It's my turn to recap tonight. I volunteered, because there were so many people working tirelessly to provide high quality content in this site that I started feeling guilty. Even Stampler is back in full force, doing his best to snark up his team into submission but being brutally crippled in his efforts by our winning percentage. Because we're winning - run-and-gun no-defense wins, wins that are invariably closer than they should be, ugly wins if judged by traditional Spurs aesthetic values.
And yet... winning is kind of neat, isn't it?
Today we tried on a new kind of win: the famous blow-out win, the boring, predictable and unavoidable victory against a lesser opponent which has only two players who seem to care about the game's outcome. It was fun, and the perfect way to say goodbye to the cakewalk stretch of games. We have outgrown the bad teams - now bring on the big boys.
Three Quarters Of Basketball And Then Meh
If you want to form a mental cosmic picture of the first quarter, imagine a planet-killer meteor striking a moon made of brittle ice. If you want a weather-inspired picture, think of a hailstorm hitting a greenhouse. If you want an animal kingdom image, I would equate it to a pack of raptors sneaking into a henhouse. If you want a sexual image... well, I can't give you one, but believe me, they exist. (Check Stampler's recap, he might include one.) Basically, we annihilated them: our offense was once again incredibly efficient and their defense was pitiful. They seemed to dare Manu to shoot open threes, and they appeared content to let Tony weave his way through the paint and lay the ball up. Madness! Madness I tell you! A 22-0 run took the wind out of their sails, and it was almost a backbreaking quarter. However, our defense was soft for first the 6 minutes of the quarter, and Tiago's positive influence could only do so much in the last 6 minutes. We ended 11 points ahead of the 76ers, but they still felt like too few to me.
The second quarter was pedestrian, frustrating and forgettable. We were permeable down low, the Spurs' extended arms didn't seem to bother their shooters, and the trigger happy referees prevented the game from developing any semblance of a flow. They were nearly spotless from the free throw line, to boot, so they quickly ate away at our lead until they were only 6 points behind. Manu and Tony reacted in time, fortunately, so the point differential was only -2 by the time cdeck posted his "end of the second quarter" banner. "It's going to be another one of those nights", I thought, and "Why do they keep doing this to me?" and "At least I'm not a Clippers fan."
(By the way, I saw something downright shocking tonight, midway through the second quarter. Fast break, Tony with the ball, no 76er rushing back to challenge his shot because hey, it's the 76ers, hustle is a foreign word to them. I was expecting the customary Tony Parker soft layup, just-another-day-in-the-office stuff, when he slowed down. He slowed down until RJ, the second man in the fast break, ran past him - and then he just gave the ball away. I saw it, guys, I swear it. Now, I'm not a guy that gives much credence to Stampler's theories. They are fun, but they are also based on psychological and moral analyses that are beyond what any fan can glean from watching these players on TV while playing basketball. However, this moment seemed to fit perfectly into his theory about Tony looking to regain the spotlight by raking in more assists. Who knows?)
After the Charlotte game I had a small chat with our ex-fearless leader, Wayne "Terse" Vore. I had the audacity of saying that the game had been won by our starters, not the bench, and that I hadn't been wowed by the latter. He lashed out at me in response, brandishing stats and play-by-plays and logic and more stats I can shake an engineering degree at, so eventually I had to concede his point: the bench is good, the bench is useful, long live the bench. However, there isn't a question in my mind about the starter's role in this game, and it was particularly obvious in that third quarter. Our starting five -give or take a Blair/Timmy- was our one-two punch, and the third punch, and the kick to the face while they're down and in fetal position. As proof, I'll point out that all five starters finished with a +/- equal or higher than 20. The defense was finally found and the 76ers were held to only 12 points, with steals, blocks and deflections slowly chipping at their composure. Most of those steals ended up in points or trips to the line, and Bonner came back in time to hammer the final nail in the coffin with a good old Red Rocket long-range bomb. 30-point differential, and the game was unofficially over.
There might be the explanation for Manu Ginobili's permanence in the starting lineup. For the first time since Manu became the legendary Bench Scoring Punch, putting him along Tony Parker at the start of the game is paying off. They split scoring and point guard duties seamlessly, and Tim's quietness seems to make room for both them and RJ's ocassional drives. I have a feeling this lineup is here to stay.
There was a 4th quarter, I think. Yeah... I remember now a Tiago reverse layup, and Hill regaining some of his mojo, and a small white guy taking some nice jumpers that will fool some fans into thinking he's useful. But it was largely inconsequential, with scrubs playing loose and with no stakes. Boring basketball. I welcomed it.
Still, the reverse layup was sweet.
Musings Meant To Stir Up The Proverbial Hornets' Nest
Is this still Timmy's team? It's a question Spurs fans have answered over and over again in forums, blogs, sports bars, and usually the reply is a resounding "YES". YES, he's the (one) leader. YES, the offense starts with him down low. YES, he's the anchor of our defense. And yet honestly, nowadays this team looks to me more and more like Tony and Manu's. They carry the scoring load, they take the clutch shots, and they're the ones making the flashy defensive plays. Timmy's defensive presence can't be matched by the guards, that's true, but then again the vulnerability of the Spurs interior D suggests that its influence is limited. We aren't winning through defense, or half-court sets. We're running, we are shooting from outside, and mostly we are penetrating and kicking to the perimeter. So is this Timmy's team? I fully expect His Oldness to start taking on more responsibilities as we get to the end of the regular season, really, but right now this team lives and breathes as Tony and Manu do.
(Another aside, because parentheses make everything magical. I just noticed that the stately Basketball-reference has "Narigón" listen as one of Manu's nicknames. For the foreigners, that's "Big Nose Guy" in Castilian. Awesome.)
This was Tony's game through and through. The 76ers never found an answer for him, and he sliced and diced and reminded us why he's so good. And then I looked at Manu's line in the boxscore and saw he'd gotten 18 points in 25 minutes. Huh? When did this happen? It's an incredible thing that we are not able to take Manu's 20 points per game for granted, those three triples are in the bag, count on them, take it to the bank. He is the team's main scorer, and his points per 36 minutes are at an all-time high. My only worry is that his minutes per game, before tonight's, was also at a career high, with 34.1 minutes every game. Is it wise to abuse Manu's rested legs like this? I want to trust Pop, because someone has to be the Pop apologist now that Wayne is away, but I can't help but thing that this overdependency on Manu will cost us. In any case, I always remember how people tend to say that Manu is a top-10 NBA talent, but that he can't sustain it for the entire season. Maybe at 33 he finally finds it in himself to be That Guy.
Your Three Stars
3rd. Blair - 13 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and lots of good intentions. He looked a bit like The Man Known As The Beast out there tonight. Is he back? Splitter must be sticking pins into a Blair doll right now.
2nd. Manu - 18 points, 3-5 from three, 1 rebound, 1 rebound, 3 TOs and 2 steals. He went for the crazy passes that everyone loves to hate, but that's Manu. He also scored every time we needed him to, and that's Manu too.
1st. Tony - 24 points on 10-13 shooting, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 TO, 3 steals. Daaamn, Tony. Save something for OKC, will you? The 76ers excel at watching Tony run past them, I learnt as much.
@ OKC, tomorrow. SEGABABA, feisty young team with a knack for scoring, and a superstar that can't be shut down. RJ, do yer thang.