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.

Transition Year and Tony’s Future

Yes, this is a transition year. After losing out on the Durant sweepstakes, the Spurs roster was always going to be a matter of duct tape and make-do. Pau Gasol is mostly used up, and was always a liability on defense but who else was there to add?

The hope was that Tony still had a step and Manu had enough guile to make up for his aging body. If you watched the Olympics you saw all three — Tony, Manu, Pau — look more like shadows of their former selves.

Tony has played three solid games out of four, but Manu has yet to show up. The Spurs should have enough to see out the Grizz but the next series will be an even greater challenge.

It’s a bit early to think about, but the Spurs’ backcourt has needed a refresh for a while. While the Spurs won the George Hill-Kawhi Leonard trade, they gave up the point guard of the future and haven’t found the guy to take over for Tony. Adding Aldridge meant losing Cory Joseph, and while Patty Mills has been solid, he has had to be the bench spark and the starting guard and that has been a tad too much to ask of him.

Tony is too old and Dejounte Murray is too young. Murray looks like the future but even Kawhi’s learning curve took three years. Looking back further, when Tony had the reigns in 2001 the Spurs relied on Speedy Clayton to close games in 2003. It takes time that isn’t there. LMA’s window is smaller than Duncan’s was then. Spurs are likely going to use the cap room created by a retiring Manu (~14 million) to sign a starting PG.

They supposedly kicked the tires on Mike Conley, even though it was a long shot. I would love to see Chris Paul come and ring chase here, but I think he stays and cashes out. George Hill makes about $8 million in Utah, but he might like life as part of a young up-and-coming team. He already expressed interest in resigning but negotiations hit a snag. His game isn’t predicated on speed like Tony so he might have a less steep decline as he enters his mid 30s (he’s 30 now).

A more likely target? Jeff Teague. He is 28, is in line to make $14 mill a year, reliable, and can score and defend solidly. He is Spur material.

The problem is that the Spurs are likely going to have to find a way to pay Dewayne Dedmon, Patty, and find a guy all with about $19 million. It’s doable, but only if Dedmon and Patty take a Danny Green-style deal favors the Spurs.

This assumes the Spurs don’t blow it all up and trade Aldridge for Alex Len and Eric Bledsoe of Phoenix, giving the Spurs a little room to resign Dedmon and going back to the run-and-gun version the Spurs used to win the title in 2014.

Kawhi Goes Off; Spurs Lose Anyway

Kawhi made seven of the Spurs’ nine made threes. Danny Green six (of six) of the twenty-one misses. Patti Mills went 1/4, Manu 0/4. Memphis made twelve of twenty-seven spread out over a handful o players.

The running subplot for the Spurs has been: Who will help Kawhi? Tonight Tony Parker was that guy, helping with 22 points on a series of nostalgic drives to the cup. Manu had his fourth straight blanking and Danny Green’s jumper was dry.

LaMarcus put up only 13, but had an efficient night and looked aggressive. He even had some highlight dunks.

So how did the Spurs lose this thing even though Kawhi nearly did everything in his power to try to steal it? Well, they had no answer for Conley that doesn’t involve putting the Klaw on him (which means Parker has Carter 🙃). That’s not a game-ending proposition, but not hitting open jumpers is. Mills missed the open looks that keep the offense humming and Danny Green couldn’t buy a bucket.

When Kawhi is more human, the Spurs are set up to get blown off the court. The Grizz former D-leaguers are getting buckets and making plays, while the Spurs are missing jumpers. Manu missed a rhythm three, and on the following defensive possession lost his man for a corner three. That’s how you lose.

After all that, we have to acknowledge the tough-as-hell Grizz squad that would otherwise be fun to root for. That old-school bully ball is what the Spurs have recently adopted to much success, but as Bane said “Ah you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it.”

LMA and Pau are getting bullied — not into submission — but to the point where they don’t have an obvious advantage. Without the inside-out threat, the offense is a little out of rhythm. That’s the only explanation I can muster for Manu’s disappearance.

Mills had a chance to push the lead to four in OT but was blocked and Gasol got a three-point play the other way. That’s good hustle basketball on their end, and the type of play that it seems only Kawhi is making the Spurs’ way right now.

Before the series I called a tough six-gamer but was swayed a bit by the easy first two games. The silver lining is that this reminds me of the Mavs series from 2014. Yes, that was the year that the same Vince Carter hit a three that put Dallas up 2-1.. That tough series propelled the Spurs on to the best basketball seen until the Warriors copied it.

