Let's erase last night's game from our collective memories. It was an outlier and should not cloud our thoughts on the Spurs' recent progress. There were too many issues stacked against the Spurs, all pointing to a letdown. I know it was the Nets, and the JV team from my local high school could beat the Nets, but still. I'm normally a pessimist, but allow my optimism to shine through today.
How did the Spurs manage to lose to a team that has lost 64 games this season? Well, the most obvious reason was that it was the second game of a back to back. We are old, I have come to accept it and so should you, if you haven't already. The Spurs just do not recover like they used to. In addition, the Spurs were coming off arguably their two best wins of the season. A closer than it should have been win over the Cavs and a thumping of the Celtics. These two games took a lot of mental and physical energy that left us with the tired team we watched last night. Already you can feel the letdown coming, but there's much more.
The Spurs were without their two best creators, Manu and Tony. Manu has absolutely been carrying the offense since Tony went down, averaging 25.8 ppg, 5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds last week. Missing Manu's 25 points and Tony's 20 points, and a combined 10+ assists leaves a fairly gaping hole on the offensive end.
To make matters worse, Roger Mason injured his hand in the first quarter. I think this significantly lowered the Spurs' chances of winning. I know a lot of you have become disillusioned with Mason, but give me a chance to explain. Mason started the game hot, scoring 7 points in 9 minutes and dishing two assists. At this point in the game, the Spurs' offense looked unstoppable but our defense was ineffective. When Mason went down, we lost our backup point guard. In addition, we lost one of two good three point shooters on the team. When Mason left, the Spurs only had Bonner remaining as a competent three point shooter. We let Finley go, Manu is hurt, Mason is hurt, Bruce is gone, uh oh. Suddenly, we only have Bonner as a viable three point threat. Hill can hit the corner three, but aside from him, do you really want RJ or Bogans taking 5 threes in a game? We lost our shooters, shooters that previously made double teaming Tim a bad game plan.
Without three point shooters to consistently punish the double teams, the openings closed for Tim and our offense grew stagnant. Without Tony, Manu and Mason, Pop was forced to go with our newly acquired fifth string point guard. Temple played 12 minutes, or was our point guard for 1/4th of the game. The offense grew even more stagnant with a novice running the team and the Spurs' scoring troubles were magnified. This gave the Nets newly found confidence and suddenly we had a game.
All these factors aligned and the Spurs dropped a close game to a horrible team. It hurts, but this was definitely an anomaly. I mean, if we had to play the rest of the season without Tony, Manu, and Mason, and every game from now on was the second game of a back to back after a huge, emotional win, then I'd be worried. For now, please turn off the alarm.
So instead, let's concentrate on the recent positives. The Spurs just beat the Cavs and Celtics on the road. In addition, they played the Lakers close right before those games. If not for the Lakers hitting ridiculous long twos and three pointers, the Spurs may have taken that game as well. Regardless, the Spurs were competitive against the Lakers and that's all you can ask for without Tony. Tony gives us our best mismatch, a.k.a. our best chance at winning, against the Lakers because Dereck Fisher is the Lakers' weak spot.
Honestly, the recent big wins on the road caught me by surprise. I thought the Spurs might throw in the towel at this point. They are injured, they are old, and they are less athletic than most teams; but the Spurs stood their ground. They showed heart, they showed that Manu can still be one of the best players in the NBA, and most importantly, they showed the ability to win on the road against the best teams in a playoff environment, which is exactly what they will have to do to get out of the first round. So forget about the loss against the Nets and feel good about the Spurs' recent successes. If nothing else, these wins have made it so our first round opponent will not be happy to see us, and I think that's a good thing.