Spurs step it up in fourth quarter to beat the Raptors

This is how I started the recap for the previous game vs the Raptors:

Stop me if you have heard this story before. The San Antonio Spurs, the team with the best record in the league, plays a team with a sorry record that is missing one or more of its starters. Everyone expects a nice easy blowout, but the game ends up being pretty close with the underdog opponent holding a decent lead at times. Late in the game the Spurs turn up the intensity and get the win.

DejaVu anyone?

Despite the similarities this game was completely different from the previous game. I came away pretty unimpressed by the Raptors last time, but gained some respect for them after this game – they played with much more intensity and focus than the first game. Some consistency along with a few tweaks and this Toronto team can play with anyone.

As noted above, the game was fairly close for the first three quarters, with Toronto holding a lead going into the fourth. Then the Spurs simply stepped it up a notch in the fourth and left the hapless Raptors looking completely outclassed. Cruel, but unintentional I am sure.

I am going to switch it up a little this time: the quarter by quarter overview will come first, and then my impressions of the game and the players will follow.

Firstq_medium_medium

It was quickly evident that this is going to be a game of mismatches. We cannot stop Bargnani – a seven footer that can shoot threes and can also dribble like a guard is difficult to guard. Blair had to come out and get him where Bargs could either shoot right over Blair’s head or drive around him for a closer shot. DeMar DeRozan was not the recipient of an obvious mismatch, but was playing so well that he ended up being one. We simply could not stop him.

It did not help that Manu was not himself this quarter and in fact for most of the first three quarters. DeRozan thoroughly outplayed him, and at times even out-Manuing our Manu with some pretty moves. But it wasn’t just Manu’s fault, DeRozan was on fire and Hill did not fare any better.

On the other end, Toronto could not stop Tony, who sliced through their defense and got layups at will, until he stopped with the layups and started passing to teammates for open shots. It felt like Tony either scored or facilitated almost all Spurs baskets in the first quarter. Blair also had his way on offense, as Bargs is not really a post defender.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, Amir Johnson came down on Weems’ foot and hurt his ankle. He left for the rest of the quarter, but returned later and played a decent game even though it looked like his ankle was still bothering him. This guy is a warrior.

Tiago came in for Duncan with about 5 minutes to go in the quarter. This is a great sign that Pop trusts Splitter now, as Bonner is healthy again and could have come in at that time. Yay! Splitter does a decent job and while refusing to commit a foul a minute or a three second violation – could those days be long gone? Double Yay! Even better, he did much more than "not suck", he played decent ball, getting some nice rebounds and some points. Triple Yay!

Best moment of the quarter came with about 1:23 to go. Neal lost the ball but Tiago had the sure hands and the awareness to get it, then execute an absolutely beautiful post move for his first points of the game. It is great to see how much his comfort level has risen over the last couple of weeks.

Spurs lead 31-29 end of first quarter.

Secondq_medium_medium

Hill looked pretty good running the show out there while Parker was on the bench and had some very nice passes, along with nice plays for himself.

The PtR faithful had a scary moment when Weems and Manu banged their knees together and Manu rolled around on the ground clutching his knee. Luckily nothing serious and Manu came back into the game later in the quarter.

Both teams are utilizing fairly simple plays – basic screen and rolls. Nothing complicated, no staggered screens or any of the weird multioption plays the Pop likes to draw up. Maybe the Spurs kept it simple because Splitter was playing so many minutes, but this continued even when Timmy came back in for Tiago. I have not watched Toronto play much, but my guess is that they kept it simple because that's just the way they play.

The Spurs also kept the defense pretty simple, so basically the same story, we cannot stop Bargnani, they cannot stop Blair. Both score points. Barbosa played a lot this quarter and he has a ton of energy – not sure if he is always like that or is just excited to see his old friends in Black and Silver. Either way, his coaching staff needs to figure out how to channel that energy to maximize his potential, but am not sure the Raptors are the best at that.

Manu looked much better for a stretch this quarter, especially during a few minutes that were easily my favorite this game. Here is a play by play:

Manu gets the ball, and drives into the paint too quickly for his man to keep up so Bargnani is forced to leave Duncan to prevent the layup, then Manu oh so casually passes the ball to Timmy for the easy layup. Classic Spurs move that warmed my heart greatly as it was so skillful that it looked boring. Spurs are up 48-43.

