Game 4, @ Phoenix: Spurs 112-110 (Record 3-1) RAGE: 0
Brian Wilson (via keithbergh007)
23 turnovers? Holy FSM are we awful. Fortunately, the Suns are worse. Join me after the jump so we can put some lipstick on this pig, won't you?
It's foolish at best and dangerous at worst to make wildly contradictory statements, where your opinions of the team and its various components fluctuate wildly from game to game. Yet I feel kinda silly about going a tad overboard espousing the defensive prowess of our three rookies in the Clippers recap. I really should've been more cognizant of the fact that the next game on the schedule was against the Suns, knowing full well that if there's any team out there that can make inexperienced defenders look bad it's Phoenix. I'm guilty of focusing mainly on the Giants portion of the post since there was so much history to cover and so many emotions to sort through that by the time I got to the basketball part I just kind of slap-dashed something together and the analysis wasn't as sharp as it could've been.
The Suns pick-and-roll is simply devastating, regardless of whether Steve Nash or Goran Dragic is quarterbacking it. They execute it with such precision that it's hard for even veteran defenders to slow it down, let alone rookies. Tiago, Neal and Anderson all struggled mightily on defense but they were hardly alone in that regard. Even second year guys such as Blair and Temple were completely confounded by the P&R, to the point where we couldn't afford to have them in the game in the second half, once Nash really got rolling.
If you've read me over the years you're aware I throw compliments Amare Stoudemire's way about as often as I throw manhole covers, but believe me when I tell you this - and it gives me absolutely no pleasure to do so - but if Amare was still on the Suns tonight we would've gotten completely run out of the gym by the third quarter. We were horrendous defending the P&R and the only thing that saved us was A) Pop having to play Dice far more minutes than he would've preferred, B) the Suns attempting to use goofy Robin Lopez as their roller on some plays instead of Hakim Warrick, C) Nash having an off shooting night , and D) RJ going bonkers in the fourth.
Offensively we were sloppy to the point where I actually yelled at the TV, which is an embarrassing lack of sports fan gratitude on my part considering the monumental happiness I experienced just two days prior. But I just couldn't stand watching more unforced turnovers than one would find at a second round females match at Wimbledon. It was just general sloppiness and butterfingered ball-handling, which under different circumstances would be quite pleasurable but in the confines of basketball is completely unsatisfactory and quite frustrating to watch. There was no excuse for it. The team wasn't on a SEGABABA, they weren't in the dog days of the season, there was just no reason for it.
Okay, there was one reason for it: Garrett Temple sucks. In 14 minutes he did everything he could to lose that game, on both ends of the floor, and it was obvious how little the Suns respected him, trying to trap him at every opportunity. But even outside of him, our starters combined for 20 turnovers which is just unacceptable. The refs didn't help any either. You know that saying where if both teams are complaining about the officiating then the zebras must be doing a good job? Well sometimes both teams complain because the referees are just awful. This crew sided with the defense on just about every block/charge call and also called a couple of questionable (by NBA standards) traveling violations to boot. Both teams had to put up with them, but the officials definitely had the worst night out of anyone on the floor.
Anyway, I've formed a theory. I believe that unless we play teams who excel at half court defense (Boston comes to mind, who else? Chicago? LA? New Orleans?) that most squads will choose to play us the way the Suns and the Clippers have, by blitzing, overplaying and gambling for turnovers. I think a lot of coaches have come to the conclusion that with the big three on the floor - or more like the big four now with Jefferson's emergence - that our starting offensive unit is far too efficient to play straight up. I think teams will take their chances to either force mistakes or get beat for buckets quicker so either way we'll be involved in ragged, up and down games where we can't control tempo or drain the shot clock on possessions.
Under Pop our game plan has always been to make it a slow half court game at both ends. That plays to our strengths (or Tim's anyway). By being aggressive and gambling on defense teams will get lots of fast break buckets on us and force us to score quicker when we solve our traps, so either way it'll be a faster paced game with more possessions.
Again, it's just a theory and we'll have to see if it plays out that way. If it does, the only way the Spurs can win consistently is by solving the puzzles over and over and over again, like Peyton Manning reading blitzes. When we do it right the buckets will look ridiculously easy and the fellas will put up impressive stats. When we do it wrong, Pop will turn various shades of purple. Either way the games will get lopsided one way or the other, quickly.
