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Game Recaps 24-25: Manu Comes Through In The Clutch, No New Tale To Tell

I've fallen hopelessly behind and I'm "in the weeds" as they say. Now five games in arrears after watching the Spurs (*SPOILER ALERT*) beat Denver for the second time in a week. My sojourn in San Diego cost me time and money, and catching up has been difficult in m the extreme. All so I could watch a WRETCHED football game. Stupid. If I had to do it all over again, I would've stayed home.

Driving over there, I got stupid and suckered into a stupid dick-measuring contest with some other idiot in a red Mercedes. I was zooming through I-5 like Tony Parker on a crack binge and every time I passed this guy, I was feeling good about myself, but then 15 minutes later, out of nowhere he would come from behind me and pass me, pissing me off and forcing me to pass him again and put some distance between us until he was no longer visible in my rear view mirror.

This happened back-and-forth about a dozen times. Finally my luck ran out and a cop pulled both of us over. He said he clocked me at 102 mph. That's gonna be one spicy meatball of a ticket, probably in excess of a grand. My insurance, if I still have it, will go through the roof. Even worse, because it was over a 100, they'll probably make me go 350 miles out of my way to appear before a judge just to tell him I'm guilty, instead of simply doing it in a letter or over the phone. I asked the officer if he could just say I went 99 mph so I wouldn't have to make a court appearance, and he didn't find that amusing in the slightest. 

Between the traffic stop that took like a half hour, lunch at a crappy diner and two hours of horrid afternoon LA traffic, it took me like ten hours to get to San Diego. Ironically it took me only eight hours on the way home, even though I was going 80 mph the whole time. I made that drive from midnight to 8 a.m. Friday, worked, and crashed (relax, not literally) at my place at 5 p.m., sleeping for 16 hours.

Obviously I broke the law, but I disagree with the notion that I was driving recklessly. I had miles of visibility the whole time, I was scanning the road and constantly checking my mirrors and I never tailgated or cut off anyone. I always kept lots of following distance between me and the car in front. Basically I did everything the traffic school instructors harp on except I did it 32 mph faster than I was supposed to.

If it wasn't possible to drive safely at high speeds, you wouldn't have the sport of car racing. I'm not saying I'm a professional driver because I'm not by a long stretch, but I certainly feel at ease and comfortable driving 102 mph on a straight road and that's the honest truth.

You can drive dangerously and recklessly 20 mph if you don't know what you're doing, and I proved it on the drive back when I almost fell asleep on the road in a residential area at 4:30 in the afternoon. Being drunk or drowsy is dangerous. Going straight when you're alert, wide awake and on a straight road is not. I wish people got that.

Anyway, even though the trip got off to a horribly unfortunate and ultimately very expensive start, I still had fun catching up with a couple friends and ate some quality Mexican food in San Diego. And of course, since I was there, Manu went into God Mode to win a couple of games at the buzzer. He always plays really well when I'm over there.

2005? NBA Champs. 2007? NBA Champs. 2006? I was home in the Bay Area for most of the Mavs series and flying to San Diego during Game 7. By the time the plane landed, it was too late. Still haven't watched that game and never will. I graduated during the '07 Finals and haven't been back to San Diego except last July for Comic-Con. You're aware we haven't won since '07.  I'm giving serious thought to going back there during a late postseason run.

Our first game, against the Bucks, fell on video Wednesday, so here you go.

Love and Rockets - No new tale to tell (with lyrics) (via ZeelTube)

 

Game 24, Vs. Milwaukee: Spurs 92-90      (Record 21-3)            RAGE: +3

Maybe I'm just a stubborn old fool who refuses to give up on his biases and preseason predictions ever after 25+ games of data demands I do so, but to me the closeness of this game wasn't the surprising part. The fluke was that we ever got up on them 51-35 at half in the first place.

The Bucks are precisely the kind of tough, physical, resilient team that Pop drools over when watching video, lamenting how he has to make do with Matt Bonner and Richard Jefferson. These guys play some serious defense with Andrew Bogut shutting down the paint and their perimeter guys rotating and closing furiously to deny open three point shots. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (henceforth LRMAM) is the closest thing the league has to a next generation Bruce Bowen, but without the three point stroke. Their forward tandem of Ersan Ilyasova and Chris Douglas-Roberts is probably the best defensive pair of any starting 3-4 in the league. And they have an annoying little ball buster of a coach in Scott Skiles who demands nothing less than perfection.

