Game 2: Spurs 121 Rockets 96

Spurs twitter all but traded LaMarcus Aldridge over the last two days. I’ve seen and heard the local radio guy question the man’s work ethic, integrity, passion and skill.

That criticism is part of the gig, I suppose. You get paid like an All-Star, and you get criticized like one. Although Tim is getting the soft glow of retirement and memories now, I vividly remember the vitriol he received when he had bad games. My old boss bitterly complained about Tim being soft as Pop patted Tim’s knee after the squad got blown out in Game 4 of the 2005 NBA Finals.

“That’s a bad look. He needs Pop to kiss his boo-boo? Spurs are too soft.”

I tweeted that the adjustments after game one really came down to the Spurs playing better. That sounds like a silly thing to say when basketbloggers are out here doing Gif breakdowns and analyzing five-man lineup +/- numbers. I think it proved true.

Some of the analysis got it right when they looked at it with what Pop said about the game: it was the offense that hurt the Spurs the most.

Manu, Patty, Tony, Pau, and LaMarcus all mentioned pace, patience and playing smarter as keys to containing the Rockets.

So it was.

Pop started Pau, LMA was decisive, and the offense was more patient and disciplined. Oh, and Danny Green was hitting his open looks. The game is really simple, y’all.

The Spurs were able to slow the pace enough to force the Rockets to run their offense in the half-court instead of playing a glorified pick up game and walking into uncontested threes. The interesting thing was that Ryan Anderson still shot the hell out of the ball, and Clint Capela still got a few roll man opportunities. And Eric Gordon was scoring. The Spurs simply outscored them.

Rockets scores by quarter: 30, 25, 28, 13
Spurs by quarter: 33, 33, 23, 33.

I wrote that the Rockets really won game one in the second 1. The Spurs obviously won game two in the final period.

As you see, the team doesn’t need to completely shut down this Rockets squad, but merely slow them. Yes, obviously running good plays should result in buckets, but good looks are all you can ask for. Good shots mean predictable rebounds, and/or at least a chance to get the defense set. That’s essentially what happened tonight.

Adjustments

Pop started Gasol, and joked that it was not going to change the universe. It didn’t, but it allowed Gasol to do two things:

  1. Space the floor for Aldridge. Pau made them pay with an elbow jumper early. He also was shooting from three instead of passing it up.
  2. Protect the rim. Pau has long been decent at rim protection as long as he can simply stand there and be tall. The Rockets didn’t pull him into PNRs 2 and so he was able to thwart a Harden drive (block!) and a Capela roll early which set the tone. He finished with 13 rebounds and four blocks.

Aldridge was better, but not amazing. Shaq was calling for mid-twenties scoring as a benchmark but as I wrote in the series preview, I just want 18/10 from him. He had 15/8 tonight. 3 That’s enough. He was decisive, efficient, and made plays.

Obviously the elephant in the room is the Parker injury. He was great tonight, scoring 18 after getting harassed in the first game. He attacked Beverly and Lou Williams after misses, pushed the pace but also got buckets as an outlet man when the ball found him. Manu, Patty and Pop all suggested the injury is bad and will keep him out for a long while. That changes the calculus this postseason, as everyone will need to give more. Tony has been good thus far, with only two bad games of the eight.

Danny Green was light years better, not only hitting threes but defending well. He attacked Harden and got layups. When he is making midrange jumpers you know it’s a good night.

The centerpiece was obviously Kawhi, who put in work again. He had 34 on 13/16, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Oh yeah and he didn’t foul Harden in all his minutes guarding Mr. Flop. For his part, Harden did not play very well, only managing 13 — a career low as a starter. He was sick and a bit hurt but he wasn’t the primary Spur killer in game one anyway. That sounds silly considering his line, but the theme of the Houston playoff run this year is the quality they have when Harden sits.

So let’s attempt to build this narrative. The Spurs did not allow as many threes, chased the Rockets off some others, and challenged more shots at the rim. Harden said he didn’t hit his layups, which was true. Some of that was him, some was Kawhi, and some was Pau and company making it difficult. That combination of things is how the Spurs will win. It’s subtle but basketball is about the trends, not an individual play here and there. The Rockets missing 5% of their shots changes the entire game.

