Game 16, @ New Orleans: Spurs 109-95 (Record 14-2) RAGE: +3
The Spurs seem to do a lot better when I don't watch them live. I was at a hockey game on Wednesday, they got down big, but then they won. I caught them live Friday and they lost. I was at a bar on Sunday watching the Eagles (grrr), they got down big and won again. It will be difficult to not watch them live on Tuesday seeing as I'm going to the game. I hope they don't give me some kind of complex like the Giants did. I didn't go to a Giants game the last four months of the season after they got shutout in three of the last four games I attended. As you're well aware, they did quite well without me at the park.
Anyway, I couldn't enjoy the win as much as I would like because of several reasons. I couldn't watch it live, the Eagles were pissing me off, and I have a thousand things to write between now and next Saturday. I'm kind of stressed and my neck hurts and my shoulder hurts and no matter what position I contort my body I'm in constant pain and I'm too lazy and cheap to try a chiropractor. I'm not sure it'll help. It might be a nerve/disc thing. It feels like it is, anyway.
Also, I found out Leslie Nielsen passed, and that made me sad. So today's vid is a tribute to Mr. Nielsen, the only guy who ever managed to make O.J. Simpson look like a sympathetic figure even after 1994.
"Airplane!" & "The Naked Gun" Tribute (via Drebin31)
The less said about the first half the better. The team came out predictably flat, as we knew they would for a noon road start. Their first five possessions went: Tim turnover, RJ 20-foot clank, Manu P&R dunk to Blair, Tim turnover, Tim turnover. Blair was also getting abused on the other end by David West, who was 5-of-7 in the first six minutes. Pop thought so much of DeBeast's usefulness that he didn't play him again until the last minute of the game.
Still, it wasn't the early turnovers or West that caused the Spurs to fall behind 26-16 late in the 1st period. The Hornets went on a 13-2 run where Marco Belinelli, Chris Paul and Emeka Okafor all chipped in and the Spurs were in a 1-of-9 rut on the other end with Tony and Dice missing jumpers and Tim missing all kinds of layups and tip-ins. His history against the Hornets is filled with soft efforts where he either didn't or couldn't dunk the ball, and it's cost him dearly as he's missed a lot of bunnies against them over the years.
The Nooch extended their lead early in the second as their backup guards, Marcus Thornton and Willie Green, badly outplayed our guys, George and Neal. Plus, for some reason that I can't fathom -- maybe he was looking for a spark, maybe he was trying to send a message to Tony -- Pop played Quinn for an eight minute stretch in the second period. I have to say, for a veteran guy, Quinn looked fairly petrified to be playing with regular players in a meaningful situation. It's almost impossible for a guard to pull off an 8 "trillion" in the box score (0-0 FG, 0-0 3PT, 0-0 FT, 0-0 Off-Tot Rebs, 0 Ass, 0 Blk, 0 Stl, 0 TOs, 0 PF) yet Dr. Quinn: Victory Cigar somehow managed the feat before denting the stat sheet with a late three in garbage time.
The only bench guys who played well in the first half were the bigs, Leg and Rocket. Splitter not only was active and attentive on defense (and got totally hosed on a non-call on a West charge) and rebounding well in traffic, but he kept getting open under the basket only to get criminally ignored by Hill, who still still has no idea how to run a P&R. It's like neither Hill nor Neal had any inclination to ever use him and the two of them, along with Quinn, were playing hot potato with the ball for four fruitless minutes as the Hornets' lead grew from eight to 14. I just marveled how after he got a first quarter layup running a P&R with Tony, the only time Tiago was touching the ball in the second quarter was way out at the three point line with Hill running the show, and then boom, the second Manu checked in, he immediately found Splitter for a layup attempt that got him to the line. Then Rocket had a nice pass to him for a layup. I don't know why Hill has a blind spot for the rookie, but I fear it won't the problem won't get fixed anytime soon, not after Tiago blew that layup the one time Hill did find him.
Bonner wasn't making his threes, which I realize is his main purpose for being on the floor, but otherwise he was doing fine I thought, and Pop didn't play him in the second half not as a punishment, but more because the smallball was working so well. Once the starters checked in for both teams, we kinda held serve for the rest of a lifeless first half, but let Trevor Ariza shoot a couple of open threes and one for Paul, and it was 61-44 at intermission, with the stats every bit as one-sided as the score. New Orleans was out-shooting us 61% to 39% (43% to 20% on threes), they had three more boards and four less turnovers. Duncan had 12, but there didn't seem to be a pulse.
Pop went for broke in the second half and inserted Hill for Blair in the starting lineup, moving RJ to the four (and on West) and Manu to the three (and on Ariza). Defensively he switched Tony onto Belinelli and stuck Hill on Paul. It was a brilliant maneuver, for many reasons. First of all, neither Belinelli nor Ariza have any kind of post up game at all, so they never even tried to exploit their size mismatches against Tony and Manu. Secondly, RJ's a lot quicker than Blair, so he was able to react faster to New Orleans' P&Rs, and to beat West to his spots on the floor. RJ also was able to successfully front West without incident. They never risked a pass to him in that situation. Tim was also able to help out inside because West is a black hole and he's not a threat to make the open pass to Okafor.
The key to it all though was Hill, whose physicality and length really bothered Paul. And this isn't meant to insult Tony. He gamely battled Paul in the first half. He did all he could, and his defensive effort was far better than the past couple of seasons (which has consistently been the case all year), but there are things Hill can do defensively that he cannot. Hill frustrated Paul so much in the early minutes of the third quarter that the Hornets tried playing him off the ball the last few minutes of the period with Green or Thornton initiating the offense, with disastrous results.
