Game 11, @ Utah: Spurs 94-82 (Record 10-1) RAGE: +3
Before we get into the kooky awesomeness of tonight's game, I thought I'd share something spooky I found on Youtube. It was during a Spurs season opening pep rally for the fans a couple years back, where they shot some video skits. I think this was the same year Manu dressed up as Eva Peron and sang "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," but apparently no video of that exists.
This exists though...
Now of course you recognize most of the particulars. It stars Tony and Eva, with cameos by the JV, Findog and Blotch. But there is another person of interest here. The leggy, hot brunette in the shades who looks all bitter and jealous? You get one guess at who that is.
It's gonna be a weird year.
You know what else is weird? One of the most famous sportswriters in the country turning in an NBA predictions column on November 19th.
Here was Bill Simmons' rationalization:
I passed on writing a 2010-11 NBA preview after inadvertently stepping all over it with my 2010-11 NBA season ticket rankings. The thinking: "I'll wait a few weeks, then write a two-part retro preview that accomplishes all the things I would have done with the regular preview, only with the bonus of hindsight."
Translated: "I'm really fucking lazy, but I'm so famous there isn't a damn thing my bosses can do about it." The best part is he only wrote the Western preview. He said he'll get to the East, "Next week or the week after."
Hey, what's the rush? You work too hard, take a break.
Let's just skip right to the Spurs part.
5. SAN ANTONIO
Preseason Prediction: 49 wins (6th)
Revised Prediction: 50 wins
Okay, the Spurs were 9-1 when he turned this puppy in. That mean's he's picking them to go 41-31 the rest of the way. Seems a bit... what's the word I'm looking for? Stupid. The Spurs always play better in the second half of the season under Pop and I'm gonna give The Sports Guy the benefit of the doubt that he knows this. Even if you don't think they're any better than what you thought they would be in August, shouldn't you bump the team's predicted record by a few wins considering they've won a couple games nobody thought they'd win? Isn't that just common sense? By picking them to close 41-31, you're actually saying you expect the Spurs to play worse as the year goes along. Or maybe he didn't think things through at all and just wanted to get to the Tony Parker jokes.
My vote for Least Shocking Sports Story of 2010: "Handsome French point guard breaks up with his aging actress wife who he never got to see that much; she claims he cheated on her." I thought Parker would be on Celebrity Wife No. 3 by now. You know why? He's French! Everyone has mistresses in France! Cheating on your wife in France is about as controversial as eating cheese. Throw in Parker's NBA DNA and it's amazing that he didn't make Tiger's saga look like child's play by comparison. Would you leave your wife alone with Tony Parker? I don't even like when my wife is one of 15,000 people in the Staples Center when the Spurs are in town. Anyway, I can't imagine Parker's personal troubles would affect a Duncan/Popovich foundation. If Stephen Jackson couldn't shake them, nothing can.
Cheating on your wife is about as controversial as eating cheese. HEY-O. You see, it's because he's French. He gets paid millions of dollars to write this stuff, and the most exciting thing that happened to me all month was a sex dream about Katy Perry. Life's not fair. I think we can all agree my Parker/Barry stuff was way funnier.
Enough with Parker. Here comes the "analysis."
Lost in San Antonio's terrific start, Parker's soap opera, Manu Ginobili's inspired comeback,
Hold up, what? Manu's inspired comeback? From what, the off-season? Manu's PER last season: 22.54. Manu's PER this year: 22.40. I guess Bill missed the second half of last season when Manu was one of the best three players on the world. Kinda odd for a fella who calls himself "one of the remaining twenty NBA fans on the planet," no?
Richard Jefferson's bid to become the oldest player ever to win a "Comeback Player of the Year" award and the 350,000 people who Googled "Gary Neal" during a Spurs game this season: four college seasons, 987 regular-season games, 170 playoff games and over 42,000 career minutes are finally adding up for the great Tim Duncan. Unless he starts doing HGH and doping his blood cells like Kobe Bryant, his 14-year run of All-NBA teams will be coming to an end this season. Yet he could quit tomorrow and still go down as the best power forward ever. Everything else is gravy.
And lost in the shot at Kobe and the historical compliment to Duncan is the implication that Simmons is saying he's washed up and done. Talk about a reverse jinx. All Timmy's done the last two games is average 17.5 points, 16 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.5 blocks against two of the most physical teams in the league in Chicago and Utah. It's funny that he's putting the rubber stamp on The Golden God's career while expressing full confidence that the Celtics will represent the East in the Finals. You know how many rebounds KG had tonight against Oklahoma City? Two, in 30 minutes. Without Kevin Durant. If Duncan's done, then what's Garnett? Dead?
TD PER: 20.15.
KG PER: 19.04.
The lesson, as always...