Next

This entire series has changed now that Parker is down. In the regular season the staff pressed Murray into service with good results. They aren’t playing Sacramento, however. Tony Parker isn’t his old self, but he was bringing calm, poise, and a renewed scoring punch. Also underrated? His defensive effort. He is not Beverley, but he makes his man work on offense. I believe in Dejounte Murray but I do not see him being ready to lead this team to the next round. He probably will get a quick look, but Pop will have the hook ready. Patty, some combination of Manu and Slo Mo will be the answer for now. And yes, Kawhi will be asked to do even more call handling.

The Rockets, Warriors and Mr Basketball IQ himself, LeBron are all too good to not take advantage of a rookie PG, no matter how unafraid of the moment he is. That said, it may not matter. He might get tossed into the fire anyway.


  1. Which makes all those clips of the game in the third and fourth less impactful to me. 
  2. I mostly mean the Rockets did not get Gasol out in space. They tried to pull him into the PNRs, but he stayed back in the lane and waited for Harden. Leonard is good at getting over those. Zach Lowe mentioned this as a change up — especially for Gasol. David Lee won’t be useful, because he’s not a rim protector. 
  3. I wrote this:

    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.

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.

Spurs Destroy Cavs: What It Means

When Kawhi scored 41 against LeBron and company in Cleveland, we rejoiced. It was Dejounte Murray’s coming-out party, it showed Kawhi could ball on a relatively big stage against HOF-level competition (we knew this in the Finals, but still).

After this game we have a different kind of narrative. The Cavs are reeling if still talented. They are not the team that beat the historically great Warriors in the Finals last season. Instead they are a collection of parts that have more in common with the LeBron Returns: Year 1 squad that was trying to figure things out.

The through line in both is this: both of those teams went to the Finals and played well. That the Spurs beat this team last night means very little other than they took care of business against a struggling team. The things we are looking for at this stage of the game is incremental improvement and ‘tightening up’ as Pop says.

In the last ten, the Spurs have dropped three included one each to the Blazers and Grizzlies, two surging teams that are playing much better since the break. Also, the Thunder on a back-to-back in OKC.

Memphis was dealt a measure of revenge, the Thunder and the Blazers are on the schedule and so they too, will get a dose of the Klaw. The Spurs are what they will be in the playoffs. Kawhi is going to be relied upon to create and score upwards of 28+ a night. Pau is going to need to hit the threes he has been knocking down freely, and Patty et al will need to provide the punch off the bench.

It is setting up amazingly well. The Warriors are also adjusting to life without Durant, Steph is getting over his week long shooting slump but might have to reintegrate Kevin Durant sometime in the crunchiest of cruch times. The Spurs are in perfect position to exploit such a team.

Remember that the Warriors were readjusting to a slightly banged up Steph Curry throughout the playoffs and were exploited by teams that were in their Final Forms: The Cavs, The Thunder.

Also remember the Spurs transitioned from the well-oiled machine to bunny-missing also-rans in part because of that same Potential-Realizing Thunder squad. The post season is extremely long and yet an individual playoff series is relatively short.

Given the choice, I would much rather be in this position: playing well, being healthy than in the Cavs position. Still, that does not mean as much as we would like.

Spurs Show Mercy; Beat Grizz 116-96

The only thing that delayed the inevitable was , it turns out, a power surge. The Spurs handled a feisty Memphis Grizzlies squad for the fourth straight time in these playoffs this afternoon, putting the finishing touches on the mercy killing of their horrible season.

The basketball gods were much more kind to the Spurs this season, after a very tough first round matchup last year the Spurs got the worst 7th seed in the history of the league. Memphis was all all heart and injury. They played a record 28 guys this season and never once looked as checked-out as the uninjured, very talented Rockets do. 

Its funny that the conference with the best 1-2 seed combo (a combined 140 wins) might not be as strong as last year’s West lineup. Houston doesn’t play defense anymore and is imploding even while the best player in the league is out and the Grizzlies are injured. Meanwhile, the Clippers are still getting Blake Griffin back into form. 

Barring a ridiculous change in the Dallas Mavericks’ fortunes, next up will be the OKC Thunder who still possess the most athletic 1-2 punch in the league.  They are scary, but maybe not enough for us to worry about. As Mike Erler puts it

> Popovich has been resistant to use Duncan much against small-ball lineups all year, but not everyone is the Warriors. A lot of teams just don’t shoot very well from outside, especially this time of year when everyone’s dog tired and the pressure is so ratcheted up. The Thunder, for example, don’t have many shooters. There’s a legitimate concern that having Duncan play clogs up the offense too much and that he can’t chase around smalls on the other end, but as we saw against Memphis, there are plenty of non-shooters to hide him on, even on switches. I’d rather have him play, because his rebounding and rim-protection is much needed. The Spurs have two very good centers in Duncan and Boban Marjanovic and I wish they’d play to their strengths more often rather than trying to match their opponent’s smaller lineups.