That's all well and good. But the Bucks have two problems. First: They have two prominent rotation guys in point guard Brandon Jennings and backup forward Drew Gooden who can't guard anybody and undo the good work and supreme efforts of everyone else. Skiles has no choice but to play them because somebody has to put the ball in the bucket. Second: Like I said, they can't score. Corey Maggette only played five minutes and John Salmons was out. Who was supposed to fill it up for these guys outside of Jennings?

Douglas-Roberts actually impressed me quite a bit. He's far more athletic than he looks and he's got some craftiness to his game and you can tell he's really been working in the off-season. Ilyasova is as rugged as any forward in the league and skilled enough to hit threes. Bogut has regained most of his game since suffering that horrific elbow injury, but his offense is still not all the way there. But the guards...oy the guards.

Dooling is like a younger Keith Bogans, a defensive specialist who should not be a starting two guard under any circumstances. Jennings has carte blanche to shoot whenever he wants, it looks like, but he's got a worse jumper than Rajon Rondo wearing Cedric Ceballos' blindfold. As long as you keep him out of the paint, you've got an excellent chance of beating the Bucks. The more I see Jennings play, the more I can't fathom how he scored 55 on the Warriors as a rookie. That must have been one of the all-time terrible defensive jobs in NBA history.

Really, all the Spurs had to do to keep Milwaukee from breaking out was to shut off the paint, because there's just not much shooting, play-making, or athleticism on the team, and Timmeh did that to great effect with seven blocks. They also allowed only seven offensive boards, which is a perfectly acceptable total. 

While the game plan worked out perfectly in the first half, things started to go wrong in drips and drabs in the second. There was more carelessness with the ball, and Jennings started solving the defense a bit. The Bucks had four assists in the first half and eight in the third period alone. Ilyasova sank a couple jumpers, Jennings hit a three in Manu's mug and another prayer at the buzzer to punctuate a 28-point third quarter for Milwaukee.

In the fourth Gooden busted out for 16 points as neither Dice nor Rocket could deal with him on the pick-and-pops or around the basket. It's a bit of bad timing that we fell victim to the quarter of Gooden's life, but again, somebody had to get the shots for them and he was able to knock a few down. In the end, they still finished with just 90 points, even with a 55 point second half. That's a winning number for us.

Offensively a nearly flawless first half was done in by a sloppy second, filled with turnovers, lazy passes, poor shots and too many stubborn forces into the trees by Tony (and Manu at the end). Nobody on the bench busted out, when usually at least one guy does. In retrospect Hill's lackluster performance makes sense once it came out that he was dealing with a sprained foot. But even bench aside, even Tim and RJ were ordinary, so the scoring burden was almost entirely on the starting backcourt.

How sluggish was the ball movement? The Spurs were 1-of-3 in three pointers in the second half, with the only make belonging to Manu with less than two minutes left. Usually for a stat like that to happen you'd think that it was a never ending layup line and just complete domination by the bigs, but that wasn't the case. In the end, we had 41 points on 14-of-31 shooting with nine assists and nine turnovers and 12-of-16 at the line. Really those fouls were the only thing the Bucks did wrong on D in the second half. Not only did they deny three pointers, force turnovers and swat us inside, but they only gave up three offensive rebounds for the whole game.

In many respects, it was the best defensive performance against us all year. We've had worse scoring games, but that was due to tired legs and wide open jumpers that went flat. The Bucks just shut the Spurs down.

In the end, we had just enough Manu to squeak it out, in dramatic fashion. But it took so much energy to win the game, I was pretty surprised by the Denver result, which is fine. I'm always willing to let these guys pleasantly prove me wrong.

Your Three Stars:

3. Tony Parker - Great first half, not a whole lot to smile about in the second, though his defense on Jennings was good throughout.

2. Tim Duncan - Excellent in his own end, left the scoring to the smalls.

1. Manu Ginobili - First appearance on Three Stars all home stand. Manu's definitely cooled down in December. Perfect time to hit his first "walk-off" shot. Has any player been less impressed with himself after a buzzer beater? It's like the entire team was pissed off it had to come to that. That's got to be a sign of a good team, right? Or are they just joyless bastards?

Game 25, @ Denver: Spurs 113-112          (Record 22-3)          RAGE: +4

I saw Black Swan the other night, thanks to Manoli. It's a horror movie disguised as a chick flick about ballet. It was alright, but the sex scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman needed to be nuder and about twenty times longer. It also had my girl Winona, though she's definitely looked better, and that rival thief from Oceans 12 with that smug French accent who walked through all the lasers. The main thing that turned me off about Black Swan was that it relied too much on this recent scary movie cliche of having a reflection on a mirror do something different than the person looking into it, and it relied on that gimmick like ten times. Mirror nonsense is becoming to horror movies was dick jokes are to comedies, unfortunately.

