Game 14, @ Minnesota: Spurs 113-109 (OT) (Record 13-1) RAGE: +3
This will give you insight into my life. I didn't watch the Spurs game live because I went to a Sharks-Blackhawks game with Manoli. The Spurs started at 5 p.m. where I live and the hockey game wasn't until 7:30, meaning literally the whole time on the car ride to the game, during dinner beforehand and sitting in the arena for 40 minutes waiting for the opening face-off, I was eschewing polite conversation so I could stare at my terrible, useless, almost completely non-functional BlackBerry to get score updates on the game. Obviously for much of it, I was in a sour mood.
"HOW ARE WE DOWN 21 TO THE T-WOLVES? HOW ARE WE GETTING OUR ASSES KICKED BY DARKO MILICIC? JESUS, DOES K-LOVE HAVE A 100-100 IN THIS GAME?"
Then the fourth quarter started and little by little the Spurs were making their comeback. My phone kept not working, and I kept having to turn it off and on for it to update. And that was just to get score updates. Meanwhile Manoli has this fancy I-Phone that not only was working perfectly, but even had a graphic of the court, showing where guys were making and missing their shots.
"HOW CAN YOU GET A 21-FOOT JUMP SHOT BLOCKED YOU FRENCH BASTARD?"
The Spurs made it a one possession game a few times and I was going insane like I was actually watching the game, imploring the team to get a stop on my phone. I was cursing them for getting so close, 95-94, only to tease me and let me down 100-94 with under two minutes to go. Gah!
Then RJ goes to the line, but just gets one. 100-95. A stop, Manu misses a three, Jefferson hits one and it's 100-98. "GET AN EFFING STOP!"
NO. 102-98. Two freebies for Manu. 102-100. "GET ONE EFFING STOP DAMMIT!"
NO. 104-100. Manoli tells me Manu fouled Darko too, so it's going to be an and-1. NOOOOOO! Wait a minute, dummy, you misread that thing. Manu got a layup and HE got fouled. 104-103. "ONE EFFING STOP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD."
NO. 106-103. We see a graphic saying Neal is at the line and at first it said he only had two shots, and we're thinking, "Hmm, I guess that was smart for Minny to foul intentionally."
Then the thing refreshes and we see that not only did Neal have three free throws, but he made 'em all. HOLY COW TIE GAME.
By now the national anthem of our game was being sung and Manoli was openly imploring me to put the cell phone away. I didn't care. I wanted to make sure the game got into OT. IT DID! Finally, a stop!
Obviously, most of the first period was a blur, and I think a did a fist pump when I saw Rocket give them a lead with a three. Then another fist pump for Manu's steal. Dammit, he got blocked, seven seconds to go. "NO THREES DAMMIT!"
The buzz didn't wear off until the first intermission and the whole time I was watching the hockey game, all I was thinking about was how great it will be to watch the Spurs when I got home.
Manoli, kept making fun of me, saying it's only Minnesota, but I didn't care. He says the Blackhawks and Sharks are BOTH his favorite teams and he was like my nine-year-old cousin Samantha, rooting for whoever was leading. Sharks won 5-2. It was a decent game, but one marred by the fact that neither team has a big-nosed Argentine on its roster. Just a bunch of random Finns and Swedes. Meh.
God, that game was so stressful, and I was only keeping up by words on a screen. I can only imagine what watching it live was like. It's nuts to be so emotionally invested on November 24, right? How we can keep this up for seven months? This is gonna be a crazy year.
Speaking of crazy, here's a short vid of Manu being Manu. I'm aware there are people out there who don't think of Gino as their favorite player ever. And those people are stupid and ugly and wrong.
El Mirón: Manu Ginobili (via Chasky33)
Now obviously, the Spurs didn't play well for most of the game. Some of the reasons were their fault and some weren't. Offensively I thought they were listless and lazy. Both Manu and Tony were unwilling to drive after a couple of their early efforts were nullified by Darko. Same thing with Timmeh. He missed a couple shots and had a a couple more stuffed and he checked out mentally. Just shut it down. You could see him thinking, "Screw this noise, these guys are way too young and energetic for me, let me save my strength for Dallas in two nights." It didn't help him any that Dick Bevetta, a notorious home-biased referee, was openly letting the T-Pups go over his back and foul him around the basket without any calls. I don't really know what Minnesota was doing differently, but for some reason we weren't even trying P&Rs at all. It was a lot of Iso offense, and the ball movement was severely lacking.