Anyway, enough about Simmons. Let's talk about the game. The Spurs are officially spooking me out. I thought tonight was going to be their toughest test to date and was fully expecting an "L." Somebody asked the other day what R.A.G.E. stands for, so again, it's Record Against Great Expectations. Not the greatest acronym, but it gets the job done. The team gets a +1 for every game they win that I didn't expect, such as tonight's at Utah. They get a -1 for every loss I didn't see coming, such as our only blemish on the year, at home against the Nooch. Right now they're a +3 because I thought they'd be 7-4 instead of 10-1, capish?
I thought the Jazz, who went 4-0 against us last year, at home, would be a tall order with their inside combo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and that Duncan would be a bit worn down after dealing with Joakim Noah and Omer Asik all game against the Bulls. I also thought Deron Williams would be a pretty tough cover for us. Mostly I guess what it was is that I think more highly of Utah than most people do.
The basketball team that is. I wouldn't be caught dead in the state.
Well good team or no, the Jazz started out sluggish and sloppy. The Spurs had six steals in the first and I'm not sure if any of them were brilliant hustle plays on our end. Utah just wasn't very sharp and bobbled a few balls right at us. Combine that with some early scoring from Manu and Blair and some superb defense in the lane from Timmy and before you know it, it was 21-6, good guys.
The offense was coming in fits and spurts, but the starters had the most defensive chemistry between them that they've had all season. Either they've been paying attention in practice or they're just getting used to each other, but they're definitely not allowing as many wide open jumpers these days and all the bigs seem to know where to be and aren't getting caught out of position in the pick-and-roll. There's always somebody back protecting the rim and challenging shots. Everyone is boxing out their guy and the defensive rebounding has been excellent.
Utah caught up going into the fourth quarter, but it took them 24 minutes to accomplish what we did in 12. They expanded more energy and it showed. That it was even a game going into the final period was due mostly to off nights by Manu and Rocket, neither of whom could throw it into the ocean. If they played like their regular selves, the Spurs would've had a healthy cushion going into the fourth. It didn't help that the bench also had a tough time scoring, combining for 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting. They all rebounded well (even Bonner) and they scrapped on defense, but couldn't get their shots to fall, often missing badly.
There were a couple of times I thought Manu got whacked on drives to the rim, but considering the officiating crew, I wasn't overly surprised he didn't get a call. Mostly it was like he was cursed out there. His layups would roll in and out. He'd pass to a wide open guy and that guy would miss. Whoever he was covering on defense would be burying threes with Manu right in his mug. It just went so terribly for him in the second and third quarters, to the point where he noticeably passed up some shots in the fourth and mostly settled for trying to set up Tim and Tony, who both had it going.
With all nine guys in the rotation playing well in their own end, rotating for each other, contesting shots, hustling for loose balls, rebounding like madmen, it was simply going to be impossible for Utah to run away with the game, even if they had all the momentum and energy. The Spurs were too good at creating second and third chances for themselves, too talented with the Big Three all on the floor at once and too unselfish to take poor shots. It also helped that the Jazz didn't have the quick slashers or three point shooters necessary to get a bunch of points in a hurry. They're a team that murders defenses that are soft, disorganized and undersized (like Miami). That's not the Spurs. Not this year.
The Spurs won because they could out-Jazz the Jazz when they had to, but the Jazz could never out-Spur them. It's just not in them. Maybe when Gordon Hayward gets comfortable and starts playing and Mehmet Okur comes back and can space the floor. Right now they have Jefferson and Millsap, similar guys with similar skills, and they mostly get in each other's way. Williams is being asked to do too much and Kirilenko (who looks these days like he should be named Ishmael Smith) isn't being utilized enough as a playmaker.
Their statlines were superficially similar, but let's be clear, Tony -- with some defensive help from George Hill -- kicked Williams' ass. While Utah's star had to work for everything he got on the floor, Parker made it look smooth and effortless. He was in total control the whole time and the game seemed to be going in slow motion for him. He scored 24 and he probably could've had 35 if he needed to. When he passed, it was with a purpose.
This whole month Parker's been playing with the assurance of a guy who's confident in his game and even more confident in what he's doing. Situations don't seem to confuse or rattle him. He never looks panicked on the floor. Even the shots he misses, most of the time the circumstances dictate that he's supposed to be taking those shots. I wouldn't say Tony's in a zone, but he's very focused and hungry, that much is obvious. He is not fucking around out there. I think he's happy that he doesn't have to carry the team for prolonged stretches like he did two seasons ago and appreciative of his health, as he definitely wasn't the same guy last year. Now he can be a star when he has to be and just be merely great when others are playing well. It's a luxury and a freedom that he, Tim and Manu are all enjoying, for the first time since 2007.
