Stampler's Round One Grade Extraveganzzzza
I confess that I don’t quite remember the particulars of the Grizzlies series in 2004, but that Utah squad had to be the worst playoff team we’ve faced in the playoffs during the glorious Tim Duncan Era, right? I mean the Cavs still had LeBron, and they did take care of the Pistons back in 2007, and win two other rounds of the playoffs in the (L)Eastern Conference besides. Utah, on the other hand, was just awful. Them boys couldn’t shoot.
While the Spurs were quite good overall in games 1 and 2, I didn’t see much evidence in anything that transpired over games 3 and 4 that would have fans of the Thunder, the Heat or even the Lakers to be shaking in their sneakers to be honest with you. The brutal truth is that while our defensive FG% looks sterling, I saw a ton of makeable shots missed by Utah’s bigs. I can’t say with any confidence that fellows like Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol or Serge Ibaka would miss those shots. Hopefully I’m wrong. The bigger concern, of course, was the staggering number of offensive rebounds we gave up. That part actually has me quite concerned. Can anybody besides Duncan pull down a rebound on this team? The Spurs have shown all year that they can defend the paint, but I still worry whether they can successfully win defensive possessions by coming down with the board. Also, it seems that they will have to commit so many guys to the rebounding effort that their running game will be all but dead, which will diminish one of our biggest strengths. Obviously teams that crash the board offensively run the risk of getting run on if they don’t get come up with it, but it’s a risk that Spurs opponents seem willing to take since we’re pretty much unbeatable when we play fast.
Because of these things, I still think the easiest road to the Finals for us would be the Clippers in round two and the Thunder in round three. While we definitely have an advantage in perimeter athleticism against the Lakers, they’re just too good at getting the game to play at their preferred pace (witness that the series against the breakneck Nuggets has been in the 80s and 90s), and their ability to get calls worries me to no end. Like the execs don’t want a Lakers-Heat series. Please. Even though the Thunder also have star power with Kevin Durant, they’re still in Oklahoma City and not that much more popular with casual sports fans, many of whom I suspect are as turned off by Russell Westbrook as I am.
I’ve been weighing the pros and cons of who’d be an easier opponent in round two, the Clippers or the Grizzlies, and while I think we should beat either in no more than five games, it makes more sense to prefer the Clippers.
Yes, the Clips have the best overall player. Yes, Paul will flop, get a ton of calls, bully the refs, and is a legitimate threat to go to the line roughly 43 times each fourth quarter. There’s also the flopping of Blake Griffin and the thuggery of Kenyon Martin to worry about, not to mention the potential hot shooting of Mo Williams, who killed us in a game earlier this season. It’s true that they beat us once and would’ve a second time, if not for a Neal miracle shot.
Howevuh: People forget that Parker was out in the game we lost. Splitter and Ginobili were both injured during the game we nearly lost. When both were healthy in the second game of the regular season, we cleaned these guys’ clocks. Also, we haven’t played them with Jackson and Diaw (and no RJ, it should be said) on the roster.
The bottom line is they have nobody on their roster who can guard Parker or Ginobili, the coaching match-up is hilariously one-sided, and I trust Pop make Reggie Evans a spectator in this series by fouling the crap out of him if need be. In fact, if we don’t see a ton of hack-a-Reggie and hack-a-Griffin, then it’s a good sign we’re up a bunch of points and don’t need to resort to that kind of catch-up tactic. I’m really at a loss while Lionel Higgins hasn’t tried it in their series, but I hope he doesn’t figure it out.
As for the Grizzlies, I’m perfectly aware that we went 4-0 against them in the regular season. I know that revenge would be a huge motivator for us. I know that 2012 Z-Bo isn’t 2011 Z-Bo. I know that Rudy Gay is far more likely to shoot them out of games than win them. I know that even with one arm, Ginobili basically toyed with Tony Allen in the playoffs last year (look it up). I know that Parker would be even more driven to play well against Mike Conley than he would be against CP3. I know all these things.
I don’t care. I’d still rather face the Clips and save the pounding and wear-and-tear on Timmy. Like I said, we should beat either one in five, but I’d expect the Clippers series to be less physical, at least in the legal sense. There will be some cheap shots, but that’s who they are. Godspeed, fellas.