Then Bargnani misses a shot on the other end, Hill rebounds the ball and throws the ball forward to Manu, who makes an absolutely gorgeous bounce pass just past the reach of his a defender to a sprinting Blair, yet putting the ball exactly where Blair can get it in stride without having to slow down. New look Spurs fastbreak, but same old clockwork precision, trust, teamwork and decision making. Spurs up 52-43.

01_before_20pass_medium

Blair sprinting and Manu getting ready to pass

03_after_medium

Blair catches the pass in stride for the layup. Notice he outpaced the defender to get to the ball

Triano does the smart thing and calls a full timeout right here. Unfortunately for us the Raptors played pretty inspired the rest of the half, especially DeRozan, while the Spurs played just ok. Score is 60-56 at halftime (still good guys).

Thirdq_medium_medium

Spurs started out playing ok this quarter, but missed some shots they should have made. Manu had a little more energy but still did not seem his normal self. I hate to say it, but Duncan looked old and slow, especially on defense. I was wondering if this was because of the SEGABABA or what, more on this thought process when we get to the fourth quarter.

Bargnani kept shooting over Blair, so Pop brought in Bonner instead. Good news, Bonner is tall enough that Bargs cannot shoot over him. Bad news, Bonner is not quick enough to stop Bargnani from driving past him and cannot provide the energy, rebounding, or post offense that Blair can. Tough matchup, folks.

More proof that Manu was a little off at this point: he pump faked a three and his defender stepped back, so Manu had the shot. Instead of taking the shot Manu drove in and passed to Tiago. I don’t ever recall Manu passing up a shot like that. Really weird.

The we got another scare: Tiago received that pass from Manu and went up for a shot, but was undercut by Jose Calderon and took a really nasty looking fall. Before the mob gathers up pitchforks and marches to Canada, it was not Jose’s fault – Manu pushed Calderon into Splitter and caused the collision.

The fall looked pretty scary though, and Tiago was lucky he did not seriously hurt himself. He was, however, holding his leg a few seconds after that and later went out with sprained hamstring. Ugh. Just when he was really getting comfortable in the system.

Bonner was 0 for 3 on three pointers this quarter. Understandable as he is still getting back into the flow, but those misses came at a bad time and the Raptors got quick points off the rebounds for some.

Fourthq_medium_medium

I must say that things were getting a little antsy in at this point. The Raptors had the momentum, and were playing well. The Spurs could not stop Bargs, could not stop DeMar, and could not hit their shots. Luckily, in the game thread, LatinD and theonlyromeo came to the rescue and posted mojo-changing charms in the game thread. LD with his absolutely horrendous Korean comics and romes with a couple of great posts that will be his PtR legacy forever. PinayArgentine combo for the win. I would post links, but romes' was deleted various reasons and you really do not want to see the Korean comic [link provided by the editor]. Those comics are so bad I am convinced the Basketball Gods changed the mojo just to stop Dahveed from posting another one.

If you are not a PtR regular and don’t understand the previous paragraph, then consider yourself lucky. And sane.

The fourth quarter started strong with a Manu dunk, continued strong with a George Hill steal, and got downright beastly with a Blair layup, a Bayless turnover and Bonner's first three of the game. 9-2 run by the SA Korean Comic Strips.

It should be noted that Jose Calderon was on the bench during this stretch and was put back in immediately after.

For a while the Raptors missed a bunch of open shots. I would love to say the credit goes our defense, but that would a blatant lie. The Spurs did tighten up and start playing defense at some point though. Not great defense, but at this point we are just happy to see Toronto having to work a little for their wide open shots.

Weird. The whole team woke up in the fourth. TD, who looked old and slow the first three quarters suddenly looked like a young energetic All Star again, tipping in a missed shot and blocking a shot on the other end, making me feel really guilty about thinking of words like "old", "slow", "tired" during the third quarter. Great ball movement, energetic rebounding, some defense, movement without the ball. (Who knew the Spurs were such big fans of East Asian animated cartoons?) the result was that after giving the Raptors hope for three quarters, the Spurs crushed their dreams in the fourth. Cruel, but effective.

But I also have to give credit to the Raptors. They did not give up at any point, they kept hustling and shooting and even playing defense to the point of forcing a couple of shot clock violations, but were simply outplayed at this point. No shame in that.

More Game observations:

This recap has gone much longer than I wanted already, so will try to be brief.

