This isn't a real recap, per se, but merely an excuse to show you more of jannieannie's wonderful pictures for this game.
However, I just remembered that my first real post was a running diary of a Spurs/Raptors game, so I decided to waddle in nostalgia and try my hand at one of those again. Fortunately ILP has an archive for the latest games, so I can easily relive last night's fun. (If you missed the game, drop me an e-mail.)
Fasten your virtual seatbelts, and join me after the jump.
- Our starters: RJ, Hill, Ratliff, Bogans and Finley. There's only one reason for that lineup, as far as I can tell, and it's defense. The theory, I imagine, is that Bogans (the Spurs' last-minute gamble towards defensive efficiency, people say) and Ratliff (shot blocker extraordinaire) would make up for Finley's antique self. 4 defensive "specialists" and a willful mummy: not too shabby. As anyone looking at the boxscore can guess, it didn't work - it couldn't, because two players weren't as good as advertised.
- Ratliff was assigned to Bosh, and that proved to be our undoing during those first few minutes (and again at the beginning of the second half). Ratliff permanently gambled for blocks when Bosh posted up, and jumped early and often. That resulted in Bosh either getting the foul or simply pushing him around and scoring easily. Apparently Pop noticed as much, because McDyess quickly subbed in for him and he only racked up 8:30 minutes of playing time in the game. If Ratliff can't defend the opposing team's center, he has no business playing.
- The other offender was Richard Jefferson. RJ did many positive things in this game, and I will mention them later on, but defense wasn't one of them, and especially not in the first quarter. It wasn't completely his fault: his assignment during this stretch, Bargnani, had 4 or 5 inches on him, and is too good of a shooter (he's averaging over 20 points per game, I believe) to be given that advantage. And yet, I imagine that will be a problem we'll have to deal with eventually considering the personnel the Lakers and the Celtics show off every night. We are a short team, and it's a problem when our opponents' frontcourt can shoot the ball.
Regardless, RJ still looks disinterested on defense at times, and it worries me. If he doesn't fully buy into Pop's philosophy, we'll have no one to guard the Carters and Artests of this league: even worse, we'll have no one to guard Carter and Artest.
- Bogans was a nice surprise. Much like our dear hack owner, Wayne Vore, I focus on the Spurs during the regular season and only watch a few other games. Bogans is still very much an enigma to me, a few descriptions read on blogs and a couple of unflattering photos. Lately he has shown me a lovely jumper and confidence from behind the arc, and unlike Bowen, he can drive to the basket as if he's moving with purpose and forethought. I like it. His one-on-one defense was good-not-great last night, too.
Bogan's good enough to crack the rotation, or at least he seems to be so far. My biggest problem with him isn't what he brings to this team, it's what he keeps away: one Malik Hairston, young man of many skills and every bit the defensive pest Bogans appears to be. Like many of you, I hoped that Tony's absence would represent an opportunity for Malik to show whether his Toros/Summer League prowess will translate to the NBA, but for some reason it never happened. Malik had almost 1 minutes of lacktion to enjoy, and that was it. Why does Pop refuse to play the youngster? I honestly don't know - beyond Pop's GOMLness spiking at the sudden youth of the roster, I can only imagine that he feels that the team has reached some sort of rookie critical mass and fears that they won't be able to adapt with another newbie learning to play with his new teammates.
Personally, I think he's just stubborn.
- 32-21 at the end of the first quarter. An ominous start for the game.
- I think we're able to glean two key factors of Pop's plan at this point. First, the veteran's minutes will be kept as low as possible, which was something every pundit and blogger guessed Pop would do before the season started. What might be news is just how much he's been limiting them: so far only RJ averages over 30 minutes (30.3, to be precise) and the only player I see passing that limit when he comes back is Tony Parker. That's both intelligent and very brave of Pop, because limiting Manu and Tim to 20 something minutes per game might make sense when looking at the big picture, but the average fan wants to win now, and win often.
- The second is RJ's emergence as our third creator. As Tim C. mentioned in his quick 'cap, whoever said he was a one-dimensional scorer was flat out wrong. I don't have the stats, but RJ probably was asked to create even more often than Manu in this game. In fact, if you asked me to guesstimate the point duties ranking for the evening, it would go like this: 1. RJ, 2. Manu, 3. Hill, 4. Mason.
I'm sure most of you are happy to notice Roger's diminished role (which will only be cut further when Tony comes back), and yet when I look at his very poor shooting percentages for the season so far (.308 FG%, .238 3PT%), I can't help wonder if his accuracy depends to some degree on his usage. Ever since last season's failed playoffs experience, we've been trying to turn Mason into a spot-up shooter, a better Finley. Maybe being Finley isn't as easy as it looks.