Here are the grades:
Tim Duncan: B+
14.3 pts, 8.8 rebs, 2.5 asts, 1.75 blk, 1.0 stl, 1.25 TO, 46.9 FG, 78.6 FT, 22.6 PER, 30.3 mpg, +48, +.397/min
As has been the case for most of the year, the lion’s share of Duncan’s offensive production came in the first half of games. He had some spring in his legs at San Antonio and was able to show off some moves. That liveliness (as well as his jumper) abandoned him at Utah, which probably had something to do with the cumulative fatigue of having to bang down low with Al Jefferson and Utah’s other bigs for four straight games. While his production both statistically and PER-wise was the closest to his regular season averages of any Spur, I think it would behoove Duncan to face the Clippers and Thunder going forward rather than the Grizzlies and Lakers. Even with the rest he’s gotten in the regular season in terms of overall minutes and in the playoff games in terms of the spread out schedule, I think it’s fair to expect that he’ll wear down over the course of a prolonged playoff series if he has to deal with a serious low post scoring threat for 35+ minutes per game.
Boris Diaw: B
5.5 pts, 4.8 rebs, 2.0 asts, 0.25 blk, 0.5 stl, 1.25 TO, 60 FG, 100 FT, 33.3 3PT, 13.9 PER, 24 mpg, +46, +.479/min
The full-figured Frenchman continued the same surprising form in the opening round playoff series that has been the case since joining the Spurs – mainly that he’s been more of an asset defensively than offensively. Upon his signing I had no expectations whatsoever defensively for Diaw except that he’d be a slight upgrade to DeJuan Blair, almost by default. To my surprise he’s worked as well in tandem with Duncan as any big I can recall since maybe the Nestrovic/Muhammad tandem back in the 2005 salad days, and I was very impressed by the job he did against Paul Millsap. Can’t say I was nearly as wowed by any other area of his game though. That 13.0 defensive rebounding rate is right around Bonner-ville territory and if he continues to pass up wide open shots on offense Pop is going to choke him out (if Tony or Tim don’t do it first). Really, while I wasn’t too happy with the officiating in this series overall, I thought the refs showed remarkable restraint in not giving us any 3-second calls in the paint, and Diaw’s hesitation to shoot would’ve been the main culprit if they had. I can’t imagine Blake Griffin will be too keen on guarding 20 feet from the bucket, so it’s imperative that Diaw takes the open shots.
7.0 pts, 3.3 rebs, 0.5 asts, 0.0 blk, 1.0 stl, 0.5 TO, 45.5 FG, 100 FT, 40 3PT, 14.3 PER, 20 mpg, +37, +.463/min
Is it me or does "The Aztec" never put a full game together? I mean, I realize he’s a 20-year-old rookie who was drafted just outside of the lottery and playing in his first playoff series, so it’s completely unfair to expect him to be a star or anything, but it always feels like something is missing in his game. When his shot’s on, the defense is matador-ish. When he’s dialed in defensively, as was the case most of the series against the ghost of "The Big Bug," he’s meh on offense. Heck, the one breakout game he had, Game 2, where he scored 17 points and was solid in his own end, he had three whole rebounds in 25 minutes. I’m probably being unfair to him, and my expectations are too high and too unrealistic, but I think it’s pretty obvious that Pop doesn’t trust him much for this postseason run either, as Leonard’s minutes continue to shrink. Slowly but surely he’s heading toward regular season DeJuan Blair territory, where he’s gonna play the first six minutes of each half and that’s it. I did like how Leonard was able to compete against the bigger Jazz lineup, but outside of Manu I can’t think of any Spur who would benefit more from playing the Clippers in round two (against a slower, hobbled Caron Butler) than the Grizzlies.