Raptors:

The Raptors have some great ingredients. Big guys in the middle, good point guard, great scorer in DeRozan, decent bench, pretty good balance. Lots of promise, but somehow little hope anyway. I had a few paragraphs and ideas about this and the Spurs and organizational identities, but this recap is too long already. One of these days a fanpost will come out of this. But here is a comic as a teaser

Largeimagecle110208_gif_medium

via d.yimg.com

Bargnani:

As noted multiple times above, Bargnani is a matchup nightmare. Defensively he may do better as a power forward paired alongside a legit center, but I don’t really know for sure. It did give me glimpses of Bonner’s potential though. The redhead can shoot threes and is slowly getting better at dribbling and driving into the paint, so he can become our own little matchup nightmare, though obviously not to the level Bargs is.

DeMar DeRozan:

DeRozan surprised me by how good he was, even though I had heard about it. Great speed and instincts and should soon be the centerpiece of the Raptors offense.

Amir Johnson:

I like Amir Johnson a lot. Great effort and great heart to keep playing like that even on a bad ankle. 13 rebounds, 12 points.

However, I was not happy that Triano allowed him to come back into the game. Athletes usually like to prove they are warriors and play through pain, but the coach should think more long term and protect them. For example, Pop did not play McDyess at all, and stuck to his game plan even after it was obvious that neither Blair nor Bonner could slow down Bargnani. Having McDyess in there would have made a difference when the game was in doubt, but Pop rested him anyway.

Triano, on the other hand, put Amir out there with a hurt ankle. Sure, they wrapped it up, but it would be much better to be safe and sit him out the rest of the game, then see how it looks tomorrow. Don’t complain about bad luck if Amir gets worse and has to sit out a bunch of games.

Spurs:

On the surface, the Spurs were complacent for the first three quarters and finally turned it up in the fourth. That is partly true, but there is a little more to it. The first three quarters also involved some relatively new lineups especially those including Tiago, and I suspect some of the problems were just the new combinations learning to play well together. Pop is still tinkering and we can still improve quite a bit. Scary, eh?

Blair:

What can I say. Blair is an absolute beast.

He had another monster game, 28 points, 11 rebounds, and much needed energy offensively. He had trouble defending Bargnani, but Bargs will give anybody trouble when he is on his A game. The point is that there was just as much a mismatch on the other end; Toronto simply cannot stop Blair inside.

Tiago:

16 minutes, 8 rebounds, 6 points, and a prominent place in our hearts. The Brasilian delight is finally getting settled and getting some meaningful minutes. Unfortunately another untimely injury may have befallen our hero, but hopefully he is fine and will be able to keep increasing his minutes.

McDyess.

What a slacker. I did not even notice him out there.

Tony Parker:

16 points and 8 assists. In case you haven’t noticed, Tony has been passing a lot more this season. However, the passes did not always turn into assists as the recipients kept missing the open look he would get them. I am not sure if that was because he was not placing the pass correctly or if his teammates were so shocked to get a pass from him that they would miss the shot. But lately the connections have been better so look for his assist numbers to go up over the rest of the season.

Good stuff, as he can often get to the rim like few other guards can, and if teams collapse to stop him he is getting even better at the dish.

George Hill:
Talking of better passing…

18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds. Hill was great. I have never really considered him a backup point guard as he could not really run the show – he simply dribbled a few times then handed it over to Manu. But yet again the man surprises me by improving another facet of his game. Hill played pretty well as floor general today, running the offense well while Manu was out and dishing out some sweet passes. He just keeps getting better and better.

My three stars:

1) Blair, of course.

2) Tony Parker

3) George Hill

Honorable mention: LatinD and TheOnlyRomeo

Also, stop complaining:

As usual, the Spurs played down to the opponent’s level and allowed them to stay in the game right up until the fourth quarter. We fans claim that this drives us nuts, but when Pop relented and started the game strong against the Kings, removing all doubt pretty much minutes into the game, all we heard were complaints about what a yawnfest that game was. There is just no pleasing Spurs fans. So pop goes back to what was working – keep the game close and cause some concern, turn it up in the fourth.

Honestly though, this was a good kind of "game in doubt" situation. Instead of having the starters play too many minutes Pop experimented with lineups early and often. Tiago got a lot of burn, and we even saw Tiago and Bonner on the floor together for long stretches. Great experience for both players. I love this coach and this team.

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