The Spurs have now lost four road games in a row: at Utah, Portland, Oklahoma City, and Denver. The most frustrating part of all these losses is that the Spurs could have won these games had a few things gone differently. OKC was the only game in which the Spurs probably did not have a legitimate shot at winning it in the fourth, but the Spurs allowed that game to get away.
Utah and Oklahoma City played extremely physical basketball and the Spurs were not able to execute their offense. I still maintain that it is an illegal, ugly style of defense that is almost never allowed by the officials. I've seen it allowed six times in the past two seasons. The four games the Spurs lost in the Western Conference Finals and these two road losses to Utah and OKC.
In these physical games, the Spurs need to show up better mentally prepared for the physicality. Against Utah and OKC, it seemed to catch the Spurs off-guard. The Spurs entered the game thinking that they'd be able to play their usual finesse, movement offense and were held and slapped out of it. It took the Spurs most of the game to adjust and by then, it was too late.
OKC is long and plays the passing lanes very well. They hold and slap with the best of them. The simple adjustment is to drive with a purpose. Against most teams, Tony and Manu can drive and figure it out as they go. They penetrate, jump into the air, hang for a bit, and at the last moment find an open teammate. Against these physical, long teams, these plays end up in fast break points for the opposition.
The Spurs need to move with a purpose. Their moves need to be premeditated. They can't hope that someone will become open because OKC will hold everyone off the ball. Against the physical teams, the Spurs have to do a better job of protecting the ball. Deflections, steals, blocks and turnovers are the reason that teams are beating the Spurs. The Spurs are being extremely sloppy with the ball and it's killing them.
OKC and Utah destroyed the Spurs' offense with physicality. Portland caught the Spurs on the SEGABABA and made timely shots that took the life out of the Spurs. Denver put the three together for the win tonight. Denver played physical defense in the Spurs SEGABABA and made timely shots to put the Spurs away. (Quick note: Denver's physicality did not come close to matching Utah or OKC's. The Nuggets played a legal brand of physical defense.)
This game was very similar to the loss to Utah in that there were many of those four point turnaround plays that killed the Spurs. There were many times that Tony or Manu took the ball to the rim, were knocked down, and heard no whistle. Denver would lead the fast break the other way for two points. So, negative two free throws plus two fast break points for the other team equals the four point turnaround. These plays seem to happen on the road much more frequently than they do at home.
Both Utah and Denver scored 29 fast break points against the Spurs. The Spurs are much better than Utah and Denver, but spotting them 29 fast break points is just too much to overcome. The Spurs should have won each of those games, and actually made valiant fourth quarter comebacks in both that came up just short.
Against Utah, Mo Williams made the dagger 3-pointer that won the game. Before making the game winner, he had made 2 of 8 from the field, 0 of 3 from three. Against Portland, the 3-pointer that beat the Spurs was made by Nicolas Batum. Before making that three, he was 0 of 5 from distance. Tonight, Gallinari made two clutch 3-pointers that gave Denver just enough of a lead to outlast the Spurs. Before his two makes, Gallinari had connected on just 1 of 8 3-pointers.
It's sickening. On the one hand, the Spurs deserved to lose tonight's game, as well as the others. They played sloppy basketball and somehow gave up 29 fast break points tonight. On the other hand, those 3-pointers that Gallinari made were awful possessions for the Nuggets. If he missed either of them, the Spurs probably win the game. I suppose the Spurs put themselves in a position to lose and that's all that matters, but I hate it when low percentage shots go in. It just seems that the basketball gods have had it out for the Spurs recently. At some point, the guy who has been missing all game will miss the most crucial shot of the night, like he's supposed to, and the Spurs will win the game.
Speaking of low percentage shots going in, OKC made a ton of those to beat the Spurs. Nothing but highly contested midrange jumpers. I realize they knocked us out of the playoffs by making a ridiculously high percentage of typically low percentage shots, but the main ingredient in the playoffs was the physical defense that they used to push the Spurs out of their offense. Their midrange jumper offense is only a winning formula if accompanied with a defense that can foul the Spurs out of their offensive sets. I'm still hopeful that Pop and his coaching staff will come up with an offense that can punish the teams that overplay everything possible.