The threes weren't going in either, for anyone, for a variety of reasons. For one, that court of theirs is just weird, and I think it fucks with visiting teams who aren't used to it. The wood in the middle of the court is one color, and then it's way brighter in the offensive zone. I think it's distracting for shooters. Also, I don't think any of the first ten or so threes we tried were very open, again there wasn't enough passing, no drive-and-kicks, none of that. We forced quite a few of them, especially Manu. Late in the second quarter and in the third we were getting better looks and bricking the open ones, but by then we already suffering from the bad momentum of having missed so many.
Then there was the defense.
Look, let's clear up something right now: Anyone who thinks Kevin Love was the star of the game for Minnesota clearly doesn't understand the game. All he was doing was grabbing uncontested defensive boards off our three point jacks and cleaning up garbage on the other end by rebounding over Bonner or shooting short jumpers off Tiago.
Darko, on the other hand, was a fucking BEAST. He was dominating at both ends of the floor, just completely abusing The Golden God. He blocked five shots, was completely unguardable by any of our bigs, and even when he missed, it set up easy weakside rebounds for Love to feast on. I was completely blown away by how good he was, and really, to me he was the star of the game, even over Manu. You know Joe Dumars and Chad Ford were watching the game at some bar, getting drunk off their asses, and screaming to the bartender, "SEE! YOU SEE THIS? YOU STILL THINK I'M CRAZY YOU STUPID ASSHOLES?"
That doesn't mean I'm dismissing Love. Not at all. He was great too, in his own way, but he's more of a rich man's Blair, and not someone who can influence a game on defense like Darko can. Also, I think if you're absolutely committed to taking him away on offense, you can. His offensive game is limited. I don't think Pop or the team took the T-Pups very seriously at all, didn't game plan for them and weren't aware they were in a basketball game until midway through the second quarter. The whole team, the bigs especially, played as though they've never seen Darko or Love before.
There is something else that has to be pointed out: Splitter was getting murdered out there. I love the kid, but let's admit it, he got an education out there last night. It didn't matter who he was guarding, Darko or Love, they were both scoring on him at will. Minnesota pretty much gave the ball to whoever he was guarding on every play. Sometimes Leg got flat out beat, other times he had good position and they made shots over him anyway. Either way it was ugly.
Alright, so I crunched the numbers. In Tiago's first stint he was out there for 9:36, in which the Spurs got outscored 25-18 and Love and Darko combined for 11 points. In the second half he played for 12:20, in which it was 31-22 good guys and the Minny bigs had 10. So that's 49-47 Spurs in 21:56 and 21 for their guys, but it felt like 80-30 T-pups and 60 for Darko-Love (heh), and I think that's more important than you know, actual facts. He was noticeably better in the second half, but he had a lot to do with them getting out to a big lead in the first place.
We also suffered from having to play Rocket so much in this game, where he was getting predictably mauled on the glass against Love. I wrote coming into the game that I was excited about the Blair-Love match-up, but it never materialized because he played stupidly and got in foul trouble. He keeps racking up silly loose ball and over the back fouls and that put-back he tried against three defenders was beyond dumb. He thinks that just because he comes up with the offensive board it's his right to put up any kind of shot, and it's just not the case. Sometimes by the time he gets the ball he's pinned too far underneath the glass or surrounded by a bunch of bigs and the smart play is to pass it back out.
As a consequence of Blair's struggles, for the first time all season we abandoned the chameleon "do what you do and still kick your butt" approach and played like a generic version of the Thunder, basically. Our bigs couldn't complete with their bigs and we gave up trying to after a quarter. It doesn't sound like a good sign at all, but I'm guessing Timmeh and Dice will take Minny a lot more seriously the next time around.
