Rivers balling out nor Danny Green continuing to struggle.

Manu called Austin Rivers’ big game a “surprise” but owned up to the mistakes. I still believe. Doc Rivers said he loves the ebb and flow of a playoff series. I don’t. I hate it. It really does feel like your team will never win again after a playoff loss. And losing two games in a row is the difference between a 3-2 advantage going home and a 2-3 deficit must-win.

The biggest concern wasn’t necessarily the defense allowing 34 points from Chris Paul. Nor was it the surprise from Austin Rivers, as he got some good looks against Patty Mills, who despite his contributions, isn’t going to win that 1v1 battle.

No, the biggest concern was the 24% from three. Danny Green 0-fered. He wasn’t really doing much defensively, either. With Kawhi shouldering the scoring, the Spurs will need Danny to defend better, and be the guy that tore up the Finals two years ago. Else, what is he doing that Marco can’t?

Speaking of Kawhi Leonard, he is awesome. He was torched tonight by the combination of Chris Paul and JJ Redick but he was also 10-19 for 26 points. Again, he can’t be expected to pick up the offensive slack while still locking down the other team’s perimeter guys. Danny Green and company need to hit shots.

If we want KL to be LBJ, he can’t be guarding the best player the entire night. Simple as that.

See you again on Tues night.

* * *

1. Sure, he had 18. He was better but still not where the Spurs need him to be. [↩](#fnref:p117475548557-1)

2. We are getting all the bad Manu with nearly none of the good. [↩](#fnref:p117475548557-2)

Game 1: The Blake-ening

Aron Baynes was immortalized yesterday. He took three(!) Blake Griffin Specials to the face that summed the Spurs performance in game one: Right place, bad execution.

The thing about getting yammed on is that it can really destroy your YouTube legacy. Jaren Jackson, he of the legendary ‘99 Spurs, is most prominently remembered for getting dunked on by Kobe on Christmas Day 1999. There’s also a high-ranking video of Spreewell doing the same.

Now, JJ wasn’t the best Spur ever, but he was one of the first 3-and-D guys we had out there. He played his role well and helped close out the Great Western Forum in the Lakers series.

Such will be Aron Baynes’ fate, which is sad because he played a good basketball game. He defended all three Griffin dunks with the same verve, and that’s to be commended. He’s not Tiago Splitter, whose absence1 was notable. The biggest problem on the front line was Bobo’s poor play. He tossed up that ugly airball from a wide-ass open three that really encapsualted the shooting woes. Those are the shots you want, right?

Well, sort of. The ones we want are in rhythm, off three or four passes and we weren’t getting those. One of the major tributaries of assists is the drive and kick. In theory, the defense collapses on the driver (TP, Manu, usually) and then the ball pings around the perimeter before finding an open shooter. This is by no means the only way the Spurs play, but it is a major one. Without Tony Parker playng at 29-year-old TP levels, there really is no one who can attack the formidable Clipper front line with any success. Boris Diaw did a great job last year against the Thunder, who have a similarly over-talented defender.

Yes, Deandre Jordan is defending the basket like Serge Ibaka 2. The Spurs looked uncomfortable inside, breaking off drives that they would normally (attempt to) finish at the rim and instead opting to dribble out or pass. That kind of thing messes with your rhythm and contributes to 37% shooting nights.

I don’t buy the thinking that the Spurs will magically shoot better on Wednesday. It won’t happen without a little aggressiveness, and aggressive success in getting buckets inside.

Speaking of attacking basketball, much has been made of Chris Paul’s “masterful” performance. He was great but particularly so in mixing attacks at the rim with passes to shooters, and pull up jumpers. He’s fun to watch when he’s not attacking your team. Or punching them in the balls.

Here’s hoping:

  • Boris can stretch the floor enough to get Deandre Jordan outside of Block Shit Into Stands territory.
  • Matt Bonner time? Nah. The Spurs are at a disadvantage athletically, so putting yet another guy who will get jumped over is risky. He has shooting skills, however, and right now no one else can buy a basket.
  • We might need to use our once-per-series Manu game on Wednesday. Something like 26 points, 3/7 from three, 5 assists type of game.

* * *

1. I know he played, but did he really? [↩](#fnref:p116922206952-1)

2. Blake, too [↩](#fnref:p116922206952-2)


Ethan Sherwood Strauss, an NBA guy that I kind of respect (in that he seems like a smart guy with smart opinions but I don’t have the time to read everything he writes) said this on the twitter machine

Experts are browbeating the public: YOU DON’T GET HOW GOOD THE SPURS ARE. Well, if they lose, maybe the public got something right

He received some nice counter-arguments, but really, no one cares. That is the crux of the argument. No one has cared, no one will care. Any experts “browbeating” the public are just playing Contrarian Guy and not even a good one at that. I mean, the Spurs have the number one seed throughout so really, how contrarian is it to pick them? 

Any ambivalence about the team stems from both our frustratingly successful regular seasons the past two years and the terrible playoff performances the last four years (lost in five in the conference finals to LA, lost in five to the Mavs in the first round, swept by the Suns in the second round, lost to eighth-seeded Grizzlies in six). So Ethan has a decent enough point. 

What kind of recognition is deserved? Not much. The small market factor is a problem. There isn’t any reason to talk about San Antonio until absolutely necessary. Commentary on the outpost is only good for building obscure credibility. Even then, it isn’t even cool NBA blogger style to like the Spurs anymore. It’s like liking Portlandia as a hipster – it’s kind of a requirement to appreciate the Spurs’ professionalism and work ethic and execution and Tim Duncan’s consistency and Manu’s whatever and Tony Parker’s sort of MVP season. 

We get it. We don’t even mind anymore. We don’t need to be the hot chick anymore, guys. Haven’t we done this dance already? Haven’t we had these conversations lots of times since 1999, the last lockout season? 


Still, it would be pretty damned awesome to beat up on another upstart youngin’ sporting LA colors in the second round to bookend Timmy’s career. This one would also have journeymen players and a guy who was let go and came back. Then it was Sean Elliot, now it is Stack Jack. We won’t be shutting down the Great Western Forum in back-to-back games three and four this time, though we might be turning out the lights on Lob City in a similar situation.

But maybe it won’t be easy. Maybe it will be ugly. That has also been the underreported hallmark of this decade. Unlike the Bulls, Lakers, and Rockets, the Spurs haven’t looked dominant for any stretch. We’ve just been consistently competitive. It is weird. The window should have closed about five years ago. It hasn’t. We’ve never won a back-to-back and it doesn’t look like we will anytime soon. We’ve only had one dominant run through a playoff bracket. In 1999 there was the shortened season that made Phil talk about asterisks. In 2007, the Warriors denied a revenge series rematch with the Maverick team that beat us in Game 7 the year previous. 

Yet still there are four championship banners hanging and dammit that looks like a dynasty.

I’ve learned to accept the snubs, the doubts, and the lack of attention. It’s only odd that I didn’t do it sooner. 

You know what, though? This is sure feeling like another special run and I have tickets to  Game 1 on Tuesday. 

Go Spurs Go.