Despite all the front office gripes over the previous summer, the San Antonio Spurs were unable to acquire another big man to solidify the holes in front court. The Spurs gave Eddy Curry and a handful of D-League regulars a shot at making the team but the Spurs opted to roll with their lineup from the previous season, hoping the "one year older, one year wiser" effect would help Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw. And, for the most part, the gamble has paid off. Splitter finished the 2012-13 season with new career statistical highs and has moved up the ladder as a scoring option and on defensive rotations. But as strong as his overall season has been, parts of Tiago's game have been regressing to previous season's form.
Both Splitter's minutes and usage went up as the season went on, primarily due his early season success and the number of missed games by Tim Duncan (due to both injury and rest) but Splitter's impact took a hit as teams began to zero in on the Brazilian. Defenders started to be even more physical with Tiago down on the block, keeping him further out from the basket and forcing low-percentage hook shots across the lane instead of allowing the fancy footwork towards the rim. Shades of the 2011-12 playoffs, Splitter's aggression towards the basket has essentially vanished over the past month or so (Tiago's shooting percentage from the floor and attempts from the charity stripe have both dipped since the All-Star break).
Defensively, Tiago has been a somewhat steady hand in a turbulent stretch run to the playoffs. Statistically, Tiago is the third best defensive player behind Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard and has had to carry the title of "defensive anchor" at times with Kawhi and Tim missing a combined 37 games this season. Despite his opponent's average shooting percentage making a small jump (more perimeter players are getting past the first line of defense), Splitter kept himself from getting into foul trouble - something that was a bit of an issue the previous two seasons.
Mentally and physically, Splitter stepped up his game in his third NBA season. Whether his improvements will be enough against the physical big men of the Western Conference Playoffs is one of the many questions swirling around the San Antonio Spurs. On March 11th against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the regular season, Splitter proved that he can power through and be a key man with a 21 point, 10 rebound performance. But the final match-up against the Thunder showed that Tiago can also be removed from the game through the physical play of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins (just as he was during last year's Western Conference Finals). Much will be made about the Big Three but, as last season proved, the Spurs will also only go as far as their role players, like Tiago, can take them.
Standard Pre-Game Pop Quote
There isn't a team in the playoffs who isn't happy to start the playoffs. It's a long season. The excitement will start to grow tomorrow for everybody.
-Popovich on the team entering the post-season.
- Derrick Williams' workout was about a step above dribbling and shooting at the rec center.
- Gary Neal spent time working through double-teams both with and without the ball out on the perimeter. Neal also spent some time pulling up from the elbow after breaking the imaginary first line of defense.
- Chase Buddinger's shooting motion is incredibly short - the top of the ball barely gets above his head. But the arc on his shot is way up there.
- Luke Ridnour, assistant coach Bill Bayno, and an assistant trainer sat on the sideline and watched Tim Duncan run through his practice. At one point, I overheard the trio talking about Tim's mechanics.
- Tracy McGrady shot well in his first pre-game workout but it was obvious that T-Mac had zero legs underneath him.
- Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer worked one-on-one with McGrady. Budenholzer was explaining the Spurs pick-and-roll sets (timing, positioning, and terminology) to Tracy and ran only a short practice.
The Essential Hash
The Spurs have been getting destroyed from the perimeter the past month or so. In fact, one could argue that "destroyed" isn't a strong enough adjective. The Spurs were a top-ranked team in three-point defense for most of the season, ranking 2nd in opponent three-point (32.4%) through the first three-quarters of the season. Since then, the Spurs have allowed teams to shot 42.9% on nearly 19 attempts per game. Dead last in the NBA, a full 3.3% behind the Charlotte Bobcats.
If you run over the film since early March, you'll find a plethora of poor decision making out on the perimeter. Last night, Minnesota shot 41.4% from deep, courtesy of excellent ball movement off both poorly defending screens and away from collapsing help defense. Spurs defenders out on the perimeter are getting sucked inside by action they are in no way close to. Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, and Gary Neal have all been guilty these past few months of sagging off and abandoning their man out on the edge.