I'm probably giving opponents too much credit and making a mountain out of a mole hill. Maybe the Spurs have just had a careless start and that's that. But it sure looks to me like they're being challenged more, overplayed on the wings, being denied post ups, half court trapped, three quarters court trapped, full court trapped, sidelines trapped, the whole shebang. Tim, Tony and Manu are all very efficient scorers, but they're all guys with high turnover rates as well and teams may very well be looking to exploit that. It's something that bears watching, but you can bet Pop will be working them through the kinks on the practice floor over the next two days.
Unless he spends the whole time on pick-and-roll defense, that is.
Anyway, enough with the negatives. We did win the damn game (getting our RAGE-o-meter back to zero in the process) and there were some good things that happened out there.
Our four main guys took turns providing the lion's share of the offense in each quarter. Tony led the way with eight in the first when ten miscues prevented us from getting too many shots up and only disastrous shooting early by the Suns kept it from getting out of hand early. Manu had 10 in the second, where we started to solve them a bit, and got to the line. Tim had 13 in the third, scoring inside and out from all over the court and really abusing Warrick and Lopez. Finally Jefferson had 18 in the fourth to bring us home, including four threes from the same corner (three of them coming in a 45-second stretch) which is just incomprehensible considering that none of them were passes from a double-teamed big man in the post or off dribble drive penetrations. The fourth one came on the break, but the first three were all products of the ball going from side to side and simple passing around the perimeter.
Tiago had a couple of nifty moves on offense and showed he's got some post up skills. On defense he was mostly lost but had enough quickness to draw three fouls. Blair had seven rebounds in 19 minutes and actually made a couple of buckets after another spazzy start. Anderson continued to pass well in the half court, had a breakaway steal and dunk in the fourth quarter and showed some impressive ball handling on the break. McDyess had another fine outing, rebounded well once again and had a couple of inside buckets for once when he rolled to the basket.
Tony was in foul trouble most of the night, which limited what he could do after the first quarter, but he played really hard against Nash on defense which was nice to see. Manu isn't looking very quick or explosive right now but he picked his spots on offense and took over the point guard duties for the majority of the game and wasn't really looking for his shot. Tim was the best mid-range shooter on the court for either team and while I love me some Duncan a 25 and 17 from him on 11-of-13 shooting is a pretty telling illustration of how depleted the Suns are inside. Lopez has size but no quickness while Warrick has the opposite problem. We didn't really post up Timmy all night because the Suns fronted him a bunch and you got the feeling that they knew they were cooked if he got the ball with his back to the basket. Instead he worked on the high post and the wings for his shots and his way on the boards as well. That Jefferson continued to be open on the weak side in the fourth quarter was a glaring example of how much the Suns were overplaying the ball side.
Anyway, a win is a win and it was nice to silence the Suns crowd again after last May. The team has an awful lot to work on but maybe the biggest lesson to take away from the game is that we missed both Hill and Rocket and that the sooner both return, the better.
Your Three Stars:
3. Manu Ginobili - Only forced a couple of bad shots and had a couple of ugly giveaways but otherwise played a very intelligent game and worked hard on defense against Grant Hill and Jason Richardson to deny them easy baskets even though both tried to post him up numerous times. Had to run the offense for most of the game and did it well.
2. Richard Jefferson - Drilled all four of his fourth quarter threes from the same spot and was generally aggressive when in looking for his offense, whether it was getting out on the break or moving without the ball. Pretty solid defensively as well.
1. Tim Duncan - Jefferson will garner all the headlines, but Duncan did the dirty work on the boards and had a big block on Warrick to clinch the game, in addition to his fabulous shooting night. He looked very determined to beat these guys, which was a welcome change from the last two games, when he really wasn't into it. He also passed George Gervin on all-time scoring list and now he's only 80 points behind The Admiral for the franchise record.
Up Next: Saturday, Vs. Houston (0-4). The Rockets have gotten off to a miserable start. Their offense looks as dangerous as I imagined with Luis Scola in full bloom and Kevin Martin filling it up, but they're allowing the most points in the league which is staggering considering that the Warriors and Pacers are still in the league. Games between the Spurs and Rox have traditionally been very tight and low scoring, but at the moment neither team is in position to stop the other very much. Houston allowed 46 to Monta Ellis, so Tony and Manu might combine for a 100 all by themselves. I've got a nagging feeling that the Rockets are due for a win, but we're coming off a home loss ourselves and Pop's going to ride these guys hard after two straight sloppy games.