Spurs 98 GSW 110

When the Spurs play well Manu and Tony and Gasol look wily and guile-y. When they don’t they look overmatched and slow. In this game we saw a bit of both. Manu looked good early, making deft passes and making plays, as he does. In the 4th he looked slow, and every day of his 39 years as Klay abused him for buckets.

Steve Kerr called the early game defense “okay” and attributed the poor start primarily to hit shooting and allowing the Spurs so many second chance points. He was right. As the Dubs dug out of the hole they looked like the highlight version of themselves, grabbing rebounds, making cuts, hitting big threes.

For the Spurs part, the easy buckets stopped falling — Pau, LMA missed jumpers they hit in the first and second — and when it came time to run offense, the Spurs didn’t execute and the Warriors did. David West is getting a tons of praise for his contributions (rightfully) but David Lee gave SA good minutes there also. What killed SA was the easy buckets Lee got for Ian Clark.

Tony and Pau got eaten up on PNRs (surprise!) and there isn’t much to do then. This is and will be the Achilles heel for SA in the postseason and everyone knows it, and will exploit it.

That said, he defense allowed 67 in the second and third while SA scored a mere 44. Last season the Spurs defense slowed the Warriors, even introducing the big man (Aldridge) defense on Steph that other teams mirrored, but couldn’t score.

The long-underrated aspect of Golden State’s three year run has been their defense. They began the second half by forcing three or four straight wonky possessions for SA — against the Spurs’ first unit.

Observations:

LMA had a sequence where he stripped them blocked two Warriors. He played really well but was ineffectual in stopping the offensive slump in the second half.

David Lee really played David West evenly. Having seen one year of West and most of one of Lee, I prefer the latter much more.

The Warriors player that is key is Klay. He is just as dangerous shooting but adds a post up dimension. Defensively, he is a problem. He harassed Kawhi , blocked a Patti layup, and defended well generally.

Tony really was off tonight. Lots of missed stuff that he normally gets. It was half because of age, and some of him just being off like Kawhi was. Leonard was being defended well, but he was missing things that are normally great shots did him.

All told the W’s are going to be rightfully praised for this huge win because of the circumstances. They grabbed two wins against competition that looked formidable. However Curry himself said “we don’t win the championship because of this game”. Similarly, the Spurs don’t lose the chip because of this loss. They did lose the number one seed, however.

The number two seed feels right for this team. I’m ready for playoff basketball.

Welcome to The Show, Dejounte Murray

My barber mentioned how well Murray played against the Cavs. This is the level we are at with this kid.

Pop called him “too naive to be nervous” but he certainly does not look like the nervous type. If he would be anything, it would be cocky.

That is not uncommon in a league of guys who have good reason to be sure of themselves. They’ve spent much of their lives as The Best Guy On The Floor and only now are encountering situations where that isn’t as true as it once was.

Hopefully that explains a little bit of Dion Waiters, for example.

For Murray, playing on the famously humble San Antonio Spurs team is a good lesson for him. 1

Oh, you are getting to the rim with speed and quickness, mixing a floater with uncanny finishing ability around the rim? Tony Parker knows a little about that.

Oh, you like to jump into passing lanes for easy buckets in transition? Manu Ginobili (and Khawi) know a little about that.

It is great that he has so much confidence, and also great that he has so many players around him that will be slightly unimpressed with all of it. They are free to expect more of him, and that will put a little pressure on him to keep working on his game.

All that said, let us talk about how great he has played.

Spurious is late to the game, but that’s what happens when you read a unprofessional Spurs blog.

Dejounte Murray technically had his coming out party against the Nuggets, accumulating 24 points and breaking Tony Parker’s record for youth 24-scoring. Sure.

What really impressed most folks was the performance in Cleveland on Saturday night (Jan 21st). He attacked Kyrie Irving relentlessly, and scored transition buckets in big minutes.

That is huge but

… this is a different league than it was in the 1990s. The youngest and best players have been interacting with the best of the best for a while.

It is a little less intimidating to go up against an NBA Legend when you sign with his best friend’s agency and take pics with the King himself.

More impact fully, it is less intimidating when you have played against NBA guys every summer since you were a freshman in High School

Said Murray: “Every team [Crawford] was with, he came back, and he made sure we played pickup to get his high school team ready. Since my freshman year, I was playing with pros like every day in the summer. I knew I could be OK if I stayed working hard every day.

Given his mentorship, and the team structure around him it is no surprise he is playing so confidently.

The fun thing is that he has always played like this. Aside from a sense of professional polish to his game, it is still comprised of the same elements.