Danny Green: B+
8.5 pts, 4.0 rebs, 1.0 asts, 1.0 blk, 0.5 stl, 1.0 TO, 42.9 FG, 83.3 FT, 31.3 3PT, 13.3 PER, 24.5 mpg, +52, +.531/min
Green had a fairly quiet beginning to the 2012 playoffs, but you could certainly argue he’s been the most consistent Spur over the course of games 2-4, as he led the team in overall plus/minus and plus/minus-per-minute. Even though his three-point marksmanship wasn’t as uncanny as we’ve grown accustomed to, Green continued to demonstrate his "Bowen 2.0" talents by being able to contribute mightily to wins even without scoring. He completely shut down precocious Gordon Hayward, snatched a few boards, ran on the break well enough to get a few easy transition hoops in games 2 and 3 and showed in the closeout game that he could function just as well with the bench unit as he does with the starters. Similar to Bowen, I cringe whenever I see poor Danny attempt to dribble, especially against pressure. While he does a great job of locking down opposing twos, on offense Green is strictly a three. Hopefully he’s learned a thing or two from his experiences guarding Chris Paul during the regular season, because I have a feeling we’re going to see that matchup quite a bit in a week.
Tony Parker: B+
21.0 pts, 3.5 rebs, 6.5 asts, 0.0 blk, 0.75 stl, 2.5 TO, 50.0 FG, 79.3 FT, 100 3PT, 26.2 PER, 32.8 mpg, +45, +.344/min
Here’s how dominant Parker was in this series: he was putrid – I mean gawd awful – in game 4, probably the worst of anyone in the 11-man rotation, and he still put up a PER of 26.2 for the series. How you view his performance overall has less to do with Parker and more to do with your personality (glass full vs. glass empty) and your personal biases (are you pro-Tony or anti-Tony). On one hand you can point to his overall brilliance in the first two games and his awesome fourth quarter in game 3, in which he shot 5-of-5 from the field and 6-of-6 from the line. Or you could be a cynical pessimistic bastard like me and point out that he played six crappy quarters out of eight in Utah. Did the physicality of the Jazz start to take its toll on Parker, who has disappeared in past playoffs when opposing teams (most notably the Lakers, Mavericks and Grizzlies) started roughing him up a little, or did he simply grow bored with the one-sidedness of the series? As always, my tie-breaker in these existential Parker debates comes to one simple question: Is he passing to Manu enough? ::shakes head side-to-side grimly:: At least we know motivation won’t be a problem against Chris Paul.
Manu Ginobili: C-
8.5 pts, 3.5 rebs, 4.5 asts, 0.5 blk, 1.0 stl, 2.75 TO, 39.4 FG, 62.5 FT, 21.4 3PT, 12.6 PER, 24.8 mpg, +26, +.263/min
I credit Manoli for pointing this out to me, and I definitely didn’t want to admit it at the time, but I swear that missed dunk got in Ginobili’s head. If you’ve scrutinized his career to the degree that I have, you’re no doubt aware that Manu’s notorious for letting isolated embarrassing plays (usually particularly damaging turnovers) send him into funks and tailspins that typically last two or three games before he snaps out of it. He retreats into this shell, where he gets allergic to the ball, especially if he’s out there with Tim and Tony. "The Big Three" were good collectively in Game 1, but outside of that almost the entirety of Ginobili’s offensive production came as the point guard of the second unit, as either Parker froze him out or he froze himself out, whichever version you prefer.
Obviously it’s pretty foolish to judge Manu solely on his scoring, particularly this season when he’s playing with four other guys who can score at all times and the starting unit is good enough where there isn’t that pressure to "save" them, but call me old-fashioned, I’m never going to accept these games where he’s getting only six FGA. To me, that’s a sign of half-hearted effort on his part. It didn’t help at all that he had to play with Blair in game 2 as opposed to Splitter (I’m guessing he’s played fewer minutes with "The Dancing Bear" than any big these past two months) or that the score was already 20-8, good guys, by the time he checked into the game.
The passing was sharp and the defense was pretty good, but while the layoff will help Manu’s head and his legs, I fear his rhythm will once again be shot to hell. Still, I’m pretty optimistic about the match-up with the Clippers. They’ve got a good starting lineup, so the games should be close early on, which will keep him interested, and their shooting guards are smallish and crappy defensively. Better them than a steady diet of Tony Allen, right?