The more serious problem lies with Blair. Increasingly, it's looking like he's going to wind up being the odd man out in the big man rotation. The one skill he has over the others - offensive rebounding - is the asset we value the least, compared to interior defense, defensive rebounding, shooting, etc. There's just too many guys we're facing night after night that Blair can't guard, whether it's mobile shooters like Rashard Lewis/Dirk/LaMarcus Aldridge/Bosh/Jeff Green or post guys like Gasol/Bynum, Darko/Love, Jefferson/Millsap, David Lee, Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol, etc.
I think the main problem is he's miscast in the starting role. He's meant to be an energy guy off the bench and that's all. It's just that the team's big man situation isn't ideal right now. All five guys have different skills and they're all good in different ways, but there are catch-22s everywhere. Normally you'd want Tim to start with Dice, but Tim's lost weight and isn't spending much time in the post this year, meaning for the first time in forever he's actually a legit power forward instead of a center masquerading as one. Playing a lot of minutes with Dice would wear him down. Same thing with Rocket, so you want to play Tim mostly with Blair or Splitter. Meanwhile you can't bring both Blair and Bonner off the bench together because you'd be seriously undersized and soft defensively.
It seems to me that the team is grooming Splitter to start eventually, perhaps by the second half of the season. Dice will be the third big and Bonner the fourth. Blair will only play if the team is flat and needs some energy, or on those SEGABABAs where Tim and/or Dice are resting. So eventually he and Blair will be flip-flopping roles.
In the fourth quarter the threes eventually started to drop; after a 2-of-19 start, they canned eight of their last 13. Manu made a number of big shots, and had the steal and the block in overtime, but lots of guys contributed to the comeback. Tony hit a couple of long twos (ugh), RJ had that three to cut it to two and played some good defense, and Rocket and Neal both hit threes as well. Dice stated off slow defensively but heated up as the night went along and had a block on Luke Ridnour's lay-up to send it to OT.
However, equally important to the win were the contributions of a couple T-Pups; Ridnour, Wayne Ellington, eternal Manu whipping-boy Corey Brewer, and particularly Michael Beasley, who's an absolute clown. He had like three air balls, two passes into the stands and some careless fouls. Also, really, really stupid hair. I think the T-Pups must regret Stephen Curry. Imagine if they had a real perimeter shooter to go with those bigs, they might be a seven or eight seed. Instead they're going nowhere with their terrible guards.
It would be something if Darko could keep this up and totally turn his career around and change everyone's perceptions of him. He's only 25, you know. Still, we shouldn't get too carried away with him. He started the year poorly and even Kwame Brown has had big games now and then. Let's see if he can keep it going for a month or two. All I know is that Milicic was not happy with the officiating after the game.
Your Three Stars:
3. Gary Neal - He didn't play all that great, but it takes some stones to sink all three freebies in that situation, especially when you're a rookie.
2. Tony Parker - Not his most dominant game but he had effective stretches here and there and didn't allow his counterparts to do much offensively. He's falling in love a bit too much with the three (says the guy whose favorite player shot ten of them).
1. Manu Ginobili - 26-6-6-1-2, with a few ghastly turnovers thrown in for good measure. Our guy really knows how to fill up a box score. My favorite part was when he got an elbow from Brewer early in the fourth and then he hit back-to-back threes on him and gave him this look on the jog back down the court like, "You like that, mofo?"
Don't tell me I was the only one who noticed it.
Up Next: Friday, Vs. Dallas (10-4). Coming off an impressive win at OKC. They're still the Mavs, still annoying as shit, and still no threat to anyone of consequence in May. They've been better on the road (5-1) than at home and their coach, Rick Carlisle has made noise about being the best zone team in the NBA, which would seem to fit us to a tee since supposedly we can shoot threes well this year and stuff. Tyson Chandler's there now and he always has given Timmeh trouble. Dirk has always been an impossible match-up for us, but actually think smalls who get underneath him give him more problems than bigs, so guys like Neal and Hill might get some time on him. Punk ass Jason Terry has gotten off to a good start too, and why shouldn't he since it's November instead of May. We're catching a bit of a break in that Rodrique Baeaioubuoieas (sic?) is out.
I think the key will be for Tony and Manu to play well. Revolutionary concept, I know.
In a way I'm glad the Minnesota game unfolded it the way it did before we played these guys. Now they won't go into it complacent and lazy and they'll come out angry and focused. I think we make it a baker's dozen.