Thats good blogging. The only way to counter the perfect realization of something is not to compete with it but to be its counter. Be the paper to its rock. Be the scissors to its paper. The only time the Warriors looked any kind of beatable was when the Spurs outsized them with Boris and Aldridge. Against the Rockets, Houston looked competitive with an engaged Dwight Howard. Against less than perfect realizations of small-ball, this is even easier and more effective. Look at Charlotte successfully posting Frank Kaminsky this weekend

I’m not advocating for always favoring the Charlotte Hornets basketball strategies over the 67-win Gregg Popovich ones, but I do like Timmy out there a bit more, especially with all this playoff rest. 

 

Clear Second Place

When was the last time we absolutely knew there was a clear better team than the Spurs? Was it those early 2000 Lakers? Was it the Heat? While the SSOL Suns were everyone’s favorite fun-and-gun squad, they only managed to beat (sweep) our favorite team once in a series. The Heat were all but beaten on their own court in one series, and thoroughly dismantled in another. Those OKC Thunder that had everyone questioning the new kings of the NBA? Well the Spurs managed to avenge a previous playoff loss (albeit with a timely injury to Ibaka).   

These Warriors are an all-time great team. This Spurs team is also, just a little less great.  

The Internet was filled with overreaction hot takes in the wake of the Warriors’ 72nd win on the season and first in 33 tries in SA, one that also ended the Spurs second-greatest-all-time home winning streak at 48.  

The dirty secret is that the Spurs have less trouble defending GSW (season lows in pace, points for The Ws) and way more trouble scoring. While some of our fellow fans point to Diaw’s absence as proof that SA still has a chance, that reliance on an aging (but very talented and crucial) guy is telling. Kawhi and LaMarcus are the two leading scorers on this team and yet they struggled in at least one game against the W’s. The Warriors took three of four against SA, but two were throttlings and this while also missing a role player or two for a couple. 

The Kevin Martin signing was a sign that the Spurs wanted more firepower — and likely for the Warriors. 

While Steph Curry and LMA are matchup problems when in the lineup, the Spurs don’t have any other clear advantages in the other units. Meanwhile, GSW is abusing Patty Mills when Sean Livingston is in.  

The playoffs exacerbate these kinds of things. Whereas I usually felt the Spurs had their best shot in out executing other teams, when the opponent does just as good of a job, defends as well, AND has once-in-a-generation talent? Well sometimes you come in second place. 

Here’s looking forward to the playoffs.  

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)

Spurs and Warriors Game One — First Half

I am in writing a last-minute research paper that I should have completed about three weeks ago. Such is life. Still, I have miraculously found the time and ability to live-blog-distract-myself during said writing.

1st Q

Immediately (or really, during, as it began with about two-minutes left in the Heat game) after MVP Bron and co dropped game one against the Bulls, the Spurs come out and look like they’ve been chillin’ all week also. So much of basketball is rhythm. So much rhythm gets lost in scrimmages and practice. There is no way to reproduce the do-or-die rush of adrenaline that comes with playoff game. Thus far, Golden State has played more recent games than have the Spurs and it shows. Missed buckets, slow reactions. This is to be expected. Still, the spark to life came and the Spurs are back in it. The Warriors are still ahead and looking good.

2nd Q

I need to move to Argentina, ya’ll. Messi came in in the 60th minute and scored two goals on four shots this weekend (the other two were off the top corner and off the keeper). Gino comes in and hits a three, gets a steal, and looks 31 years old. Mark Jackson is a good-ass coach. Golden State looks scrappy. They have shooters (which are always game-changing in that infuriating way), and Mark gives them some swagger and confidence. Curry just hit a three to put the Warriors up 42-31. It is only the W’s third (Spurs have four). I’m thankful. The GS beat writer Tim Kawakami1 said that he thought the Spurs would win because we could match them three-for-three. The flaw with that is this: Curry can get his own shot, even if they look impossible or ridiculous. The Spurs have a Rube Goldberg-style of getting those shots, comparatively speaking. The Drive and Kick style is awesome in the flow of the game but it’s hardly the magic you need in the playoffs. ***More soccer references warning *** It is Barca sans Messi-magic. That is to say, it is Arsenal.

