I'm not happy. My wife is sick, and I'm coming down with the same illness. Is there anything worse than knowing you'll be incapacitated within 48 hours? The answer is, of course, yes, there are worse things, but it still is pretty sucky. One thing that is worse would be to have wasted several hours of one's life watching the Spurs' dreadful performance Tuesday night.
I was picking up some pizza from Austin's Pizza during the first quarter, so I listened in on Bill Schoening's call on WOAI. Before the game, he was all "The Spurs got outrebounded by ten in the loss in Milwaukee, that's one thing Pop says they really need to improve." I guess he and Pop read PtR, 'cause they totally ripped that insight off from our very own LatinD. Anyways, the Spurs come out, and they're giving up offensive boards, and Andrew Frickin' Bogut is dunking all over us.
They messed up my pizza order as well, which should have clued me in that I was in for a bad night. Although it's really a blessing in disguise, because you call in and act all put out and you get a free pizza in addition to the messed up pizza. That is, provided the messed up pizza is worth the tip that you feel obligated to give the deliverer of the make-good pizza. And as it turned out, the messed up pizza was pretty yucky--just cheese and barbecue sauce. I'm not sure I would have paid $2 for it. Is that a metaphor for the Spurs performance--possibly a blessing in disguise, but so sucky that there is no silver lining?
Anyways, I get the sense that the Spurs get this attitude sometimes, especially with teams like the Bucks, where they think "yeah, whatever, I let him get an easy dunk. No big deal, we're still better than they are." And they are, but if you spot a team 10 points in the first five minutes, you effectively have to defeat them by more than that in a 43 minute game, which is a tall order.
In the second half, the Spurs got their house in order and started playing a lot better, but then the Bucks, particularly Luke Ridnour, were shooting lights out. The Bucks' commentators kept making insightful comments such as "the team looks a lot better when the ball's going in the basket." Thanks, guys. I was waiting for them to tell me that "The Bucks' need to score at least one more point than the Spurs in order to win this game." Michael Finley was keeping us in it, but that's fool's gold. When Finley is playing well, that's usually because NO ONE ELSE is, and that was certainly the case in this one.
Towards the end of the fourth, the Spurs played OK, but the Bucks hit some timely shots (and some crazy prayers), and were up five with under a minute. In the course of getting there, there were a few sequences where Manu lost his man after a loose ball scramble, and of course that guy reappeared under the basket for a layup. My point is not that Manu is a bad person or a bad player who takes stupid gambles; rather, it is that the whole team is just a little off right now. Usually, Manu's freelancing leads to steals or deflections. In this game, he was constantly a split second late.
Then the game looked over, but the Bucks forgot we have the most awesome player in the universe in the last minute of a game, the Honourable Romaju (Roger Mason Junior). He hit an absolutely nutty fallaway three pointer to cut the lead to two with about ten seconds left. Best case, they inbound the ball, waste a few seconds, then miss one free throw, leaving us a scant few seconds to get a three, right?
WRONG, they get an extremely quick five-second violation, meaning we're down two with the ball under the basket and ten seconds left. Usually Pop draws up magical plays in this situation, like that awesome one they used against Sacramento in the playoffs (and later against the Knicks in a regular season game) where Manu goes baseline and they set a weakside screen for a shooter against a defender who has invariably turned his head, allowing the shooter to cut to the corner for an uncontested three.
So what does Pop do here? The play they ran was extremely reminiscent of the inbounds play my 8th grade team used to run, starting with a stack at the free throw line, culminating in random screening and running around. It looked a lot like the Smurf village when Gargamel and/or Asrael showed up.
Tim Duncan ended up with the ball about 17 feet from the basket. Duncan pump-faked the 17 footer. Honestly, it looked like he didn't want to take the shot. That brings up the question: is Timmy is a clutch player? He hit that one against the Lakers in '99, and of course the three ball against Phoenix last year, but I can think of a half-dozen similar instances where he missed bunnies (against Detroit in the Robert Horry game, against Dallas in game 7, etc.) that would have given the Spurs a win. I don't know the answer; he often brings it throughout high-pressure games (his near quadruple double against NJ, his 48 point game against Dallas), but his record in last-possession situations is somewhat spotty.
In any case, I would submit that I'd much rather that Roger Mason Jr. or Manu had had the ball to end the game. The Bucks are a crappy enough team that a simple pick and roll with TD probably would have produced an open shot, the way that it did when RMJ hit that three against the Clips this year.
Anyways, he made his timid (no pun intended) pump fake, but fortunately for him Andrew Bogut stupidly closed out on him too eagerly and went right by him. Honestly, Andrew, you would chase TD off an outside J to give up the drive? If Foster's is Australian for beer, than move was Australian for "poor judgment." TD then drove to the basket and threw up a layup moving at about a million miles per hour (that's about 1.6 million kilometers per hour for you international PtR followers). He missed, and Gino was there for a tip-in, but again, he was just a little off. And once again, the Spurs fell to the mighty Bucks.
What does this game say about the Spurs? Are they real contenders? Are they pretenders? Are they just waiting for the real season to begin five months from now? Honestly, I don't think they are on the Celtics or Lakers level right now. Unless something unexpected comes to pass (an injury, the Lakers trading us Pau Gasol for Jacque Vaughn, Mahinmi emerging as a force), I can't see us competing with one of those teams.
Without further ado, your three stars
1. Michael Finley