P.S. If you want to piss off a gal, ask her what movie she thinks Natalie Portman looked the hottest in. Inevitably she'll say something like Garden State, Closer or perhaps The Other Boleyn Girl. Whatever she says, take it in, nod in consideration, and then reply, "For me, it has to be The Professional." Guaranteed way to have a sex-free evening.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Gold Lion (via YeahYeahYeahsVEVO)

Ah yes, Gold Lion. One of my favorite songs of the new millennium. It's notable not only for the drummer's passable resemblance to Manu, but also, if you pay attention, they pretty much stole the guitar part from the Love & Rockets song above. Play them back to back and you'll see.

So anyway, a SEGABABA in thin air. That sounds fun. The first quarter played out the way you'd expect, with the Spurs coming out flat and unready to compete. Denver scored 37 on 60% shooting and zero turnovers forced. The only reason it wasn't worse was because we had zero turnovers ourselves (meaning no fast break points for the Nugs) and Timmeh had four blocks. Offensively the Spurs held on mainly thanks to Tim early and Tony late in the quarter. They combined for 15 of the first 28, with no one else scoring more than four.

The game turned in the second quarter, after the Spurs were able to survive Denver's initial punch. Even though it was a back-to-back for them, they still had the deeper team in the long run. Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen were all out for Denver, and that's like three of their top six players, probably. As a consequence they started a couple of bench guys and played some scrubs as reserves when they normally wouldn't have gotten off the bench, guys like Gary Forbes, Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams. Even Al Harrington got 20 minutes for them, and he has no business playing for a team serious about its playoff chances. The Spurs hit the Nuggets bench with a 12-4 run early in the period and neither team pulled away after that. Tony and Tim had 17 more points in the period. 29-23 Spurs in the second, outshooting Denver 53% to 40%.

Ten more from Timmy in the third, taking it right at Nene and a couple of bombs from RJ and all of a sudden they went into the fourth with a one point lead. Defensively they sealed off the paint and turned 'Melo into a jump shooter and really nobody hurt them too much. Again, the Spurs got quality efforts from their backup bigs in Dice and Bonner, whereas the Nuggets had Nene and nothing else behind him at the four and five.

Finally, in the fourth, Manu, who had been thoroughly outplayed by Arron Afflalo to that point, got going, with a personal 7-0 run that gave the Spurs some breathing room. Both teams were completely too exhausted to offer much defensive resistance by that point, so the final quarter was mostly an exchange of baskets. Still, a 2-of-7 stretch late and a couple of missed freebies by Timmeh made the home stretch closer than it needed to be, and a disastrous inbounds pass from Dice resulted in an uncontested dunk for 'Melo and a one point Denver lead late. I imagine if I'd seen that live I might've been invented several new swear words, and I was upset enough just looking at the score update on my cell while navigating the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot to get to my car.

Manu's twisting layup through two Nuggets, as four Spurs teammates looked on from outside the paint, was an improvisational bit of beauty. Tim gave him a look like, "That wasn't REMOTELY what we just drew up," and Manu just gave him one of those psychopath smiles like the one on my avatar that I'm so fond of. Oh, Manu, you crazy bastard.

The game still wasn't over though. Still the matter of shutting down Denver one last time. I don't think the charge play was all that close, but I'd still be surprised if they called it if it came against Kobe, Pierce, Durant, LeBron, Wade or Dirk, especially on the road. Give the refs credit for making the call, and if the reason was partly because of Denver's reputation, then so be it. You reap what you sow. Back-to-back buzzer games, ending in completely different ways, in two different cities, ending 27 hours apart? Hey, for a SEGABABA, I'll take 'em any way they come.

P.S. Renaldo Balkman is a clown. He's dancing and doing these weird handshakes with teammates while the game's already started and he's got these crazy routines with everyone that takes until the first commercial break to finish. How bad must he be if Gary Forbes is playing in front of him?

Your Three Stars:

3. Tony Parker - 24 and 9 looks pretty in the box score, but he was 2-of-8 with six points and two assists in the second half. Still, he kept them in it for a long while.

2. Manu Ginobili - I'd love to put him as the first star, but can't quite excuse first three quarters. Ironically, he gets more MVP attention for playing a mediocre game and playing the hero at the end than from just kicking butt from beginning to end and having the Spurs win by 15.

1. Tim Duncan - 28-14-4-1-4. Where'd that come from in a SEGABABA? Timmeh had been awful in that situation this year. The next one comes against Dwight Howard. Good luck, Golden God.

Three more games to go!

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