Regardless, RJ proved that he can drive and kick out, and we all know how important that is for our offense.
- Tim Varner's analysis on our team defense up to this point is a must read for every Spurs fan. Click here now.
- As far as I could tell, Hill spent most of his time on the court deferring to Manu and RJ, and he still found ways to blow my mind, making the most of his minutes at the helm. We already knew he could use his amazing athleticism to finish strong at the rim, but his different hesitation dribbles and his odd combination of tear drop/finger roll have never looked so sharp. He was quick, decisive, fearless, and even had time to dish out 5 assists.
What's Cubits' ceiling? As much as I like having him as an option to Tony to bring up the ball when the Frenchman is resting, the truth is that while RJ and Manu are active his point guard duties will be largely limited to that sole task. The development of his corner 3 gives me hope that he can become an efficient contributor at his everyday more common spot-up shooter / de-facto shooting guard role. Cubits is in San Antonio to stay, and the more excuses we can find to give him minutes in the next few years while Tony dominates the point guard role, the better.
- 63-63 at the half. We had this chit.
- The much-maligned hoagie-loving red-haired Matt Bonner was yesterday, as I said during the game thread, the Robin to Manu's Batman. He scored triples, hooks, ever-so-soft short jumpers and even had an awkward-yet-mighty two-handed slam dunk after driving from the 3-point line all the way to the basket. Best of all, he hustled from the beginning of the game to the end.
I kept trying to figure out why we simply couldn't get a stop in this game. In the first half, the answer was simple: incredible poor interior defense. Theo on Bosh was a disaster; DeJuan proved that he's too short to guard centers like Bosh and too unexperienced to guard power forwards; McDyess seems too slow to keep up with quick, athletic players like Bargnani or Amir Johnson, but held his own against Bosh. So who else do we have right now? This probably won't be a popular opinion, but at the moment Matt Bonner is our best option at defending those quick, tall men that can shoot over everyone. In fact, considering how similar McDyess' and Tim's skill sets seemed to me so far, I'm not sure which one's supposed to guard Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom or David West of Dirk Nowinsky if they're both playing together. I hope that my assessment of Dice' problems with quick forwards is wrong, but if it isn't, we might just have to learn to live with it.
Finally, in the third quarter our interior D improved (With Dice on Bosh and Bonner on Bargnani) - and then Bargnani and Belinelli got hot from beyond, and it was all for naught.
- Seriously, why does Bosh look so much like a Deinonychus? It can't be healthy.
- Something Hill still needs to work on: long, high passes when our opponent decide to use a full court press. He sends one or two of those to the nosebleeders every game, and he even hit the backboard's structure during the fourth quarter.
- It was midway through this quarter that Manu started feeling it. Tim Varner and Tim C. have already covered Manu's magical night, but I just wanted to point out that I loved how he worked his way out of that shooting funk he's been in since the season started. Manu's first field goal attempt was a layup that nearly made it home, but rattled off the rim. His second layup was blocked, and the night looked bleak at that point.
His first points came off free throws after he battled for a long offensive rebound, grabbed it and was fouled. That set the pace for the rest of the night: Manu focused on driving to the basket and drawing the foul, or passing to open teammates. He had 7 assists at the half, and slowly his shot came back naturally to him - midway through the second quarter he made a three and there was no stopping him after that.
- Toronto ahead by 2 at the end of the quarter, 95-93.
- I noticed a lot of empty seats on TV. I honestly don't understand how that can happen when you have a team that features Tim, Manu, Tony and RJ. I imagine the economic crisis might have something to do with it, but it still smells foul to me. It's a pity I can't buy a season pass to show my appreciation to our FO...
- Sean Elliotism: "Wow, I need to get a rabies shot!" At least our homers are funny.
- Despite RJ's best efforts, we were still virtually tied with 9 minutes left in the game. Manu came in, did his Manu things and put the game away with timely blocks and deadly daggers from deep. We all fall in love and break up messily with the +/- stat at different moments, but Manu's +21 sums up the story of this game perfectly.
- As I commented somewhere, scoring points is fun, and scoring is also part of winning. Last season we started with no offense and no defense, and while we more or less regained our defensive identity through the season, we were never able to score fluidly. The D will come - enjoy the arsenal available in our new and improved Spurs.
- We win, scoring a zillion points.
Sorry, I was going to write a running diary and then I couldn't. I just put hands to keyboard and ended up with this... Ah well. At least you got to see janie's pictures, and I got to rewatch a fun, fun game that brought some much needed fresh air to this humble corner of the blogosphere.
Bring it on, Goldy Locks.