Offensively the Spurs used their three guard look to great effect, as Manu and Hill both used their speed mismatches to drive past Ariza and Belinelli. In all the Hornets got outscored 28-16 in the third, and they shot 33% in the period with six turnovers. Almost all the buckets they got came off the fast break and our own missed shots. Off makes, when we got our half court defense set, they were in serious trouble. It was 77-72 going into the fourth and the only reason we weren't ahead already was because our guys missed quite a few wide open threes.
In the fourth the dam burst. Once a fresh McDyess came in for Tim (who was playing okay but his shot was flat) and Neal subbed for Tony (who wasn't doing much offensively except leading the occasional break), the Hornets were done. Dice hit a couple of his free throw jumpers, Neal had a deep three, and the Spurs had runs of 17-4 and 10-2 in the quarter. We hit our first nine shots in the fourth and wound up shooting 71% that quarter and 62% from downtown, with 11 assists and 0 turnovers. The Hornets had 0 assists and three turnovers.
Before their final meaningless three, the score was 109-92, meaning the Spurs went from 17 down to 17 up in a half of basketball on the road against a team that was 12-3 coming in. I don't know what that means, but it sounds pretty good. I don't get the sense that, the Heat for example (or even somebody good), could put a 65-31 half on these guys, but somehow we did. The Spurs have shown all year that if they play well for a half -- or even a quarter -- that they have the talent to beat most anyone, so for them the regular season will be all about fine tuning a rotation, figuring out their effective combinations, and most of all, staying healthy. If they can do that, then they'll be able to play well for larger and larger chunks of games as the season goes on, which will enable those games to get lopsided earlier and afford rest for their stars.
It's true the schedule started off awfully soft, but the Spurs just completed a stretch where they were @OKC, Vs. Chi, @Uta, Vs. Orl, Vs. Dal and @NO in a span of eight games and they went 5-1, playing at an "A-/B+" level offensively and "C+/B-" level defensively. That's scary, folks. Suppose they outgun the Warriors on Tuesday. We could be looking at 22-2 before our next tough road game, at the Nugs.
I'm probably getting ahead of myself.
A word about the Hornets... I don't think they're all that good. I don't believe I picked them to make the playoffs before the season started, and this game was exactly the kind of team I pictured in my mind when I made that prediction. Paul (averaging 20 and 6 and 3 TOs per game on 50% FG on 14 FGA against the Spurs in two games) doesn't look like the player he was in 2008. Belinelli is not as good as Peja was back then. They don't have a lot on the bench and Okafor is less explosive than Tyson Chandler. They're okay, but nothing special at all.
I think the Hornets good start is a mirage and they'll be coming down to the pack, fighting the Grizzlies, Suns, Warriors and Nuggets for a playoff spot. I can see why they're a candidate for contraction, their crowd was awful on Sunday. No one was in the front seats for most of the third quarter before the ushers snuck some folks down to make it look better for TV. The Saints weren't even playing today, so there was no excuse for all those unsold seats. Well, except for the city's soul-crushing poverty.
Also, I think it was a mistake for their coach, Monty Williams to be so candid with his "I got out-coached" and "Pop whooped my butt" comments. I'm all for humility. God knows Phil Jackson could use some. I get that Williams respects Pop for giving him his coaching start, but the last thing a rookie head coach needs is to plant the seed in his players' (and owner's) head that he doesn't have the chops, X's and O's-wise. I'm not saying he should be arrogant, the way Avery Johnson was, but he needs to ditch the "aw shucks I'm not any good" routine quickly and find a happy medium.
Your Three Stars:
3. Richard Jefferson - After a long hiatus a welcome return into the top three for RJ, who surely was made aware of my scathing critique of him after the Mavs game and got himself into gear. [NOTE: I don't think that's what actually what happened. I'm not Bill Simmons and I don't believe I influence the games]. RJ's defense on West was great, he made three of four bombs, ran well on the break and was aggressive and intelligent throughout. He had like maybe one dumb play the whole game. If only he could bottle performances like this.
2. George Hill - After a crappy first half, Hill spearheaded the comeback with his defense against Paul and thankfully for all concerned wasn't asked to run any pick-and-rolls. He went to the basket without hesitation, made all his freebies and made life miserable for the NOOCH on both ends. Very encouraging two-game stretch for him.
1. Manu Ginobili - Going into the fourth Manu was already having a good game. He had been taking it to the basket, working well with the bigs on P&Rs, and rebounding well because it was needed of him when we went small. In the fourth though, he took it up another notch, and had a hand in our first 15 points of the period with two buckets and four helpers and the Spurs went from a 77-72 deficit to a 87-81 lead. Also, I could've sworn he gave a Dikembe Mutombo finger wag after blocking Jarrett Jack's jumper. CHECK THE TAPE!
Up Next: Tuesday, @ Golden State (8-9). The Warriors are a tricky opponent, especially when they're at home. Both Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can go off for 30 on any night. Ellis is better at penetrating, Curry's the better shooter and playmaker, but both of them can do everything. Also, they're good at coming up with steals on the other end. They're gonna be extremely tough covers for us with their quickness and hopefully we can exploit their size on the other end. Tim has had some good nights against Andris Biedrins but some struggles as well. David Lee is back healthy now after being out awhile with an elbow infection. Our real advantage against these guys is the bench. Offensively, if we play smart and patiently, we'll be able to get whatever shot we want against them, a ton of layups, and lots of free throw attempts. Defensively we have to sag in the paint and hope for the best, but they are gonna score plenty. I would've said this was going to be a sure win if we lost to the NOOCH, because no way we lose three in a row, but now that we beat the Hornets, I have a weird feeling about this one, so I'm putting a RAGE point on the line. I think the Dubs could surprise people and crack the playoffs, and this game could be their coming out party.