Since Fred Silva covered the core of it, in the sense of getting better shots over 48 minutes tends to produce favorable outcomes, this will be less a recap and more free association thought bubbles...
First off, I'll point you toward this data set; 91, 83, 90, 81, 92, 88, 86.
The observant among you will recognize these numbers as the point totals of our opponents throughout the first seven games of the postseason (and that's with extensive garbage time thrown in, in a couple of cases). Granted, neither the Jazz nor the Clippers are what anyone deem explosive offenses, but when you allow 96.5 points per game in the regular season, that 87.2 looks mighty fine. I know I've written it before on Spurstalk, though probably not here, but I've thought all along that 95.5 points is a realistic barometer of expectation for this team's defense in the postseason. If we allow 95 or fewer and lose, 'twas the offense's fault. If we allow 96 or more and lose, blame ze D.
Might as well take a poll now: With the high-powered Thunder coming up, should we tweak that number to 97.5, or is it fine as is?
Okay, next, I want to clear up a small myth about this game. The popular narrative in big comeback wins is that one team slowly chips away at a deficit, a little at a time, a 6-2 run here, an 8-3 run there, basically "Pounding the Rock" personified on a basketball floor. In most cases, I suppose this is true. This game was not one of those cases.
In the 5:58 between Nick Young's corner three to make it 40-16 and Manu's shot clock-beating wing three to make it 48-31, you'll note that a whopping four points had been sliced off that 24 point deficit. Believe it or not, it was still 48-28 with 3:20 to go in the second quarter.
No, the comeback was quick and dirty kids. The story of the game was three runs. Clips broke out with a 14-0 in 5:30 late in the first, the Spurs had a Manu-fueled 15-2 closing burst in 2:40 late in the second, and of course the 24-0 thrashing through eight minutes of the third. Okay, so maybe the last one wasn't that quick. Still.
My favorite part was that Magic said that the Spurs didn't have enough in them to come "all the way back" from a 10 point halftime deficit, while the three other analysts, who actually are on the set because they can break a game down and are not, you know, Magic Johnson, had befuddled looks on their faces, like what are you watching? Magic is a top-5 all-time player and a brilliant businessman, but good lord is he a crap analyst. Johnson changed his tune after the game, praising the Spurs teamwork and saying it reminded him of the good ol' days. Watching a game with him must be like watching a game with my cousin, where whenever team on the TV was the local one, she'd just root for whoever was leading. She was eight.
We've covered this ad nauseam, but nevertheless I thought Arash Markazi from ESPNLosAngeles.com got some good insights from Randy Foye after the game. I interviewed Foye once. Good dude. As was, I reluctantly admit, Caron Butler (a big Michael Vick fan).
"I overplayed [Ginobili] and I kind of felt him about to make the move but I said he can't because that pass is too tough," Foye said, "and at the last minute, when I was getting ready to rotate my feet, it came. He pushed my body up enough and made the play.
"Those guys have been playing together for so long that if they look at each other one way, they already know to go backdoor. When guys play together for a long time, all you have to do is look at that guy a certain way."
It's the kind of chemistry the Clippers simply don't have and not-so-secretly long for while they watch the Spurs slowly pick them apart, showing how far the Clippers have to go before they can truly be considered title contenders.
"I'm not going to lie to you. It was devastating today," Foye said. "It was tough on the psyche and definitely tough on the body. You're out there and you're giving it your all, and they go fast and then they go slow. It's basically like [Popovich] is over there saying, 'Pick your poison.'
"'Oh, you're going to take away Timmy [Duncan]; there goes Kawhi Leonard in the corner. Oh, you're going to take away Kawhi? Here's Ginobili, and Tony Parker is going to go coast to coast. If you take that away, we're going to kick it out to Danny Green for a 3.'
"It's pick your poison with those guys."
Parker had a pretty strong performance in game 3 overall, especially compared to his battered and bruised counterpart, but here's another myth that needs busting: His defense on Paul wasn't that great yesterday. I re-watched the game and took notes. He was 4-of-8 against Parker and 1-of-1 against Neal (that ghastly steal and breakaway layup, ugh). Against non-point guards Paul was 0-of-8 (0-of-3 vs. Leonard, 0-of-2 against Green and Diaw, 0-of-1 vs. Manu). Just sayin'.
Yes, the Spurs came out flat. Yes, that road noon start always bites them in the rear. Yes, Manu was just as bad as everyone else in that first quarter, starting 0-of-3. Still, I think what triggered LA's great start and threw everyone on the Spurs out of whack was Danny Green's two quick fouls. I thought Pop erred big time in subbing Neal, unquestionably the team's worst defender, instead of Manu or even Jackson, against the Clippers starters. They immediately started working him over like a speed-bag, when Griffin wasn't busy tossing in everything, that is. Not much you can blame on Pop over the final three quarters, but he didn't do much to help in the first.
