Game One: One Quarter of The Way There

Everything right and everything wrong in one possession. That’s how LeBron summed up Tony Parker’s last-gasp game-winning leaning jumper. It was a great basketball play. It was a great competitor’s play. That’s basketball. Sometimes you get lucky and the ball rolls in. Sometimes it doesn’t. The great thing about the Spurs is the way in which they do so much to control the controllable. That miss wouldn’t have ended things. Timmy talked about how he was positioning himself for the rebound the entire frantic possession.

It was more than that though. They stayed in ideal striking distance throughout. Miami is more talented, more athletic, and well-coached. San Antonio hung around. They didn’t get desperate and play Timmy 48 minutes or try drastic changes in game plans. The role players didn’t shrink from the bright lights of 56 HD cameras and 8 super slow-mo setups that ABC had last night. And right at the end, like any good marathoner, the Spurs sprinted to the finish line, giving the ball to the best player on the team, running their favorite set, and let him make a play.


I’ve noticed a markedly different tone in the Spurs coverage this time around. Instead of the usual, “No really these Spurs aren’t really boring please watch this Finals OMG we are losing so much money” kind of talk we got during 2005 – remember Al Michaels called that series? – this time it’s “Wow. We should really appreciate this team.” It’s great. I’ve been in full-on nostalgia mode for a while now. I said on Air Alamo that this is all gravy post-2007. I thought we had no surprises left, after our HOFer was past his prime. We all had doubts about Tony Parker becoming a go-to player, given his wilting in the all the Finals prior to 20071. Yet here I sit, surprised. I’m sort of giddy, as well. You likely are too. We just beat the defending champs on their home floor with the best player in the world, in his prime, getting a triple-double. We know we can beat those kinds of teams. We beat KD and co. twice last season. Will the Spurs be able to overcome a hyped-up, energetic Heat squad? If the answer is ‘yes’ then the demons from OKC will be exercised. The caveats about Russ Westbrook going down can be erased, or at least reduced to footnotes.


Game Two is so far away. I have got to think that for the Spurs, it will be a good thing. For the Heat, it may be terrible. When you lose, you want to play the next one immediately. The break between games has to be a killer. Speaking of breaks, the nine-day rest for San Antonio didn’t hurt the ball movement – four turnovers! – but it may have impacted their shooting. Those threes – especially from Kawhi– coulda/woulda gone in and changed this game tremendously. Good news: those were just misses, and not scaredy-short armed threes. The ball was whipped around and shots were fired with confidence, wide open and in rhythm. That is all you can realistically ask for.

* * *

1. Truth be told: he wasn’t super-special against the Cavs. He was the guy scoring the most that series, but the offense ran through Timmy still (averaged 22.2 ppg in the playoffs). It was the only series where Timmy wasn’t the leading scorer. [↩](#fnref:p52385999860-1)

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 G1: Welcome Back, Manu

Watching last night’s game made me slightly nervous. All week I was wondering how I felt about this series and couldn’t make up my mind until sometime friday.

To wit: I felt confident that the Spurs could slice up this Thunder squad if they could get an appearance by Healthy, Ballin’ Manu. I was afraid that he woudn’t show up. Perhaps this year, instead of being injured, he just became old. These kinds of things happen in playoff series. Second and Third banana’s sometimes don’t play up to the level of their regular season numbers, or past playoff numbers. The media (especially national media) who are really watching this team for the first time all year play up the obvious story lines. 

It happens all the time.

You know it. You saw the talking heads say things like “Manu has got to step up for this team if they want to continue on this run – the playoffs don’t get any easier." 

Greg Doyel is already singing that tune about Harden and Westbrook. And Manu*.

*_[The unsaid thing here? Manu was stepping up in place of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. He was doing things that they usually do. He was driving into the lane and scoring like Tony Parker has done this series. _

And that is a team. Any basketball team needs a slasher/scorer. In 2003 and 2005, that was Manu. In 2007, that was Manu and Tony. Since the last championship, Tony and Manu have tried sharing the role but injuries and oldness have gotten in the way. Then we tried getting Richard Jefferson to do some of the same things. Nope. The secret to this year’s playoff run has been Danny Green doing things that Manu used to do regularly. We didn’t miss a beat after he went down because Green was cashing threes, jumping passing lanes and slicing to the rim. 

You know, like how Ginobili was last night.] 

So Manu "stepped up” and scored when we needed scoring. He closed out the game in 2005-era style. It was a bit unusual, because in game four against the Clips the Spurs just ran their sets

Whatevs. Whether we were doing 4-down, clear outs for Tony or Manu, or running complicated offensive wizardry, the thing to take away from Game 1 was this: we were getting ‘our’ shots the entire game. Yes, including when the Thunder forced 14 turnovers in the first half.  Yes, also in the the third quarter when they took a ten point lead into the final frame. 

The key in this game wasn’t that Manu was hitting shots down the stretch. It was that Gary Neal was hitting his, and Tiago was crashing the rim, and that Stack Jack was making life difficult for Kevin Durant. 

In essence, (and very cliché) the Spurs played Spurs basketball and the Thunder weren’ t allowed to play theirs. 

It is a very difficult strategy to master. Often, it is so much easier to wave off the play and rely on individual ability (looking at you Kobe, Lebron) than to trust your teammates to set the screens, pass the ball, and cut in sync so that an unheralded player gets an open look. It is the ideal of any system and basketball at it’s most beautiful. 

As the best players on this team have aged, the team has had to rely more on a system to create easy shots for everyone. This is probably the most well-oiled machine since 4-down was the highest-percentage offensive play call on the sheet. 

The rest of this series will hinge on the Spurs ability to get easy lay up opportunities for Tim, Tiago, and the rest while stopping Kevin Durant’s seemingly unnatural ability to turn any shot into a high-percentage shot. 

I’m still a little scared, but much less so. OKC already lost a series to a team that can out-execute them last year against Dallas. Methinks they won’t fall for the same tricks so easily this time up in the Sooner State. 

That is at least a few days off. The Spurs just need to make sure they aren’t as nervous as they were last night when game two starts. 

One last thing: don’t look at missed shots (or made ones) as evidence of a good plan. While Derek Fisher seemingly makes all his shots only agains the Spurs, he won’t be going 6/6 every night (although I did say that back in 2001 when he was doing much the same against those Spurs). Similarly, don’t expect Harden’s misses to remain misses. He was guarded differently than he was in LA and Dallas, and so he was a little off. It is likely he will adjust to that come tuesday night.