Morning Rehash: Little Sadnesses In Excellence

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs use a near perfect first half to coast to a win against the Chris Paul-less Clippers, but not without suspense and tragedy.

At halftime, with the score 70-35, I began contemplating how this writeup was going to go. The first half of this, the second of three games against the Los Angeles Clippers this season, had been hilariously fun.

The Spurs starters, normally the brunt of whatever particular neurosis Spurs fans can come up with to occupy their time until the playoffs, played with cold, calculating precision, slicing apart a Clippers team that looked lost, tired and disinterested, having just come off a win against the Dallas Mavericks that cost them their starting point guard, Chris Paul. Left under the overrated supervision of journeyman Darren Collison, the Clippers started the game running either one-step pick n' roll sets for bad Collison jumpers or basic dump downs to Griffin, which it should be noted produced much better results.

This game seemed decided from the beginning, which somehow made it all the more enjoyable to watch Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter tear apart the Clippers interior defense -- which I'm convinced actually doesn't exist and is just a figment of Doc Rivers' imagination. The Clippers deploy a very strange and seemingly anachronistic strategy for defending pick n' roll action; they send the big (DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin) to show hard on the other side of the screen, apparently to somehow discourage the play from even happening. The problem is that strategy gives away an opponent's hand far too early, and Griffin and Jordan have no idea how to time or space the show quite right.

As a result, what happened in the first and second quarter is this - Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter would set up for a pick on Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili's man. Griffin or Jordan would hard show on this pick far too early, and the Spurs ball handler would have ample time to figure out where to move the ball to counteract the strategy. Duncan and Splitter, genius pick n' roll players that they are, often immediately broke from the pick after the show, assuming a position that compromised both: a) the Clippers big's position and, b) the position of the person guarding the ball-handler. Tony or Manu would dump the ball off to either Tim or Tiago, and the action would go from there.

Compounding this problematic strategy is Griffin and Jordan's inability to properly cover or help on the weakside of a play. Tim and Tiago had a field day going up and under or passing around stultified Clipper bigs, and the Spurs largely repeated this formula ad nauseum to the gargantuan lead at the end of the half.

Despite this, I kept coming back to Chris Paul. Spurs fans are eager for the Silver & Black to get a so called "Signature Win," or a convincing win over a contending team at full strength. Up until the 3rd quarter of the Clippers vs. Mavs game, this one seemed to have that distinct aura, especially given that the Clippers had already trounced the Spurs not a month prior. Yet watching Darren Collison abjectly fail to run an offense, I was struck by how overmatched most of the players on the Clippers actually are. Jared Dudley is in the midst of a miserable season; we'll get to DeAndre Jordan more in a second; Blake Griffin, for all his amazing offensive weapons, is still an utter defensive liability. This team hinges on one player to be able to survive in a way that the Spurs do not. Sure, I doubt anyone would call us a contender if one of the Big Three were to go down for significant time, but the Spurs would not have looked as discombobulated as these Clippers looked were Tony Parker to miss 3 to 5 weeks with a separated shoulder.

So no, even with a near perfect first half, this Spurs victory could not be considered a "Signature Win."

Thankfully the Spurs put that debate to rest anyway by sleeping their way to an ending in which a Clippers win was suddenly not the stuff of Byron "Don't Call Me BJ" Mullens Dreams, but a real possibility. The Spurs came out of the halftime break intent upon getting away from what gave them the lead in the first place, instead experimenting with complex action that quite often led to turnovers. The regular season is a time for experimentation, I get that; hell, I see Marco Belinelli in the starting lineup every game. But the Spurs so convincingly hit the snooze through most of the second half that you'd be hard pressed to notice any similarities between the first half Spurs and the second half Spurs. Credit the Clippers where it is due; Jamal Crawford and Willie Green started hitting shots, and the Clippers bigs attacked the glass enough to make rebounds tougher. With JJ Redick still out, Crawford has been miscast as a starting shooting guard when his ideal position is sixth man streak scorer extraordinaire. It took him a while to get into that mentality tonight, but once he hit his first midrange jumper everything else started working like clockwork.

In the end what suspense was generated from the catatonic second half Spurs was extinguished with a combination of getting back to doing what made you great... and the GOATPUFF. To the first point, the only thing that somewhat slowed a torrid 19-2 Clippers run in the third quarter was Manu and Tiago going back to simple pick n' roll action, which more times that not continued to generate at least an open look. That was halted by the aforementioned tragedy we'll get to in a bit, but the second win sealing strategy was much more heartwarming to watch. We've seen over the past few games Manu Ginobili take the team on his back and shepherd them through lackadaisical fourth quarters, more often than not to wins (the ugly Knicks loss excepted). And while Tony Parker had a very good game by his recently mediocre standards, Tim Duncan was the man that came in and made certain the Clippers had no chance of coming back in this one. With the crowd quieted after Splitter's injury, Duncan entered the game and promptly drew an basket-plus-one on DeAndre Jordan and a handclap worthy midrange jumper over a stupefied Blake Griffin. The win, again, was never really in doubt, but Duncan's five-point mini-run was the confident, assured basketball Spurs fans have been waiting to see in larger spurts from the starters on this team.

A 24-point win in which the Spurs, for a time, led by 37 points is an odd game to feel wary about, but I have a feeling most Spurs fans feel wary after witnessing it. Had the win been something of a grind it out, hard-nosed affair like the fourth quarter was, I think we'd be talking a lot more positively about this game. But the tantalizing first half was reminder enough of exactly the potential of this Spurs squad when it is engaged, active and thoughtful in its offensive and defensive actions. Considering the lingering effects of this game, we may not be seeing much of the platonic ideal of the Spurs for a while.

