My first game as an officially credentialed member of the media.
So much happened today that I can't write it all up in a single post and also get enough sleep to function tomorrow, so I'll have to write two. The first one (this one) will focus on the game, the second one (the one the currently exists only in note form) will be about the behind the scenes stuff that you crave.
Follow me beyond the jump to taste of the details that no one outside of the AT&T Center was privileged to view, since there was no broadcast of this
meaningless preseason tilt epic battle.
The view from press row as the Spurs come out for warmups.
I've decided to do this in
lazy diary format since there was no television coverage available, and those of you who listened had to use your imagination about the details. Well, here are details. Now you can use your imagination again!
Layup line: Duncan tries a no-look reverse layup that misses. A bit later, Tony tries a between-the-legs no-look reverse layup that misses.
Blair is shooting REALLY high-arching baseline rainbows from about 15 ft that are going well over the top of the 24-second clock. He stops when he swishes one.
Just before the anthem, as the lights are going down, Manu does an over the back heel-kick that goes in. He checks over his shoulder to watch what happens. I barely catch the beginning, and wished I'd seen the whole thing.
Did they install new sound system at the AT&T Center? I don't remember it being this loud last year.
Starting Lineup: RJ, Blair, Parker, Manu, Duncan, but not in this order. Blair introduced last? Weird.
Just noticed that the Baseline Bums are DIRECTLY behind me. Tamborines and noise makers galore.
Pre-tipoff, Duncan is the only one I see with a special request of the refs (his pre-game ball hug) and Durant is the last player on the court. He skips onto the court and gives fives to all the Spurs real quick before the tip.
Le Baguette ballin'.
Blair with 2 offensive rebounds in the first minute. He just creates so much space as he goes for the board. Guys often seem to simply bounce off him to the floor.
As Durant goes though the lane, he looks like he's ice skating, he's so smooth. A lay-in for his 2nd bucket.
Manu is active on D. He's already has his hands on the ball twice in the Thurnder's end.
Green's just a mismatch for us, but after we switch on a screen, it's ridiculous how tough he is to defend.
Great Sequence: with just less than 8 min left in the first, RJ does a good job defending Durant, who's short with his jumper from the left wing. Manu rebounds and brings the ball up the court quickly in transition and finds Blair free for a dunk.
Duncan's challenging a lot of shots. But on this Thunder possession he's called for a foul against Westbrook who misses his second FT. TD, gets the rebound and a quick pass out to Tony gets him a couple of FTs of his own, which he makes.
Parker with a pretty tear drop with 6:30 left.
I'm sitting behind the baseline, so space is compressed somewhat, but it's crazy how quickly Tony reacts while in the air. With a little less than 6 minutes left, he drives, gets bumped hard as he picks up his dribble and it looks like he's going to have to force an awkward layup when he quickly finds Tim with a no-look pass for an uncontested dunk. That assist was just silly.
After, Westbrook drives right by Tony for a layup. The Spurs quickly get the ball out of the net and bring it up the court to a cutting RJ for a sweet basket and 1. Who are these guys in white, the Suns? Pop's said that he wants the guys to run more and I'm seeing it on the floor.
Manu passes on a three. He doesn't look comfortable yet.
Simmons has a nice rebound, gets fouled and with just over 2 min left, Hill drives and does a nifty stop-and-show-the-ball that nets him two FTs. I don't remember seeing that move before. I like it.
With just over 1 min left, KD has it at the top of the key, with Simmons on him. Durant jab steps and dribble spins to elevate - and Simmons is right there with a hand in his face. Durant's shot misses. Next time down, Simmons stays in front of another drive attempt by KD, who has to pass instead of forcing a shot on his drive. Color me impressed by our #1. He can D-up.
Tony: "Coach, you missed a rotation riiiight there."
Pop: "To hell with the rotation, I'm going to get a drink."