Also of note: Bogut’s big-man floater. It is stupid. I hate it. Mostly because he hit it.

The Ginobili in-traffic-dunk will forever be my favorite thing ever.

Matt Bonner playoff poor-performance will forever be my least-favorite thing ever. Beside Juwon Howard judo-chopping Derek Anderson.

After a series of embarrassing strategic fouls on Bogut 2, Mark Jackson takes the Australian out and the Warriors come out of the time out and hit a three. It’s 53-49 and I’m out of snacks.

* * *

1. [@Timkawakami](http://twitter.com/timkawakami “twitter”) [↩](#fnref:p49827783405-1)

2. Whatever your feelings on the tactic, I hate the Hack-A-[Name] the most. It doesn’t rhyme if it isn’t Shaq and that makes it terrible. [↩](#fnref:p49827783405-2)

WCF G5: Brink of Elimination

Damn if this doesn’t feel just like that Memphis series last year. Damn if the Spurs didn’t show the same kind of heart and guts by coming back from thirteen to cut it to three with 14.5 seconds left. Damn if this doesn’t feel like a punch in the face.

Pop, trying to counter Scott Brook’s move to switch screens and go small, started Manu and played Blair. Manu Ginobili balled out –34 points on 10 of 21 shooting including 5 of 10 from three – but there still was no stopping Durant nor Ibaka. To make things more interesting, Russ Westbrook showed up for a while and was hitting that midrange, free-throw line jumper.

The Spurs played better than they did in game three, but pretty much the same as they did in game four. This time instead of getting run by Durant in the fourth quarter, they got treated to a third quarter show.

His barrage of points thwarted a third quarter run by the Spurs that took them ahead and made things seem alright for just a moment. It kind-of-almost-sorta looked like the runs that put them up for good in games one and two, and that carried the streak to twenty games.

KD wasn’t havin’ it.

Instead the lead went up to nine after only being eight at half. In the fourth quarter, there was another run for the Spurs that was knocked away. When the OKC pushed it to thirteen? Yep. People were exiting the building.

Just like last year, however, the Spurs didn’t go out like punks. They kept fighting only instead of a series-extending game-tying three from Gary Neal we got a hesitation from Tim Duncan and an off-balance fadeaway from Ginobili (that almost went in).

I’ll be playing Shoulda’ Woulda’ Coulda’ in my head tonight and all day tomorrow. That almost-rally would have gone down in playoff lore – like the almost-comeback in game seven in 2006 would have – instead we have one game in OKC that feels just like the game six in 2004 after Derek Fisher cashed that damned point-four shot.

There are no more moves to make. Scottie Brooks has the kryptonite that thwarts the powerful Spurs offense of 2012. Gregg Popovich has no answer for Durant and so no answer for Ibaka hitting jumpers, role players hitting timely shots, nor Harden getting clutch buckets.

The only flicker of hope tonight was that Russ Westbrook still doesn’t know how to step out of the way of the best scorer in the league. It was his terrible misses and turnovers that allowed SA to crawl back from thirteen and cut it to three in a couple minutes.

Hope isn’t a strategy. I don’t know if we have any of that left, anyway.

Tony Parker can’t shake Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, nor Derek Fisher anymore. When he does, he can’t score on Ibaka and Perkins. The only reliable shooter left is Stephen Jackson. Bonner, Danny Green and Gary Neal look scared and gun-shy. Credit Ibaka, Thabo and all those guys on the Thunder who are playing championship caliber ball right now.

Game six is Wednesday. Here’s hoping.

WCF G4: Durantula

ARRGH!

Seriously, there was nothing the Spurs could have done to stop that. Scoring is what that guy does. College, Pros, Seattle, OKC? Doesn’t matter. He gets buckets. My personal nightmare scenario was the one the Spurs found themselves in late in the fourth quarter. Attempting to claw their way back into it, they needed to get stops against a hot Kevin Durant.

It went as well as you’d expect.

For the Thunder, it was a classic home win. Their role guys – Serge Ibaka especially – carried the load and handed the game to the closer in the fourth quarter. Kendrick Perkins was holding Timmy’s jersey and not getting called for it. He continued his little run of form. That means he was dunking and rebounding and looking less like the guy who was getting eaten up in San Antonio.

