In the game thread, I mentioned I'd be worried if this wasn't the 6th game of the season; the Spurs looked that bad during the first half. Tony Parker looked tentative and slow, Manu was getting beaten off the dribble by Jimmer, and the bigs, except for Timmy, were not rebounding. Then I looked at the box score and noticed the Spurs were up 8.
So far this season, the Spurs haven't come close to the levels of offensive efficiency they flaunted during last season's historic run, but they are still the type of great team that can win ugly against the league's basement-dwellers. And this Kings team, despite having really talented players, will probably finish near the bottom once again. In a way, they are the anti-Spurs: a collection of young and hyper-talented players that have no idea how to move the ball and don't seem particularly interested in learning either. Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins can go off at any time and score 30, but they have no idea how to play as a unit. The Spurs eat those types of teams for breakfast.
This is not to say the Spurs never rely on individual players. Tim Duncan keeps showing he is in the upper echelon of NBA big men, nonchalantly putting up 20 and 10 and outplaying younger would-be stars nightly. He's been the shiniest bright spot in the early going and has carried the team for long stretches while Tony Parker, and especially Manu Ginobili, struggle to play themselves into shape. The Kings' defense and the Spurs' turnover prone offense allowed Sacramento to get an early lead, but Duncan responded on both sides of the ball, hitting jumpers, going to the line and passing the ball expertly, while rebounding exceptionally well and getting DeMarcus Cousins in foul trouble.
When the second half started, the Kings made their run, aided by a continuation of sloppy turnovers and lackadaisical play by the Spurs. It seems Pop's guys are determined to play to their opponent's level and not put together a full 48 minutes effort, which makes these games predictably closer than they should be. Jason Thompson, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans all pitched in and the Kings regained the lead with 2:49 to go in the 3rd. The Spurs, as expected, weathered the storm, rallied back and finished the quarter up one, 69 - 68.
After allowing 29 points in the 3rd, the Spurs tightened the screws on defense in the final period and held the Kings to only 18 4th quarter points. Patty Mills and Tim Duncan took care of the offense, scoring 7 and 8 points respectively, and the Spurs pulled away enough to make this less close than the score board suggests.
- Manu and Tony didn't look good tonight. Both have excuses since Parker caught the flu and Manu is still recovering from his back injuries, but 8 combined turnovers from the Spurs' primary playmakers are way too many. The team is so deep that it can count on one of Neal, Mills or in most games Jackson to help out, but those two are still key for a good Spurs offense. Hopefully, as games go by they regain their form and in Manu's case, his agility and timing. Some of those turnovers were awful.
- Blair started for Diaw, and I'm not sure if it was because Pop wants to keep experimenting with the big man rotation or because without Jackson on the bench, he wanted another playmaker in the second unit. DeJuan responded adequately, but didn't make a case for more minutes. Thompson's length bothered him on both sides, which led to missed layups and iffy interior defense. Splitter keeps showing flashes of defensive potential and seems comfortable enough to contest further out from the basket, which could be great for the team. He didn't have a flashy night stats-wise, but he held his own against a tough front line. In other news, the refs still hate him. Bonner received a DNP-CD but that could have been because of the flu.
- Neal and Green didn't shoot well from the floor but managed to contribute. Neal scored all of his 7 points in the 1st quarter when the team needed them, and Green was disruptive on defense with 2 1st quarter steals. Neither had a good game, but neither hurt the team. Neal's defense came pretty close, but this was a strange game, so we'll let it slide.
- DeMarcus Cousins is awesome to watch when he's not on your team or isn't playing your team. He pouts, usually has a scowl on his face, fouls every time he sets a screen and takes awful shots. He also has a refined post game, great physical tools and good touch around the rim. He's really entertaining when he's not shoving his shoulder into Timmy's chest. Trust me. Watch some Kings games and you'll see.
- I watched a ton of Kings basketball during Evans' rookie season because Andres Nocioni was reluctantly playing there. I hated the guy. He dribbled for 20 seconds before taking a bad shot, took possessions off on defense and had a bad attitude. I still believed he was going to be the next great SG when once he shook those bad habits. It's sad watching him now. He needs a change of scenery, pronto.
Your Three Stars
3 - Kawhi Leonard (11 points, 9 boards, 1 steal, 2 blocks)
Kawhi had a quietly good night, especially on the boards. A lot of what he does is not easy to notice at first but he always fights for boards and uses his length to be disruptive on defense. The moment his body control improves, and he learns how to avoid those charges when attacking the rim, he'll become a very dangerous offensive player.
2 - Patty Mills (18 points, 8-9 from the field)
Mills came off the bench early in this one, as the Spurs went to a three guard lineup with Ginobili at SF to mask Jackson's absence. Patty not only played well for his standards; he basically replaced the production Manu was supposed to provide. He scored efficiently and pushed the pace, injecting some life into the inert Spurs offense. He'll never be the pass-first point guard some fans want off the bench, but he can score and pressure ball handlers and that's all the Spurs really need from him. Let's hope this performance earns him a few minutes even when Jack comes back.
1 - Tim Duncan (23 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks)
What's left to say about Timmy? He's averaging 18 and 10 and looks like the best big on the floor on most nights. His jumper is deadly, he can still score on the post, and he is one of the best passing big men in the league. On defense, he blocks shots without ever being out of position and is the best in the league at tapping defensive rebounds to himself. The Spurs are 5-1 because they have Tim Duncan and the other teams don't.
For the opponent's perspective, visit the great SacTown Royalty.
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