Look at him in his lone year with Washington:

Lots of attacking, finishing at the rim with double-pumps, and that flick-of-the-wrist floater.

Here he is scoring 30 for the Austin Toros Spurs:

Finally here he is attacking Kyrie and the Cavs on Pounding The Rock.

Not a whole lot different there, right? That is a good thing. He is doing what he is comfortable doing, which is not unlike what Tony Parker did when he came into the league. Murray has a height and length advantage that Tony did /does not, and a more consistent jumper to boot.

The future of his game is going to be something like what we saw against Denver. Against the Nuggets he shot and made more threes, showed flashes of his ability to run the offense, scored on back cuts and still attacked the rim.

Looking back to pre-season, I remembered my thoughts on DM this year:

Barring some miraculous jump in production from any of the back end of the roster or an injury, DM should be getting the third PG minutes that translate to lots of playing time in blowouts and back-to-backs.

He is the athlete we gave up (George Hill) and the youth that we do not have any more (Tony Parker) at the premier position in the league. He is still learning his place in the league but his ability combined with the confidence (cockiness?) provide some of the swashbuckling swagger that Manu just does not have every night. Also, he still has Tony, Manu, and even Patty to learn from. That’s something to be hopeful of.

You can make the argument that the ‘premier position in the league’ is maybe SF. But I am literally quibbling with myself here.

The Spurs have been trying to find the next PG for a good while now. Recall that last season the team sent a 2nd round pick to Sacramento for Ray McCallum Jr. a guy that was cut late last year and is now in the D-League.

It looks like the Spurs have found the guy they were looking for.


  1. This isn’t a guarantee. I mean, Captain Jack famously was waived after refusing to give time to Kawhi Leonard, and way back Derek Anderson left to take a bunch of money at Portland, because he felt he should be a star. 

Election Week Delayed Me; Now Some Thoughts

This was a tough week to deal with. Aside from that, the Spurs had lost back-to-back at home.

Against the Rockets at home, there was another first half deficit to over come, some poor defensive rotations, and a chance to win the game at the end.

Right now we are falling into one of two camps: the first is the It’s Early And Everyone Is Hurt the other is Getting Used to All The New Guys. There is some overlap here and I am in that Venn diagram middle.

Everyone is excited about the starting lineup getting together for the first time and the real season beginning.

All that is well and good and probably true. I do not want to put a lot of stock in this transition, but it does concern me that the Spurs are not winning the games they won last year, the games they should win, and instead are giving away large early leads.

Some of it can be blamed on the schedule, but there is not a one-to-one thing going on is there? The Utah home game was inverted, and so we cannot blame the loss on travel, and the Clippers were on a back-to-back also.

So . . .

Right now the GSW look better and more cohesive after Curry found his touch. They still are missing fully operational Klay Thompson, but they are winning. The Spurs are losing. They are struggling with non-Spursy plays.

Houston

On Wednesday the Spurs went down early, fought back, battled back in the third and lost on a last second shot.

There was a sequence in the third quarter where Kahwi was saving himself guarding Corey Brewer and then did not attack James Harden on the offensive end. Sean Elliott noticed it and said it was a missed opportunity. It is the kind of thing that LeBron James would have noticed, with his ridiculous Hoops IQ, and a thing to watch Leonard improve.

There were little things where he was trying that one hand floater and it was just a little off all night. Still, he scored 34.

Gasol increasingly looks like a liability, as Pop had to sit him for comebacks a few games already. I am a little worried about this. This is the kind of thing that is exaggerated in the postseason.

The little things Danny Green did were great to see. He only went 2-8 from three, but ad two straight great defensive plays early in the fourth that were sorely missing from the early Spurs run.

The Spurs were sloppy / unlucky all night and so were the Rockets. James Harden Harden’d and that killed them. He was efficient and got other guys shots, while our guys were struggling for the easy stuff.

Detroit

The story was Gasol getting 21 points, but he had a more even matchup, as Andre Drummond is a more traditional center than any other team has. Still, the Spurs managed to look a bit disjointed as the second unit was weird, and went into half down three.

I liked that there were not as many obvious transition defense breakdowns, but then again Detroit is not really the type to get those. They are lengthy, and tough, and that kind of thing is the Spurs’ strength.

Tony reappeared, giving all of us Parker skeptics a few pangs of regret. He has lost a step, still is too streaky with his jumper, and probably is not as amenable to losing the limelight to Kawhi as he lets on. He still knows this system and can run this team better than Patty Mills.

Bala Pat is faster and has a much sweeter shooting stroke, but he lacks the patience and change of pace that Tony has. It is a subtle thing, but things are a little calmer when TP is in.