Maybe the solution is as simple as playing Tim Duncan 39 minutes and having our entire team play smarter with the ball. Tonight, in 39 minutes, Tim gave an MVP performance: 31 points, 18 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks and 2 steals. Again, this is incredibly frustrating. Tim's performance alone should have been enough to earn a victory. Unfortunately, sloppy play by the rest of his team gave the Nuggets 29 free fast break points.
Tony had a quiet game, but I don't fault him at all. I think he took what was available. On most nights, he would have earned a lot more than three free throw attempts given the amount of contact he endured on his drives. Tonight, the officials let Denver's bigs get away with a lot of contact, so Tony was reluctant to drive in and spark a Denver fast break.
Tiago looked great, making 5 of 8 shots in only 23 minutes. I do not understand the 23 minutes part. Pop gave 25 minutes to Boris Diaw. Maybe if Tiago shrunk and gained some weight, Pop would like him better. We've had so many debates on this site arguing over our bigs. It's tiresome, at this point. Just play the guy who is playing well. Can you do that, Pop? Forget what your computer says is a good match-up and just go by the feel of the game. Tiago was playing better that Boris. Tiago should have played more than Boris. I wish it were that simple.
Patty Mills is the reason that the Spurs had a chance to win this game. Pop subbed him in looking for a spark, and Patty Mills answered with a hot hand. Patty made five 3-pointers, all in the second half and all were huge. This really isn't a fluke, either. For the season, he's shot 42% from three, 48% from the field, in his extremely limited minutes. Just add Patty's second class status to the list of things Pop does that I do not understand. Why can't we play him as the backup point guard? If not him, then Nando? Basically, anyone aside from Gary Neal. He is not a point guard.
Stephen Jackson looked rusty, as should be expected. Manu looked rusty, and I don't know what to say. He's looked rusty the entire season. Manu missed the OKC game with a thigh contusion, but his play tonight was not a result of the bruise. At this point, we can say that it's a trend. He's not the same Manu, and it's hurting the Spurs.
Manu made just five of 15 shots from the field and just two of his nine 3-point attempts. Manu had six assists but also a team-leading four turnovers. In addition, many of his threes were so short that they created fast break opportunities for the Nuggets. So you can almost count those bad misses as turnovers as well.
So far this season, Manu's PER is 18.16 for 64th in the league. Tim, Tony and Tiago are ahead of him: 24.76 for 6th, 22.66 for 14th, and 21.69 for 20th, respectively, (TIAGO!). Last regular season, Manu led the Spurs with a PER of 24.18, good for 7th in the league. Tim was 14th in the league with a PER of 22.60 and Tony was 16th in the league at 22.04.
In one year, Manu went from being the Spurs' best player to its fourth best. He went from ranking 7th in the league to 64th. The Spurs need a productive Manu to win on the road against good teams. The Spurs need their best player back. Without him, the Spurs' are going to have a very tough time achieving their championship goal.
In the playoffs last year, Manu's PER fell from 24.18 to 17.08. As we witnessed, we can't beat the best without Manu at his best. We can talk about the elusive athletic four that can stretch the floor till we're blue in the face. He is insignificant. DeJuan is insignificant. The rotations are insignificant. Everything is moot if our best player is no longer our best player. The Spurs need their Manu back. Hopefully, he starts showing some improvement in the near future.
To lighten the mood, I'll end with Javale McGee. During the game, I googled him for no reason. I typed "Javale Mc" and google suggested "Javale McGee Stupid." What the H? I spent the next 15 minutes on youtube watching videos of Javale McGee doing "stupid" things. I didn't realize this was a running joke, and thought you may also be in the dark. Check out these videos. They are well worth it and should keep you away from the ledge. My favorite are his free throw line dunk attempts.