Speaking of which, let's call a spade a spade: Stephen Jackson was absolutely hideous out there, to the point where I thought the gamblers might have gotten to him. Let me be clear: I wanted RJ gone as much as anyone, and I'm beyond thankful that the trade to get him out of here happened. I'm fully aware that there's no way the Spurs would be here right now without Cap'n Jack's contributions, and I give praise every day to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that he's a Spur once more. That being said, even Jefferson was never that bad in any of his playoff games the past two seasons.
That's the risk you take with Jackson, in a nutshell. When Jefferson is bad, he's just a ghost. Passive, passionless, ineffectual, jogging up and down, you don't even notice him on the floor. When Jackson is bad, it's impossible not to notice him because he's cover-your-eyes awful. In his nine minutes of playing time he was easily the second most valuable Clipper after Griffin and it's hard to believe Pop let him play as long as he did. Wisely, Pop left him on the pine in the second half.
Which naturally leads us to the next topic... that 10-deep bench isn't looking too hot of late, is it? Ginobili's playing average, for him, but he's practically a starter anyway, so it's hard to count him. The other four though, gak. While both Duncan and Diaw shut down Griffin in the second half, he had a brief resurgence when Splitter checked back in. It's plain that he views both Tiago and Bonner as fresh meat and has all kinds of confidence against those two, and it doesn't help matters that A) they're both soft and B) the refs don't respect them at all when it comes to Griffin's elbows because C) see A.
I keep writing it, but I think this might be 2005 all over again my friends, when a supposedly 9-10 man deep rotation got whittled to seven by the end. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, mind you, considering the end result in '05, but Splitter, Bonner, Jackson and Neal are not pulling their weight. Hell, they're not even holding their ground. They've all been huge minuses this series.
I'm being totally honest when I say I wouldn't be opposed to Pop shutting down the big three altogether tonight. I disliked it in the regular season because I thought home court would matter against OKC, Miami and Chicago (idiot me) but now that we've got it, why not use it to rest our vets? Let Holt make some extra concession and parking lot money. Let our crowd enjoy watching the Spurs run Paul's flopping ass off the floor one more time. What's the harm? A loss would probably make Pop happy anyway, give him something to yell about during practice. He HATES those "what does winning X in a row mean to you?" questions.
If the big three do have to play, then I'm hoping there will be a strict governor on their minutes. No more than 25 for Tim or Manu, under any circumstances, and no more than 29 for Tony. Either the bench will redeem themselves and close this series out, or they won't. It's not worth risking The Big Three's health just to go for a sweep. I'm hopeful that the Clips are deflated to the point where they won't put much more than a token effort out there tonight and that the bench will either discover their pride or just egress to the mean. Also, you'd think fatigue would hurt their guys as much as it would hurt us. Griffin played 43 minutes yesterday and Paul played 39, and they're both supposedly hurt.
I thought Buck Harvey raised a good point that I hadn't considered yesterday. There may have been more to Pop's hack-a-Evans strategy than just putting a terrible free throw shooter on the line. It also allowed his exhausted starters (Tim and Tony, primarily) to not have to expend any more energy on defense; banging in the post, running, chasing, rotating, etc. Buck argues that while Duncan and Leonard played 38 minutes and Parker 37, it was more like 33-34 once you factor in the gimmickry. Kudos, Pop.
Another 91+ minutes for the Clips bigs. Is Del Negro ever gonna try anything different? Maybe he's as crappy as everyone says. (Or he knows it'll be a veritable lay-up line for the Spurs if he does go small. Damn him.)
Your 3 Stars...
3) Tony Parker: Took about four or five shots I really didn't like in the first and third quarters, and had the aforementioned defensive issues against Paul, but he was solid late and was pretty much the only Spur who seemed aware that the game had a 12:45 start. Has gotten the better of Paul in all five of their head-to-head meetings this season.
2) Tim Duncan: Pretty damn awesome the last three quarters, scoring every which way, guarding Griffin, passing, rebounding, protecting the rim. Do not dunk on him, Blake, it just pisses him off. I am a bit worried he's not even trying to dunk anymore. Hopefully he'll have a few days off coming up.
1) Kawhi Leonard: Mea culpa, mea culpa, a thousand times mea culpa. I definitely should not be an NBA scout. The Bruce Bowen comparisons are ridiculous and nonsensical. He's got a little bit of quite a few players in him, from Dennis Rodman and Sean Elliott on the Spurs side to Carmelo and Tayshaun Prince. But no Bowen. And there isn't any one guy he's a perfect replica of, which I believe is a good thing. All the great players are originals.
Last year, through 73 games the Spurs were 57-16, having just lost third of what would be a six game losing streak, as they were coughing, wheezing and sputtering toward the finish line.
This season through 73 games the Spurs are 57-16, and on a 17-game winning streak. They've been declared the prohibitive title favorites.
So alike but so different.