Here's what The Fornicating Frenchman's done against six of the best point guards in the league this year:
Date Pts Shooting Assists TOs Name Pts Shooting Assists TOs
10/30 13 5/10 4 3 C. Paul 25 8/15 5 3
11/3 11 4/11 6 3 S. Nash 19 8/22 7 4
11/6 21 8/17 14 4 A. Brooks 18 7/13 2 3
11/14 24 9/15 3 3 Westbrook 19 5/17 8 2
11/17 21 9/14 7 3 D. Rose 33 15/27 4 4
11/19 24 11/17 7 2 Williams 23 7/19 5 2
Avg 19.0 46/84 (55%) 6.8 3.0 22.8 50/113 (44%) 5.2 3.0
That's pretty freakin' good. Not to toot my own horn, because I can't, but I think I'm onto something about Parker being pissed about not being on those top-five best point guard lists anymore. He wants to show critics he's just as good as these guys, if not better, and so far not only does he have the stats to back it up, but he's 5-1 against his peers.
Tonight was Timmeh's night though, when it comes down to it. He passed The Admiral on the franchise's all-time scoring list, had more rebounds (14 to 13) and assists (four to three) than Millsap and Jefferson combined, just as many blocks as those guys combined (three each) and only three fewer points (19 to 22, on two fewer shots). He completely owned the paint on defense during his 33 minutes on the floor and created many second chances. I'm not sure which play I liked more, when he snuffed Jefferson's attempted dunk or tapped a ball over Millsap's head off the backboard, caught it and dunked it home. He was fucking awesome tonight.
People can continue to count out the Spurs if they wish, but eventually they'll have to take notice of the record if nothing else. They won at Utah on a night where two of their three guys played well and everyone else just grinded. That's a statement win. Duncan and Parker were both good, but didn't have eye-popping numbers. No one else stood out or did anything special, which is the point. They dismantled a good Jazz team on the road and they made it look routine.
We've seen nights when two of the big three have been rolling and have been aided by role players and we've seen nights where pretty much everyone scored at will. Now, slowly but surely, we're seeing some more consistency on defense. The Spurs have yet to put it all together, with the the big three all playing well, the role guys like RJ, Blair, Hill, Dice and Bonner doing their parts, and the defense playing the way it did tonight. The Spurs have shown they can win games doing just a few things well, a different combination of positives on every night. They're already one of the best teams just playing a B, B- game for them, like they were in their championship seasons. If they ever find that A game, then maybe this thing won't be a mere formality for the Lakers just yet.
Your Three Stars:
3. DeJuan Blair. An excellent defensive effort against two big uglies and he's starting to find his touch around the basket again. Had more offensive boards (six) than the whole Jazz team combined. So did Tim. It was 16-to-5 on that end and 46-to-31 on the glass overall. Just domination.
2. Tony Parker. I have nothing to add about his game, so I'll mention the Jazz broadcast crew here. They've got Matt Harpring as their color guy now and he was just ghastly. So was the play-by-play guy, whoever he was. At one point, Harpring argued, in all seriousness, that Jefferson shouldn't have been called for an offensive foul because "Duncan impeded Jefferson's shoulder with his face."
Later, when Williams went flying under the basket on a loose ball, the play-by-play guy said something about holding his breath, and Harpring said, "He's one of those guys you don't want to see injured."
Yeah, I mean if C.J. Miles suffers an ACL, well fuck that guy, but not Deron Williams. I hope when Bonner becomes a color guy in five years he's not this awful.
1. Tim Duncan. At least Harpring had to have a running dialogue during the game. The Jazz also have Thurl Bailey holed up in some studio with some schmoe and they went to him on occasion for strategical tidbits. The final time, when it was 89-81 Spurs with three minutes to go, Bailey was asked what the Jazz should do. I swear to FSM he said, "I think they should give the ball to Deron Williams here." He didn't expand on the thought by saying whether Williams should run a pick-and-roll with Millsap, whether they should look to drive and kick for an open three, or how they should react on defense depending on a make or a miss. The entirety of his analytical advice was to give the ball to their best player. And he's drawing a paycheck significantly larger than mine for this. I hope the Jazz franchise exists for another 600 years and never wins a title, to the point that one day sports fans in Cleveland will mock them.
Up Next: Saturday, Vs. Cleveland (5-6). I had no idea this was a FIGABABA for us until halfway through the game. Crap. With Orlando on the docket on Monday I am BEGGING you Pop, sit Timmy. Please. No matter how much he protests, bench his ass and play Tiago 24 minutes or until he fouls out, whichever comes first. Don't be fooled by the Cavs' respectable record, their middle-of-the-road statistics or the fact that five of their guys are averaging double figures in scoring and that Sideshow Bob is 0.4 (that damn number again) from making it six. All you need to know is a guy named Boobie is second on the team in scoring, because Boobie Gibson sucks. We're not gonna lose to these guys Duncan or no.