Well, this is not the recap any of us were hoping for - we've all seen this movie before. The team has never missed Manu as much as they missed him tonight. [Yea, that's right Pop - I mentioned Manu, it's as if he actually exists in my mind.] This was a tightly-reffed game, which only added to the insult since the Spurs are still the Spurs when they're at the free-throw line, even if they're beginning to resemble the Sacramento Kings in every other phase of the game.
There were some flashes of hope, followed by those hopes falling back to Earth. Most notably, the 2nd quarter was all Spurs, all the time. The defense and offense were both in sync, and we went into the half up by 4. We then lost that lead mere moments into the 3rd, in typical Spurs fashion.
Pop made some decisions we've been hoping for, and some that left us scratching our heads and/or banging them into the walls. George Hill played, and looked good - even ATS's best friend Reggie Miller wanted to know where Pop has been hiding the kid for the whole series. He also continued to go with guys who have had no impact in this series whatsoever, telling us crazy kids to get off his lawn with our logic and common sense. "See, I played your guy and we still lost" [Where Pop is cleverly not mentioning that Red Rocket is a catastrophe in this series].
So, where do we begin?
Let's start with what went right.
Tony was unstoppable for most of this game, on offense. He was 18-29 for 43 points, and had 4 steals. And that's what went right for him.
As the game went on, however, Tony became something of a liability. He had 31 points and 3 assists at the half. He finished the game with 43 points and 3 assists - that's right, ZERO assists in the second half. What's more, he started to turn the ball over. This is not to say it was all Tony's fault, though. He set up Ime, Findog, Mason and Bonner multiple times, but they couldn't hit the 3. If those guys are making shots, Tony probably gets a double-double and doesn't have to wear himself out trying to win the game on his own.
Also, in the second half, he wasn't even trying to get a hand in Kidd's face on 3-point attempts. Kidd was 3-7 on those tonight, and at least two of his makes(by my count) were in that second half with Tony just standing there and watching. Tony wasn't totally inept on the defensive end, though. He did keep Ericka Dampier from getting an easy dunk by fouling. Overall, Tony was competing as hard as anybody in a black jersey today.
And then there's Tim Duncan. In the first half, Timmeh was also on his game, despite only getting 4 rebounds. In the second half, he made mental errors, which are not like him at all. He was caught out of position several times on defense(including the aforementioned Tony foul on Ericka) and the Spurs got burned for it. This is not totally Timmeh's fault, either - If Findog or Bonner(among others) could stay in front of their man, Timmeh doesn't have to leave his man to help. The offensive foul when he plowed into Dirk was the real killer, though. Timmeh assumed Dirk was inside the circle and kept going right at Dirk - that was a big mistake.
Our "shooters" weren't very helpful today, and I would put the bulk of the blame on Pop for continuing to go to them, even running a play out of the timeout late in the 4th for a Bonner fallaway corner 3. Every time Findog, Mason, Bonner, or Udoka shot, you could reasonably expect one of these:
In fact, those 4 shot a combined 2-17. If they make their usual percentage, we win.
Especially egregious is Pop's obsession with playing Bonner for so many minutes. Matty played 22 minutes tonight, and even with the aforementioned set play, he manage to get all of 4 shots off(none of which he made). Ime played 19 minutes, and also shot 0-4, but he was actually doing a decent job on the defensive end, so it's more easily forgivable. Memo to Pop: Matt can't even slow Dirk down - if he's not taking the shot when he has the chance(remember, 4 shots in 22 minutes), keep your promise and yank him from the game. Thomas will at least give you defense, and even Gooden is athletic enough to make things more difficult for Dirk.
Pothead killed us all night. Why? Defense again. Bruce and George made things difficult for Barea and Terry, but Findog was "guarding" Howard for most of his 36 minutes on the floor. It wasn't pretty, as Howard was simply escorted to the rim multiple times in the second half. Unfortunately, we don't have enough good defenders to throw out there to guard all 3 of the Mavs' slashers - we just have to hope one of them has an off game, or give Ime more minutes, neither of which are very exciting options from this fan's perspective.
The offensive rebounding in this series is getting ridiculous. They got 14 tonight, including a 4th quarter possession where the Mavs got off 3 three-point attempts, the last of which went in. This is basketball 101 - just box out.
I'll leave you with a bright spot: George Hill has been freed, and Pop would be wise to continue letting him play. Everyone's favorite rookie from IUPUI (drink!) played a pretty excellent game. He got to the rim, and even though he was blocked, they were forced to respect him and give him space after that. George used that space to knock down the only other shots he took - two threes from the corner. His D was excellent, and he actually forced a couple of TO's, even though he's not credited in the box score for that. We need this kind of defensive effort from somebody not named Hill or Bowen if we're to recover from this.
One of these things doesn't belong on the court, and it isn't the rookie.
Our bench scored 10 points. 6 of those were from George Hill. Guess who needs more playing time?