The Suns series, each game in the series, was like taking the entire season and jamming into one game. Moments of brilliance mixed with moments of incompetence. I wasn't shocked by the outcome. Disappointed? Yes. Shocked? No.
Face it. The Suns were the better team and it wasn't really that close. They would have beat us 8 out of 10 times. They had better chemistry. They had better execution. They had better stars. Their stars played better than our stars.
I said it during the season several times, but I didn't think you had to look too deeply at the Spurs to see the problem. Our Big 3 wasn't that Big this year. There were very few, if any, times that I watched a game and saw three guys playing like all-stars. The Suns series was no different.
Today, let's look at Tony and Manu. They have a few things in common whereas Tim is his own animal.
Both Manu and Tony played hard. You can't question their heart or their effort. They both laid it out there for the team and left the court exhausted.
However, neither Tony nor Manu was that good in the playoffs. Not offensively. No, you can't measure their contributions only on the offensive end because defense is very important. However, in the playoffs, when buckets get harder to come by, you need your star players to step up on the offensive end and score. I don't think Tony and Manu did. They were solid, but they weren't all-stars. Much like they were for most of the season. Manu had a stretch from late February to the first week of April where he was unbelievably good. But, outside of that string of great games by Manu, we didn't see a lot of top notch, consistent, all-star level play out of either guy. Certainly not in the playoffs.
Where did his shot go? During the playoffs, Tony shot 35% on his mid-range 2's. I know people say he wasn't as explosive and was having a hard time getting to the rim, but I don't think that was the main problem. I think Tony lost his shot this year. For the season, he was at 37%. Compare that to last year when he shot 46%, on 40% more shots, and you have to wonder what happened to his stroke.
In the playoffs, it got worse when Tony started clanking free throws like a vintage 2001 Tim Duncan. Playoff time isn't the time to struggle with your shot. Not when you have spent all year aiming toward peaking at playoff time.
When it came to needing a star in the Suns series, he wasn't there. He did have 3 20-point games, but they came with very high volume shooting. 26 points on 21 shots. 22 on 19 shots. 20 on 14. And don't forget that 5-17 clunker in the pivotal game 3. Throw in a pair of 4 turnover games (plus a 5 TO game in the Dallas series) and 53% free throw shooting and you aren't looking at all-star offense.
Manu lost his shot in early April. He shot 41% from the field and 33% from 3-point in the playoffs (and finished April on a 3-19 skid from 3 over the last 5 games) . His playoff scoring, and scoring efficiency, came from him getting to the line a lot and making them. Again, you can't question the effort and heart, and getting to the line and making clutch free throws is effort and heart. But, once you get past his free throws he didn't score very well.
In the last 8 games of the playoffs (I doing some selective data picking), he put up the following lines from the field:
- 4-12, 0-3
- 4-16, 1-7
- 2-7, 0-2 (18 minutes in the blowout in Dallas)
- 7-19, 2-6
- 9-20, 3-9
- 2-8, 2-5
- 10-17, 4-9
- 2-11, 1-6
Throwing out the 18 minute game, there are five serious clunkers there.
Manu did a lot more playmaking during the playoffs and led the team with 6.0 assists/game. A little more than Tony's 5.4. He, like Tony, also had some turnover issues as he had 3.0/game. A little more than Tony's 2.2.
What really surprises me though, is that Manu didn't rebound well. He only averaged 3.7 rebounds/game. His regular season average was 3.8 even though he was playing significantly less minutes. Given how much small ball the Spurs played in the two series, I'm think it is amazing that Manu didn't rebound better. In fact, Tony grabbed more boards (just barely) in the playoffs than Manu did.
Between the two, I thought they both forced shots and passes. Tony especially on his drives and Manu especially on his passes. They each tried to take over games, but couldn't. Not consistently.
There was a telling stretch at the end of game 6 against the Mavs. I remember four possessions, two for each, where they dominated the ball and tried to score. The team got four bad shots out of those possessions and one basket on a Tony 20-foot fadeaway with a hand in his face.
Yes, they each have their excuses. Or, as Brent Barry said, not to make excuses, but there are some things going on. Those things are injuries.
Manu broke his nose. And seemed to lose his shot with it. But, JanieAnnie also told me she thinks he hurt his hip or leg. She watches the man closely, too closely maybe, but I trust her to know his every move and she said something wasn't right with his leg.
Tony was dinged up all year. Then broke his hand and was out until the end of the regular season. And he certainly wasn't in a good rhythm coming into the playoffs. Then he hurt his shoulder.
It's not like either guy got home Sunday night after game four against the Suns and was feeling good physically. They both gutted their way through the playoffs.
Manu got his max extension in March. Tony is going into the last year of his contract and will be looking to get a max extension as well. I think giving Manu his max was a good decision. I think giving Tony a max will be a good decision. The question is: will they be worth it?
Let me explain. When you play Texas Hold 'Em and you are sitting with pocket aces pre-flop, getting all-in with somebody is always a good decision. You don't always win, but it is never a bad decision.
That's how I view Manu and Tony. I think giving them tons of money to stay is a good decision. The question is whether or not we win? Or, will they earn it?
Will Manu give us more of the March? Or more of the inconsistent April?
Will Tony give us 2009? Or 2010?
I think those are the questions for us to ponder.