Speaking of the old guard, Manu hit back to back threes in the third to push the lead to 8. The first he ste the offense, calming the team after a stretch of frantic play (play that he was a part of). He posted LMA via Simmons, then hit the catch and shoot rhythm three. The second, he did a classic Manu wherein he pump faked 84 times and fired an off-balance shot going to his left.

The game was close but not really in doubt. Tobias Harris attempted to cut the Spurs lead to six but was rejected by Gasol. This is telling in that Gasol was not able to defend Chris Paul or James Harden at the rim. But Tobias Harris is obviously not in their league. So it goes. Spurs win.

at Houston

Shea Serrano wrote a bit about this game through the prism of watching it with his kids.

My earliest memories were watching the Spurs vs Rockets with my little brother and the both of us listening to Stan Kelly’s nasally voice say “2 minutes!”. Good times.

The Spurs brought out the year’s projected starting line up of Tony, Danny, Kawhi, LMA, and Gasol and it looked good early. Everyone was surprisingly fresh which continued that weird streak of unexpected performances in games.

James Harden is good.

You can tell a really good player by how open his teammates get in his presence. Kawhi Leonard is getting to that point, but right now he still gets enough single coverage to do what he likes, wich partly explains his remarkable consistency to work these dudes nightly. Since he has been able to create his own shot — last two years basically — he has taken his game to new heights but has not quite gotten to the Harden levels offensively. This is fine, but just evident when Harden’s forays into the lane focus the entire defense and create wide open shots for role players.

Yes, Harden is light years away from KL defensively.

The Spurs controlled this game the entire way and Parker’s presence was the big story.

“He gets us organized,” Popovich said. “He hasn’t been with us so much this season. He’s just a stability factor, and that was a big help.” Pop

Begin Anew

Life and basketball both move on without you.

The Spurs will move on without Tim Duncan. So it goes.

The 2016-2017 season is upon is and while the Spurs sport familiar faces, they have a new set of circumstances: inner turmoil.

LaMarcus Aldridge might be traded? What? Ever since Zach Lowe (see below) mentioned it, it has been brought up. The surprise is two-fold: it is the Spurs that are having this issue. And the Spurs just signed the dude last season.

But LMA might not have been happy before the All-Star break last year

The “rumblings in NBA circles” about Aldridge wanting to go to the Cavs last year do not make any sense. If his concern in San Antonio is an offense that doesn’t revolve around him, why would he want to go to Cleveland and be the third banana?

CBS Sports

Right. That does not make sense. But it still could be true. I never fully understood LMA’s unhappiness in Portland. More than a few dudes who follow the league mentioned that it was weird that LMA started doing the things he refused to do in Portland — rolling hard to the rim, defending, deferring on offense — but did in San Antonio with gusto. Or maybe it was only perceived gusto.

Really, it seems like LMA is frustrated that he is not the leading scorer and All-Star around whom the team revolves. Also, he does not feel ‘coddled.’

Wut.

While he says the right things about winning, he does hint at his discomfort with his numbers.

“To be seen as still valuable and still one of the top players in the league even though I’m not averaging 25, that’s pretty nice,” he said.

Winning is the objective, but Aldridge admitted, “When you do something for nine years, that’s who you are.”

This is a storm that is just beginning to brew. Let’s check in on other things.

What else does Zach Lowe have for us?

  1. The Clippers, not the Spurs, will be the No. 2 seed in the West

It’s ridiculous to worry about the Spurs. Their defense can survive without Tim Duncan; they allowed 98.6 points per 100 possessions when Duncan sat last season, a mark that would have led the entire stinking league. They beat younger, stupider teams just by making the proper play every time on both ends.

But I’m a little worried about the Spurs. Their defense and rebounding should take a hit with Pau Gasol sliding into Duncan’s starting spot alongside LaMarcus Aldridge. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are a combined 73 years old, and San Antonio didn’t add anyone to soak up some pick-and-roll duty. (Scouts love Dejounte Murray, but it’s hard to see him playing much as a rookie.)

Zach Lowe’s 30 Crazy Predictions

That is good analyzing. This Blog maintains a sense of unease at the thought of relying on Pau Gasol for anything other than offense. We watched him in the Olympics, and while he put up nice numbers, he could not move his feet well defensively. As the New Looming Threat is the same old Warriors, the prospect of Gasol and Aldridge having to guard Draymond and — gulp — KD?

I am starting to see why the Spurs would consider trading LMA. I disagree on the Dejounte Murray note. I think he gets significant minutes. Barring some miraculous jump in production from any of the back end of the roster or an injury, DM should be getting the third PG minutes that translate to lots of playing time in blowouts and back-to-backs.

