[Editor's Note: In addition to this piece you're reading, the man you know as Aaron Stampler has also written a treatise on the Spurs and the Myth of Personality that you should go read. Yes, I know it's on BleacherReport. No. I don't care. Go and read it anyway. -jrw]
Actually, idiot that I am, I was watching SportsCenter after the game and Stan Verrett (one half of the Verett/Neil Everett tandem that has elevated themselves to the lofty perch of 2nd most loathsome SC anchors ever, behind Stuart Scott & Rich Eisen) said that the last time the Spurs started 6-0 in the playoffs, they lost in the Finals to the Pistons in '04. The 10 p.m. SportsCenter is based in LA these days, so I suppose there's a new policy in place that all Kobe Finals losses get transferred over to the Spurs instead. Not only do we have four **** LOB trophies, but now we've got two ** Finals losses y'all. Man, I can't believe Timmy and Co. let 'Sheed and KG punk 'em like that. Totally bummed me out.Anyway, ze game, in honor of our fabulous Frenchmen. It's certainly arguable that both Diaw and Parker were our two best players last night and not arguable at all that Diaw was the best. I got a few metaphorical raised eyebrows around these parts when I didn't give anyone on the Spurs an A or even A- grade for the first round, but I can assure you that through two games Diaw is absolutely at an A level for me in round two (though I should point out Parker was at an A through three games vs. Utah before his game 4 performance dropped him). Diaw took seven shots, which is a bit high for him, and more surprising still, made them all, including a couple threes. Despite all that, he still passed up two or three shots. Still, his overall game was masterful. His passes were surgical, his drives oddly graceful for a tubbo, and his defense on Blake Griffin exemplary. Clearly Dirk Nowitzki wasn't the only All-Star PF that Diaw can shut down.
Pop, as is his nature, is downplaying how surprised the team is by Diaw's play, but I guarantee you that NO ONE thought he'd be this good. We simply wanted him to functional for 15-20 minutes and be slightly better than Blair. Instead, Diaw has already leapfrogged Splitter and Bonner and is the second best big on the team. I just can't stress enough how much of a game changer his acquisition has been. The game plan for this team used to be to just try and hold serve with the starters and wait for Manu and the bench crew to break the games open. Now the starting unit is doing that by itself and making the bench an embarrassment of riches (more on that below).
I was going to write that if Pop went into a lab to create the perfect complement to Duncan that it'd be Diaw but two inches taller and 15 pounds slimmer, but that's hyperbole. The truth is it'd be a cross between Diaw and David Robinson. The point is that Blair (or Antonio McDyess) would not be in the equation. Hmm. Come to think of it, that guy sounds a bit like Robert Horry. Darn it, I might have to appreciate Horry more in retrospect.
Nah, didn't bring it often enough. Also, we got him too late in his career.
Okay, now the birthday boy. Again, Parker's shooting percentage wasn't anything to throw confetti over. Also, he had only five assists to three turnovers. Still, for the overall effect he had on the game, it was an improvement on game 1. The way the Clips trapped him led to some "hockey assists" for Tony (you'll note that Diaw had four dimes) and moreover I was impressed with the toughness he showed in responding to the Clippers' physicality and roughhouse tactics. The jumper wasn't falling much, but Parker refused to back down.
Of course where Parker really made his mark was on the other end, where he was an absolute doberman against an obviously wounded Chris Paul, who all but exposed his jugular to him and begged to be put out of his misery. While Green didn't quite bring the same intensity in his match-up against CP3, and fell for a few of Paul's veteran tricks (Green also gave up a few jumpers to LA's shooters when he got sucked in helping inside), Parker more than took up the slack with his dogged determination and tenacity against Paul, not giving him an inch of space, refusing to quit on his pursuit when screened, even drawing a pair of offensive fouls against his visibly frustrated counterpart. We've long grown accustomed to Paul exerting his will, not just against opponents but against referees, bullying and intimidating them into backing down and giving him what he wants. Last night against the Spurs, he just didn't have it in him to fight back or argue with anybody. He knows he's a beaten man. He knows what's going on with his body. He knows what he's got to work with around him and what Parker has around him, including the respective coaching staffs. Chris Paul is looking forward to getting this over with.
Blake Griffin too, I think. You can see it in the blank stares and the shoulder sags. Whatever defiant postgame bravado he showed after Game 1, it wasn't there after Game 2. Doubt hasn't crept in for this team as much as it's moved in unannounced, raided the fridge and left an unholy stench in the bathroom. In the likelihood that the Spurs scrape out a Game 3 win, Game 4 the next day might be an ugly thing to behold, in terms of how uncompetitive it could get. I could easily see a score that's like, 90-60 after three quarters, on the way to a 110-85 final.