Lineup: Bonner, McDyess, Temple, Neal, Hill: They're running an entirely different style of offense with these guys. Neal gets a nice bucket, and on the next trip down, Hill drives straight to the rim to lay it in. None of the sets are familiar, but it's effective. Tied at 35.
With 8 minutes left, Hill pushes the ball up the floor after a Thunder miss, slows up when he almost loses his handle, then gets a quick pass to McDyess who's directly under the basket. SAM fakes, spins to create space, and elevates -- but finds Green right there with a long arm blocking the way. He twists and stretches and lets the ball go from an almost impossibly awkward-looking position while almost entirely under the bucket. It goes in. That was very cool.
Parker's jumper is in mid-season form.
So is his slash-to-the-rim-drop-in-an-easy-two. Spurs up 43-38 after an 8-3 run.
Great Sequence: good team defense on Green forces him into a miss at the rim. McDyess rebounds and outlets to Tony who crosses halfcourt, goes behind his back and gets a sweet feed to Bonner at the 3pt line. Ginger's 3 rattles down for his first points.
They really are pushing the ball up the court at every opportunity. The quarter ending lineup: Manu, Neal, Blair, McDyess and Parker. Manu sets up the offense and, for the second straight possession, works a sneaky pass inside to Blair. The last one didn't work, but this one Blair handles, and puts it right in with that quick release he uses when he's among the trees. Oh, that's the release he always uses? Well, it's still very nice.
It's the DeJuan Blair show, folks. Even Tony has been feeding him. After a Thunder miss, Tony has the ball on a mini-break with Blair ahead of him. DeJuan enters the paint looking over his shoulder for a pass. When it comes, he's forced to turn and jump in order to snag it; this carries him underneath the basket. Already in the air, he leans over, almost horizontal, and reaches across the under the basket to release under the other side of the rim. The ball sits on the rim for almost a full second before it drops in. It's crazy that he even got the ball out of his hands without being blocked by the rim.
So with a close game all through the first two quarters, how are the Spurs up 10 at the half? Well, up by four, Manu drops his first 3 of the game with 26 seconds left in the half. Manu then guards Durant, who drives and spins and misses a 3 ft jumper with Manu right with him. Blair rebounds to Parker as the last seconds of the half tick down. Tony feeds Manu who pulls up from 31 feet and releases just before the buzzer. Two 3's in 26 seconds for Ginobili, and it's a double digit lead.
Lineup: Bonner, Jefferson, Manu, Blair, Parker
Right out of the half, KD drops a 3 pointer. Spurs work the ball to Manu in the corner who starts to drive but tries to pass through the defense out to the 3pt line, but it bounces off a defender right to Blair who lets go of it as soon as he grabs it. It's listed in the play-by-play as an 8 foot jumper, but how you call it a jumper, when he hardly held it long enough to shoot it, much less jump?
Manu's third 3 is followed by a Thunder miss and a Bonner push-shot-cum-jumper from 3 point land. Spurs by 11.
Some messy play and some OKC FT's later, the lead is down to 5. Bonner gets a pass at the left corner, with a man running at him, takes one dribble in as the defender flies past, and drops a 17 footer.
Durant at the right 3 pt corner, drives and dunks. He does seem to get off his feet pretty quickly.
Westbrook is really, really fast. He can also move quickly and accelerate speedily. In addition, he's not in the least bit slow.
Westbrook defends Hill with about 4 minutes left. Bonner has the ball at the top of the key, and Westbrook is trying to deny Hill the ball as he runs through the paint, under the basket and out of the paint, but George suddenly reverses and Red Rocket zips a pass to him for a nice dunk. I like it when George dunks.
Neal's jump shot is tipped, then batted around only to come right back to him. His second jumper (from the same spot in less than 3 seconds) is good from 17.
Lineup: Anderson, Hill, McDyess, Neal, Simmons
Neal wastes what seems like half of the shot clock, trying to decide what to do. With the 24-second clock at 1, he shoots and misses badly. Anderson's right there with a pretty tip-in right at the rim. Nice anticipation on that one by the Ampersand. (Hmmm, I don't know about that one.)