Serge Ibaka is going to get the headlines after getting that (very impressive) 11-for-11 nigt. He played a perfect big man, role player game. His jumpers weren’t forced and the rest of his points were dunks and well, dunks. That is all you can ask for from a big man.

I hate him now.

So we have ourselves a series. That means the Spurs, after not losing for 50 days, face a turning point kind of game the likes of which they haven’t faced this season. You may remember that in 2004 the Spurs whopped the Lakers in the first two games, were blown out in game three, lost a close game four (in which Shaq had 28 and Kobe 42), and got point four’d in game five. In game six they played with a look of shock and amazement that everyone in the city shared and lost in LA.

Do I feel like that can happen again? Yes. OKC can play, yo. Kevin Durant can do what he did there pretty much any time he feels like it. There is no Bruce Bowen to stop him. Remember how we were praising Stephen Jackson for his performance on KD in game 1 and 2? Well, he “held” KD to 27 and 31 respectively. He had a quiet 22 the other night, mostly because he wasn’t needed on account of the ass-kicking.

Don’t think that he hasn’t been balling all series. He has. He is still very, very dangerous. The story of the series has been the role/bench guys on OKC stepping up and dominating. Thabo didn’t just defend Parker well on Thursday, he was hitting jumpers. Serge wasn’t just going perfect from the field tonight, he was effecting all the shots in the paint.

On the other side, (our side) those open looks are not translating into made shots. The usual suspects are not showing up. We needed a surprise appearance by DeJuan Blair and timely three bombing from Stack Jack to reach 103 tonight. Bonner has been a no-show, Tiago’s head is somewhere else and Danny Green has reverted to the Cavs-era version.

All that up there means that they havn’t played as well as they did in San Antonio (in this series) or the past 50 days (every where).

This is what happens when you face a good team with awesome talent and a reason to play hard.

Welcome to playoff basketball. It makes your stomach get tied up in knots.

WCF G3: Thunder Strike Back

This was to be expected. Everyone knew (or should have) that OKC was going to come out enthused, refreshed, and Chesapeake Energized by the crowd. The Thunder are better than the Clippers but were doing pretty much the same thing – getting loose balls, blocking shots and making improbably fortunate ones.

The lead was only thirteen points yet remained so throughout that third quarter. The missed shots, Thabo corralling Tony, and eventually, The Beard cashing buzzer-beaters off the backboard at the buzzer happened. The lead ballooned.

This was one of those nights that we hadn’t had since April 11th against the Lakers. Then, I was feeling that we were a sham. Memphis and Z-Bo first introduced me to that. The Suns-like offense and lack of interior defense was disconcerting. LAL’s Bynum dominated the paint in a way that probably justified the media’s inclination to ignore the Spurs’ 2012 record. 

Tonight? Well I am trying to resist feeling like we’ll lose four straight. It kind of feels like those trips to Detroit in 2005… or those trips to LAL in 2001, 2002, 2004, and … My point? This happens in these playoffs. It is great for fans. You likely get to see your team put it on the opposition at least once, people buy shirts, and for one or two days everyone is happy. It is easy to dismiss as a one-off. If your just a fan, this is the best option for you. If you are in that Spurs locker room, obviously you will be focusing on reacting better to crazy athletes playing with desperation? Sometimes the other guy just wants it more than you do that night. 

Thabo Sefolosha locked up Tony Parker – or at least made him work a lot more. The Thunder looked like the youthful team of destiny GQ wanted described them as and … hell, there isn’t anyway we’ll outclass them now, right?

Right?

The thing is, Perk likely won’t be able to flummox Ginobili on the perimeter and those shots in the paint likely will fall in two days. More importantly, the energy level will be more balanced. 

Oh, wait. You’re concerned about Thabo, huh? To butcher a phrase from Game of Thrones:

“The [Thunder] played [their] little trick. [They] can’t do it again."

Well, they can play Thabo on Tony again. Parker will be prepared for that, however. He won’t be tossing terrible, lazy passes within the (surprisingly large) reach of Sefolosha, ya know?  Having been chewed out by Pop, the entire team will have motivation of their own. The wounds of losing will be fresh and nothing pushes a person like embarrassment. 


What is worse: The loss, or Bearded Harden staring down Splitter in a show of faux-toughness?

Answer: Having to deal with Oklahoma smugness.