As for the rest of the crew, Timmeh was his usual remarkable self and the Clippers strategy of not fouling him (21-of-34 FGA, 2-of-2 FTA so far) doesn't seem to be paying off for them. He's got too many moves for those guys to handle. I can understand the logic of not doubling him, but this has the faint aroma of Spurs-Rockets in 1995, only we're the Rockets. It's a bit silly to respect Parker and Ginobili like crazy but not Duncan, but ultimately it's pick your poison regardless. To round out the starting five, Green redeemed himself on offense by hitting four bombs, all of them timely, and Leonard had one of his better defensive games from the standpoint of combining both his individual assignments and his team defensive play.
The bench, though, continues to be an issue. Manu started out brilliantly with 10 quick points and a pair of helpers, but once left on his own with the other subs, he couldn't get anything going. The Clips reserve bigs aren't huge scoring threats, but they've defended well, no doubt. For whatever reason, we can't crack them. Neither Bonner nor Jackson are being aggressive at all and Splitter has been up-and-down (perhaps his FT woes are hampering his desire). Neal was better at both ends than game 1, but that's not saying much. Once Manu missed a few shots, he lost his confidence and it didn't help him at all that he was pretty much frozen out by Parker in the second half (seriously it's like Tony will pass it to anyone but him; annoying) and in truth Ginobili didn't appear to be working very hard to get open.
I suspect the bigger problem for the bench of late is they're having a problem finding the proper motivation and intensity. These guys have been used to being difference makers all year. That's what having DeJuan Blair and Richard Jefferson in the starting lineup will do for you. Now that Boris Diaw is starting, the starters are "beating the brakes off people" in Deion Sanders parlance.
I know it's been popular among sportswriters, especially the national ones who are paying reluctant half-attention to the Spurs, to act like everybody on the team is playing well in every game, but it hasn't been the case at all. We're just so good (and our opponents so mediocre) that we only need half the team to play well and the other half to be so-so to win games by 15+. If we ever got a great game from both the starters and the bench, a game would be over at half time. Games like that will happen one out of 10 times. Similarly, one out of 10 neither the starters nor the bench will show up and we'll lose. Some day, maybe even Saturday, we'll lose. But no, not very often.
To put last night's game in some perspective, the Clips shot 69.2 from deep (9-of-13) and a much better percentage from the line (73.9, which doesn't sound impressive, but 16 of those 23 attempts were taken by Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, and they combined to make 10) than we would've expected. They still lost, badly. The Spurs, a supposedly soft, "live by the three, die by the three" team, had a 50-18 edge in points in the paint, thanks to Duncan, Parker and Diaw. Though the two teams shot a similar percentages the Spurs put up 16 more shots (and made 11 more) because they had seven fewer turnovers and two more offensive boards.
The misinformed critics will continue to state that the Spurs' weakness is protecting the rim, based almost entirely on their memories from last season's series against Memphis and one regular season contest this year against the Lakers (the subsequent routs against LA not registering, apparently). It's quite the opposite. All year long, even before we got Diaw and Jack and shed RJ and Blair, the weakness has and remains perimeter defense. We give up open jumpers, somewhat by personnel limitations, somewhat by choice. It's "who we are." Pop's gambled that his team will get more open shots -- and make more -- than the other team. He all but dares people to take them. Just don't be venturing inside for lay-ups, dunks and free throw attempts, those awful gnomes of efficient offense.
I'm gonna guess the Spurs won't lose any games this postseason when they outscore the opponent by 32 points in the paint. Just throwing that out there.
The one aspect of the game that surprised me was that Vinny Del Negro didn't resort to small ball. By my count the Clips played with two bigs for 91:11 last night as opposed to 82:35 in game 1. Surely by now he's got to realize that any combination of Duncan, Diaw and Splitter will be loads better than any combination of two bigs he can put on the floor. Outside of maybe the Splitter/Bonner combo, why would he ever want to play with two bigs? I suppose he's worried that if he goes small then either Parker or Manu will have an easy lay-up every time down the floor, and he's probably right. Maybe he doesn't want the game to get into a track meet since there's no way Paul can keep up with Parker in a back-and-forth freewheeling game. Maybe he thinks guys like Leonard and Jackson will get way more offensive rebounds than guys like Caron Butler and Randy Foye.
Yeah, I think I've answered my own question. Still, it'd have been fun to see Ginobili score a bunch of points, dammit. Vinny's kind of a party pooper.
Three stars (easier than Game 1)
3. Timmy: I've written
2. Tony: Way too much
1. Boris: About this game