He is the athlete we gave up (George Hill) and the youth that we do not have any more (Tony Parker) at the premier position in the league. He is still learning his place in the league but his ability combined with the confidence (cockiness?) provide some of the swashbuckling swagger that Manu just does not have every night. Also, he still has Tony, Manu, and even Patty to learn from. That’s something to be hopeful of.

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)

Season Preview

In my brief time as Air Alamo guy I wrote in last year’s season preview that Spurs fans should not be mad at the situation, that OKC had too much youth and athleticism, and we shouldn’t be surprised when we got dumped by a young squad of athletes, whether that was Memphis again or OKC’s youth troupe.

I was still sad when we were eliminated- especially by the way we were dumped. I’ll even admit that I didn’t take my own advice and was the tiniest bit surprised. I thought we had unlocked the secret of eternal basketball life. Instead OKC used our powers of ball-sharing against us and undid all the good that was built up throughout that weird lockout-shortened season.

This year we have the same squad. Whereas the 2011 champion Mavs have the all-reject roster, the 2012 favorite Lakers retooled with a HOF point guard and the most athletic 7-footer in the game. The Heat replaced shooters with a HOF shooter and a former $100 million man. The Thunder still have the best scorer in the game and a lot of talent that can score and is willing to share the ball. Overall we are one year older and the competition is one year more experienced.

This isn’t unusual. Our unwillingness to tinker is our greatest strength. The Spurs value the corporate knowledge, that oft referenced Popovich phrase. It has also served to render us invisible. There are only so many words that can be written about Pop and Timmy and the Spurs Way. Everyone is content to forget about the Spurs until June, when circumstances force them to re-pay attention.

This season we have something slightly different. The NBA press has long respected yet long awaited the end of the run. Fans here have anticipated The End for a while. Some, maybe even Tony Parker himself, have already declared the end as having come and gone. That debate is for another post. This season and in all the seasons to come instead of waiting to see signs of slippage and looking for a chance to retool, I want to see how far this thing goes. Don’t trade Manu. Don’t trade Tony. Don’t tank. Let’s be like Kramer and the car salesman. I want them to say that the Spurs and that other guy went farther with the same roster (or at least the same big three) than anyone ever dreamed. I want you to be there when it happens.

What will it look like? How far exactly can this thing go?

Let’s say it is the fourth quarter 5:39 to go. The score is tied 89-89. Where does the ball go? The guy with the hot hand? Tim? He hasn’t been the unquestionable choice since about 2006. Sure, he can win the games against the New Orleans’ of the world. Sure he can use his guile and experience to steal points from Anthony Davis and the like. How about Dwight Howard? How about Perkins?

Will it go to Manu? Depending on the night, depending on the week, he may not be up for it. He is in his mid-thirties and doesn’t dispense greatness with the the same frequency anymore. In the four straight losses to OKC he scored more than 13 points once.

Tony? He is 30 now. We know who he is. We know what to expect from him. He can score in bunches early. He can disappear late. It was fun to hate on him for a while because he had so much potential and would show little flashes of greatness occasionally. He is the youngest and has the freshest legs but he is not Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade or even James Harden. He is Tony Parker, sidekick.

The correct answer is the open guy. The system that go us here. It creates open shots. The flawless execution and ruthless corporate knowledge will render all opposition talent looking foolish and two steps behind. The obvious problem is the same one that was evident last year: we need Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and all the rest to not only carry the team in the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs as they did so well last year, but do so against the very best the NBA has in the highest pressure situations there are. It is an incredible specific situation to prepare for, and one that won’t appear for seven months.

It is a test of patience and focus. It is trying to beat a video game with no save points. You have to go straight through to the end perfectly. There is no room for slacking. The machine has to be well-oiled and running smoothly or some other team will be holding the Larry. There is no out. There is no guy to toss the ball to and say “Clear out. You are the offense the rest of the way.”

This is the most intriguing aspect of the following the Spurs this and every year from now until the gas tank is empty. It is far easier to manage egos of the Heat guys in their prime, supremely talented guys that can win a game single-handedly, or guiding young talents on the Thunder, who have the best scorer in the game and something to prove. The Spurs have 30-year olds to manage, young guys to groom, and role players to coach up just to have the slightest of chances. Other teams need role players to “step up” when the stars are having an off night. This Spurs team needs them every night or there will be no tomorrow.

Prediction: 55-27. Exit Second round in 6 games to LAL. Bastards.