As KD shoots FT's and makes one of two, I notice for the umpteenth time that his legs, from knee to ankle, are exceptionally skinny. Looks like you could snap them in two like a sliver of balsa wood. He does seem to get around on them, though.
Last play of the third: Westbrook tries to drive and spins, Neal and Hill stay in front of him, he drives again, but has to pass out to Durant who also drives and spins and rises for a jumper, but has his shot block/stripped by Hill with one of those Bowen/Manu moves where he kind of seems to take it out of his hands as he's leaving his feet and before he even really starts the shot. So Hill is streaking the other way racing the quarter ending buzzer.But Westbrook is chasing him down, and all three (Hill, Westbrook, and the buzzer) reach the rim at the same time.
They review the play, decide it happened before the buzzer, and Hill sinks both.
Touchdoooowwwn!!! Wait, we're not playing football?!
Blair posting up. One second he's standing there, with his back to he defender. The next instant, he's completed a spin move and is all alone for an uncontested layup. That was so pretty to watch.
After a Thunder basket, Manu drops another three, this time from the right wing. Spurs by 4.
The lineup at 8:30 remaining in the game: Anderson, Blair, RJ, Manu and Parker
They run 4 Down for Blair, whose so-quick-it's-almost-not-a-jumper is an airball.
After a KD 3ptr, Manu splits the defense to lay it in for two and give the Spurs a one point lead. At this, the crowd responds with the most noise it's made all night. Man, this city sure loves this Argentine.
Just under 6 min to go, and a broken play results in a KD dunk. The Spurs work the ball around to Manu in the corner. He tosses in a 3 and the place goes crazy. Next time down the court, Tony feeds a posting Blair, then curls around DeJuan's defender as Blair leads him with a pretty looping pass that Parker receives and flips into the bucket for a 4 point lead. 98-94. With 5 min left.
As Green makes one of two FT's, it sure does seem that they've shot a bad percentage from the stripe. But the box score say different. Weird.
The Spurs run the same play that resulted in Tony's last deuce, this time with Anderson feeding a posted RJ, and curling, only to be blocked at the rim. KD comes back with a three. After some more fouling and Thunder FT's, they're tied at 100 with 3:48 left.
Just over 3 to go, Westbrook goes baseline for a monster slam. Ladies and Gentlemen: your preseason crunch time lineup is Anderson, Neal, Temple, Blair, RJ. An attempted pass to a posted Blair goes out of bounds. Pop calls a timeout.
Is it possible that Sweet Caroline has jumped the shark?
Play resumes: same lineup. Green posts RJ and gets just the shot he wants: a 3 ft hook in the middle of the lane. On the other end, Temple is called for a travel. KD replies with a pull-up jumper for 2 more. Is it just me, or have most of his jumpers tonight looked like pull-up jumpers?
At this point, I stopped due to the outcome being decided. The bottom line is that Durant, Westbrook, Green, Harden, and Ibaka went on 11-0 run after the score was tied at 100, and they to put the game away as the fans went streaming for the exits.
One thing that's interesting when doing one of these while in the arena, is how easy it is to lose track of the score when it's not projected into your view constantly while you watch the game. There were a number of times that I looked at the score during a break in the action, and I was surprised how different the score was than what I expected. I can only imagine what it's like for the payers. They have so many things to keep up with, that time and score are probably not the easiest things to keep track of. One more amazing thing about these guys.
Your Three Stars
Blair: 6-14 for 12 points, 9 boards (5 defensive), 2 assists and a steal. He also led the team in the guys-bounced-to-the-floor stat.
Parker: 6-12 for 17 pts and 6 assists (two of them to Manu).
Manu: 17 points, 5 for 7 from distance (he's hitting threes again) and four assists in 26 minutes. Let the
rejoicing season commence! Well, after one more preseason game.