Then early on Sunday afternoon, the Spurs go against the Raptors in Toronto in what has "let down game" written all over it(...)
(...)The Raptors are also good at causing turnovers and have a lot of athletic players like Ed Davis, DeMar Derozan and rookie Jonas Valanciunas that could cause the Spurs problems, if they are not focused.
So, as you can see, I was expecting an ugly, let-down game by our guys, but this was a little too ugly for my taste. Last season's beautiful play spoiled me a bit and now simple victories are somehow a little disappointing. A win is a win in the regular season though, and for now I'm sticking with the optimistic approach considering the many Spurs injuries and Pop's lineup experiments, even if I can't help but feel the Spurs are playing worse than their record indicates.
The Spurs started the 1st quarter lethargic on defense and were able to keep it close only because the Raptors settled for jumpers instead of using their size advantage at virtually every position. On offense, Parker and Duncan either scored or assisted on every single Spurs basket, while Valanciunas and Derozan carried the Raptors, foreshadowing a night in which the Spurs struggled mightily to control both young players.
The 2nd quarter saw the Raptors back-up bigs, especially Ed Davis, feast on the Spurs' weak defense and poor rebounding. The Raptors briefly held a 6 point lead, but the Spurs fought back thanks to Duncan, Parker and some uncharacteristically aggressive play by Boris Diaw. Going into the break, the game was tied at 49.
After Davis exposed some of the Spurs' problems inside, the Raptors finally tried to exploit their size advantage at both forward spots in the 3rd, but Duncan did a good job of helping out whenever Bargnani tried to penetrate and the team started overloading the strong side when Derozan faced up in the mid-post. It was much more successful on Bargnani than on the über athletic wing, but the defense seemed improved.
Unfortunately, the Spurs' offense disappeared and several Spurs' turnovers allowed the Raptors to open a 9-point gap off jumpers and offensive boards. Fortunately for the Spurs, Manu Ginobili took over, scoring 8 points including what JRW calls a Classic Manu Play or CMP: he got a steal, then nutmegged Derozan and to top it off, finished it with an and-1 driving layup. He also had 3 assists in the quarter, and basically was the Spurs' offense for a 6 minute span to finish the period. Despite Manu's efforts, Toronto rode a good offensive stint by Derozan to go into the final quarter up 1, 70-69.
The 4th quarter saw the Spurs fouling a lot at the beginning, yet keeping it close thanks to a few 3-pointers that went in. Neither team could get going offensively, and they both relied on their big men for offense. Duncan's performance wasn't surprising, but Valanciunas took over for a disastrous Bargnani and scored 7 4th quarter points to balance Duncan's 6, including two free throws to tie the game at 88 with 24.4 seconds to go. The Spurs had the last possession, but wasted it on a Parker 3 after a botched P&R attempt. So overtime, it was.
Both teams exchanged buckets at first, but a Parker lay-up with 24.9 seconds to go gave the Spurs a 4-point lead. It was looking good, but a Lowry 3-pointer in the next possession decreased the lead to a single point. Manu sank both free throws after the intentional foul to put the Spurs up 3, but Derozan scored quickly on a dunk to get the lead back to one. After the Spurs couldn't get Manu the ball on the inbound, the Raptors fouled Neal, who only sank one of two. The door was open and Derozan scored off a broken play by rebounding his own miss after Diaw couldn't box him out and no one rotated over.
The second OT saw the Spurs executing well offensively while the Raptors seemed to be expecting Andrea Bargnani, who finished 2-19, to bail them out. Tony Parker scored on three pull up jumpers and the Raptors' bad shot selection made sure they couldn't catch up this time. The Spurs won yet another ugly game and are now 11-3 for the season, despite playing so poorly.
- It's hard to pin down who's to blame for Ed Davis' 8 offensive boards or Amir Johnson's 3, so I'll simply say the Spurs need to rebound better as a team. Diaw and Blair can't be content with being between their guys and the basket when boxing out; they are too short and usually lose the 50/50 balls to the longer players they go up against. Duncan, and especially Splitter, need to find the right balance between helping on penetration and getting in position to rebound. The guards, especially Green and Ginobili, need to pick up their rebounding and everyone needs to do a better job of rotating.
- Pop is doing everything he can to not depend on Bonner spacing the floor. Unfortunately, it often doesn't work and is painful to watch. Parker suffers the most from it, with some of his drives easily deterred by the two bigs that can wait in the paint, as teams just don't respect Diaw's outside shot as much. All the cutting off the ball doesn't help Parker either, who almost crashed with Manu on one drive.
- If the threes aren't falling, this team is simply not that good on offense, despite Duncan's renaissance. The team went 8-27 from outside, Manu was 1-7 and Green 3-10. Those numbers need to get better, soon. The Spurs usually make up for it by forcing live ball turnovers and getting some easy buckets, but that wasn't the case against the Raptors (12 TOs) and the result was not pretty..
I could continue to nitpick performances in this game, but there's no point. It was a predictably ugly game that the Spurs pulled off only by playing their most reliable guys heavy minutes. This week was supposed to give us a better idea of how well the Spurs can adjust to different styles, and the results were mixed. They have a couple of (on paper) easy games ahead against the Wizards tomorrow (in which It wouldn't surprise me if Pop rested Duncan after he played 48 minutes today) and Orlando on Wednesday. Then a SEGABABA against Maimi and two days later a test against the scary Grizzlies. Let's hope they are ready.
Your Three Stars
The Big Three (71 points, 16 assists, 18 rebounds and some timely buckets)
Diaw and Green had nice games, but the Spurs won because they had arguably the best three players on the court. No one played a flawless game and Duncan, Parker and Manu were no exceptions. Tim didn't rebound well, Manu shot terribly and Parker turned it over too much, but the three of them managed to take over whenever the team needed them to and thus, another victory.
For the opponent perspective visit RaptorsHQ