Stephen Jackson: B-
10.0 pts, 3.8 rebs, 1.5 asts, 0.75 blk, 0.25 stl, 0.75 TO, 43.3 FG, 100 FT, 53.3 3PT, 16.0 PER, 24.5 mpg, +25, +.255/min
Stephen Jackson doesn't just make love to pressure. Stephen Jackson does things to pressure that aren't even legal in 14 states.
While Jackson has been all that we could want and then some since re-joining the Spurs, his shooting from downtown could charitably described as "inconsistent." However, his stroke is looking pretty pure these days, particularly if he’s wide open. Sure, he turned into Danny Green inside the paint, but what are you gonna do? As long as he’s not a turnover machine, I’ll be thrilled with anything from Cap’n Jack above Kobe’s point-per-shot standard of excellence. More interesting to me is his work on the other end. While I wasn’t impressed with Jackson’s defense on Utah’s perimeter guys, I thought he was great against Millsap and some of the bigger bodies he was matched up against. He would’ve been a natural fit against Rudy Gay vs. Memphis, but with that series looking more and more hypothetical by the day, I’m left to wonder if we’re going to see any of him against Blake Griffin should Pop decide to go the small-ball route vs. the Clips. I’m intrigued by that possibility because I think Jackson, more than any Spur wouldn’t put up with Griffin’s nonsense, and heaven help Bill Simmons’ man-crush if he tries to flop against Jackson. My spider sense tells me that series is going to turn nasty given the bullying, churlish and defiant personalities involved (Griffin, Paul, Kenyon Martin) especially the closer the Clippers get to elimination, and you know Jack will stick his nose in it. Thank god we traded for him.
Matt Bonner: C
4.3 pts, 2.3 rebs, 0.5 asts, 0.75 blk, 0.25 stl, 0.25 TO, 41.7 FG, 66.7 FT, 50 3PT, 11.3 PER, 16.0 mpg, +29, +.453/min
I’d love to tell you that Ginger exorcised the demons of playoffs past, but alas I cannot tell a lie -- unless women are involved. Yes, Bonner shot the ball well from deep, but come on, what are we talking about here? Ten attempts is a ridiculously small sample size from which to draw many conclusions on. More important to me was how he held up defensively and on the boards against Utah’s bigs, and in that regard I think the results were mixed. Predictably, the Jazz, like the Grizzlies last year and virtually any opponent Rocket has faced throughout his career, viewed him as fresh meat. Bonner was pretty decent defensively and better than decent in game 4 when paired with Tiago Splitter, but he still got rag-dolled on the boards throughout the series, and it just got worse and worse each game. You can pick the excuse, whether it’s that he doesn’t have the physical strength to hold his ground, or the heart to do so or the rebounding instinct. If you’re a complete homer you can just say that the refs have zero respect for him and he’s not getting any over-the-back calls. It’s true that he was stuck with Blair in game 2 (yikes), but he was so weak down the stretch in game 3 that Pop had to resort to the Duncan-Splitter combo to hold the lead. Looking forward, I honestly wonder if the Spurs can even afford to play Bonner against the likes of Reggie Evans, Blake Griffin and Kenyon Martin. Again, I see a large helping of small-ball in our future.
Tiago Splitter: B+
8.0 pts, 3.7 rebs, 0.3 asts, 0.67 blk, 1.0 stl, 0.33 TO, 47.6 FG, 44.4 FT, 19.6 PER, 15.3 mpg, +22, +.478/min
The toughest Spur to grade, on account of the fact that he missed one game – a blowout win no less – with an injury and only played seven minutes in another, so we pretty much just have the two games at Utah to go on. It’s criminal how little respect Splitter gets from the refs; he reminds of Russians in the NHL in the early 90’s. That being said, he HAS to go up stronger with the ball. Maybe this is one of those rare times where there’s a language barrier from Manu’s Spanish to Tiago’s Portuguese, but something is getting lost in translation. Also, the post moves looked a bit rusty to me. Hopefully he’ll have a bit more room to get them off against the Clips, who don’t have quite the height that Utah did. Defensively Splitter was far more impressive, at least altering shots if not blocking them, but his board work was good, not great. I’m curious to see how Splitter will react in the second round, because I’m positive the Clippers will try to intimidate him and hack him silly. It’s also easy to imagine Paul getting calls – even and-1s – against him while initiating all the contact. I’m getting preemptively upset just thinking about it.