If you skip to the 1:45 mark in the video embedded below, you'll see a perfect example of the kind of mental mistakes that have been plaguing the Spurs. Gary Neal chased Alexey Shved too far past a high screen when it was obvious that Dejuan Blair already made the switch (because Neal was too far behind to catch up). The ball then went to a wide open Derrick Williams at the top of the key. Cory Joseph was forced to move over from the near corner to offer some sort of lane resistance to Derrick Williams - otherwise it would have been Williams with a score at the rim or a dump off to Dante Cunningham after Aron Baynes stepped up. The end result was a pass to Cory's man in the corner, J.J. Barea, for an easy three-pointer.
(Above information in first paragraph brought to my attention by Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News. Statistics are from NBA.com).
Stiemsma was just clicking last night - hitting 4 of his 5 mid-range jumpers, grabbing boards, snagging 5 steals (leading directly to 6 points), and drawing a handful of offensive fouls. Greg owned the third quarter, going 5 for 5 for 10 points, blocking a Bonner layup, and grabbing 3 of his game-high 5 steals.
Danny was only in the game for roughly 16 minutes and it was a forgetful stretch of basketball. Green started it off with a horrific pass down to Duncan in the first minute of the game. The North Carolina Tar Heel then spent the rest of his time bricking from deep and chasing down Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, and Chase Budinger on late rotations.
By the Numbers
- 183 - Tim Duncan's final block count for the 2012-13 season. His highest mark since the 2006-2007 championship season.
- 22 - Total free throw attempts by San Antonio. The Spurs hit all of them.
- 11 - Days since Kawhi's last three-point make (0-7 in his last four games).
- 49 - Total three-point percentage by Minnesota in the last two games against San Antonio. Timberwolves are the worst deep-range team in the NBA (30.3%).
- 1 - Missed games by Tiago Splitter. His only missed game was last night (rest).
- 721 - Number of days since the Spurs last three game losing streak within the regular season. That was also the last time the Spurs had 7 losses in a stretch of 10 game.
- 2 - Number of games the Spurs have scored 100 points or more in the month of April (9 games).
- 13 - Second-chance points by Minnesota.
- 34 - Second half points by San Antonio.
Bird is the Word
Missed u, Manu PnR in transition.— Ian Dougherty (@EeyoreWolfDough) April 18, 2013
You have Tim "Stone Buddha" Duncan on your team, son.— dan mccarney (@danmccarneysaen) April 18, 2013
I'm not buying the line that Parker is healthy. He just doesn't look right.— Eric Messersmith (@eric1250espn) April 18, 2013
- Nando De Colo has been a bit offensively challenged for some time. On four or more attempts, De Colo hasn't shot over 50% since April 1st.
- Gary Neal has looked much healthier the past few games. Neal still has an itchy trigger finger to the dismay of Coach Popovich.
- When Tony Parker and Luke Ridnour collided in the first half, Parker landed on his feet awkwardly and his body language gave the appearance that he was in pain.
- Cory Joseph ran a great pair of fastbreaks - Joseph found Tim Duncan with a no look pass in the lane and later used his body to create spacing between him and the chase-down defender.
- Derrick Williams showed off with a 360-degree dunk. Williams is great athlete and a half-decent shooter when he has 10+ feet of space. That is basically it.
- Guys, don't propose at sporting events unless your girlfriend is both an uber-team fan and a guaranteed lock to say "yes."
- And just in case you don't understand the title of today's Rehash.
Going into the Playoffs, the Spurs Need to...
...play smart and play aggressively. Too many national heads are running with the topic of the Spurs burning out in the first round against their 7th seed opponent. The Spurs need to come out and land the first punch in what is sure to be yet another tough Western Conference playoff series. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili will be in playoff mode but the team;s role-players will need to return to the light and to help keep the Los Angeles Lakers honest on defense. The better the role players perform, the less stress is placed on the bodies of the veteran stars. And Parker and Ginobili need as much help as they can get.