Gary Neal: C+
8.3 pts, 1.3 rebs, 1.0 asts, 0.0 blk, 0.25 stl, 0.5 TO, 59.1 FG, 100 FT, 55.6 3PT, 23.9 PER, 13.0 mpg, +12, +.231/min
Like Bonner, Neal shot the ball very well in round one of the playoffs. Really, he lit it up. Also, like Bonner, it was practically the only good thing you could say about his performance. Neal would be "Exhibit A" on the limitations of the PER stat, which even its inventor, John Hollinger, has acknowledged is far from perfect. Neal is unquestionably the tenth man in the rotation as it stands, and it’s perfectly fair to wonder if he won’t be the odd man out if and when Pop decides to shorten it as we get deeper in the playoffs (Leonard is also in danger of this, I believe). Pop was so unimpressed with Neal’s defensive work that he played him sparingly in game 3, choosing to ride Parker for 39 minutes instead. It’s fair to wonder how much run Neal will get against the Clips, who have all sorts of backcourt scoring threats. I could envision a Ginobili-Green backcourt tandem very easily, or even a Ginobili and Patrick Mills, to counter LA’s ball-pressuring.
I will say in Neal’s defense that it was ill done by Pop to stick him with Green to close out game 4 against Utah. While I much prefer Neal over Mills in a pairing with Ginobili or Parker, if neither of our star guards are out there then I’d rather have Mills on the court because he’s the superior dribbler. I trust Mills to at least be able to beat a trap and to be able to score in garbage time.
DeJuan Blair: C
5.8 pts, 3.5 rebs, 0.5 asts, 0.0 blk, 0.5 stl, 0.0 TO, 58.5 FG, 50.0 FT, 24.2 PER, 11.5 mpg, -8, -.174/min
If Neal is "Exhibit A" on the flaws of PER, than surely Blair is "Exhibit B." He somehow got 46 minutes in this series, which obviously had a lot to do with Splitter’s injury and the overall wretchedness of the Jazz, but also was a disturbing signal that Pop wasn’t wholly satisfied with Diaw’s play and that he hasn’t completely given up the ghost with "The Dancing Bear." I suppose I can’t complain about the board work, but that facial tic comes back whenever he’s paired with Bonner.
Since I don’t have much else to say about Blair, let me just add that I left Splitter on the floor too long at the end of game 4 – 11 straight minutes is really stretching the limits of his endurance – and that right way to go would’ve been to put a hungry Blair back on the court for mop-up duty. If I was the conspiratorial kind, I’d suggest that Pop put that lineup – the ham-fisted, plodding Neal-Green backcourt, an exhausted Splitter, an ice-cold Leonard – in the hopes that exactly what happened would happen, so that he’d have something to yell at the team about during practice this week, in a "You guys think you’re so hot, well a freaking eight-seed tossed your salads for six straight minutes," kind of way.
Good thing I’m not that kind of guy, he sounds like a total pill.
Patrick Mills: B+
3.0 pts, 0.3 rebs, 0.7 asts, 0.0 blk, 0.33 stl, 0.33 TO, 80.0 FG, 100.0 3PT, 27.3 PER, 5.7 mpg, -3, -.176/min
I have nothing noteworthy to say here except that it’s effing awesome that Patrick Mills is our 12th man. Actually, as we were watching the waning minutes of game 2, Manoli noticed that Jackson was on the floor and asked me why he was.
Me: Because somebody has to be? We’ve got to have five guys out there.
Him: What about that one fat guy, Anderson?
Me: He’s out there, see? No. 25.
Him: Oh yeah.
Me: We’ve got 13 guys dressed and Jackson’s our ninth man, we’ve got 9 thru 13 on the floor right now (granted, it was tiny-ball, with Blair as the only "big").
Him: Stephen Jackson is the ninth man on this team. Holy crap.