Standard Pop Quote (Plus Doc!)

These guys take a lot of pride and losing bothers them. so they usually come back pretty strong.

Pop speaking the truth about the first half of this game.

Bullcrap

Doc Rivers on the trade rumor that was started earlier today about The New York Knicks sending Carmelo Anthony to the Clippers for Blake Griffin. He also went on to voice his belief that ESPN created the story by suggesting the rumor, then ran with the rumor as if it were a thing that actually existed. This has happened on other occasions with the Worldwide Leader, and just goes to show that, in an age where a constant media cycle is mandated by people in charge, controlling the veracity of any story is the impetus of the viewer, not the content supplier. Sad state of affairs that major media sports journalism finds itself in, but political/tech journalism has been like this for some time. Get used to the disillusion, sports fans! (Or turn off your TV).

Coyote Watch

Utterly unmoved by tonight's Coyote offerings (which included faking being injured), which got me thinking that perhaps I miss the Coyote's themed antics a little bit more than I previously thought. Although I once again enjoyed the Coyote's attempt to unnerve a court side usher. This time, in a move that probably creeped some children out, he removed his velcro eyes and started waving them in front of the usher. Creepy, but in a mildly funny way.

Game MVP

Tiago Splitter - 22 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers on 8-12 shooting in 25 minutes.

I considered giving this to Tony Parker, simply because Parker (and to a lesser extent Ginobili) effectively gave splitter the whopping point total that he accrued tonight. But given what happened to him at the beginning of the fourth quarter, I feel it only right to honor what came oh so close to being a career night from Sparkles. In truth, despite Tony and Manu's excellent feeds, Splitter was a master at knowing exactly where to be relative to his defender, most frequently DeAndre Jordan. He also varied the type of shot that he put up close to the rim, straying away from his patented reverse layup and going for straight ahead finishes or even (GASP!) dunks. Jordan was utterly flummoxed by Splitter in this game. While it may not be especially hard to flummox DeAndre Jordan, it's worth noting that it took Splitter about 4 minutes of game time to do it.

But onto the sad bit: Tiago Splitter has a sprained right shoulder. After colliding hard with Registered Injury Distributor Ryan Hollins (and not getting a foul call because LOLZ REFZ), Splitter hit the ground equally hard and could be seen writhing in pain on the other end of the court for several seconds before play was mercifully stopped. He cradled the arm gingerly on the way back to the locker room, and this news is doubtless not something the Spurs want to hear, especially on the occasion of Splitter's best game of the year. The Spurs have relied on Splitter as the primary strong side defensive big man, and he has been stellar in that role the entire year. It's my opinion his offensive struggles are overblown to the point that I think he's an incredibly valuable offensive weapon for the Spurs starting lineup. The injury seems, on its face, to be similar to Chris Paul's injury the night before, so we may end up seeing Splitter out until near the All-Star Break. Until that time we might be seeing a lot of Jeff Ayres in the starting lineup. Oh boy.

Game LVP

Danny Green - 3 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks on 1-8 shooting (1-7 from three) in 27 minutes.

Danny Green by no means had a bad game. He sometimes got lost trying to defend Jamal Crawford, and the #V3RD3 was definitely mild. But on the whole it was a passable, if unnoticeable, stint for Green. I only include him here because if you remove his horrid shooting night, the Spurs shot 59% from the field tonight. Way to bring down the excellence, Danny. (Just kidding).

...

I'm sorry, I can't resist.

DeAndre Jordan - 4 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers, 6 fouls in 33 minutes.

Earlier this year Doc Rivers insinuated that he believed he didn't need to trade major pieces of the Clippers roster (including Jordan) for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce because he believed Jordan had the potential to be a defensive rock, going so far as to say he could be Defensive Player of the Year.

Setting aside Kevin Garnett's miserable season, it would be tough to find another quote of Doc Rivers saying something so profoundly incorrect and basely wrong-headed that I have looked at that statement a number of times and thought it possible Rivers just said it because he had ingested a massive amount of peyote immediately prior. DeAndre Jordan, meaningless block stats aside, is a horrid defender.

He shows zero intelligence when defending a post up besides "Ima ram my body into this guy and see if he can get by me." He cannot defend screen n' rolls to save his life, frequently floundering inside the paint as the big man he was supposed to be guarding darts towards the hoop. He has little defensive instinct beyond "IMA BLOCK IT" when guarding the weakside post, and could be seen numerous times watching Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili coast along the wings for a layup off an easy screen action that he was supposed to be the safety valve for. And to the black stats - blocks that go out of bounds revert the ball to the team whose player was just blocked. A block like that does zero for a defense besides resetting the ball and running some time off the clock.

Both of Jordan's blocks tonight were blocks of this variety, one in which he had spectacularly leaped high enough to effectively grab the rebound in the air, but elected instead to swat it into the first row. Jordan is 25 years old, and has done little to progress his defensive game past adding significant muscle mass. He is the second best Clipper big man by default (Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins and BJ Mullens... yuck), but has yet to prove he would rate as anything more than a painfully low basketball IQ'd shot blocking machine. He was the reason the Clippers lost control of this game early, and thus his abhorrent defense should bear the brunt of this loss.

By the Numbers

  • 928 - Career double-doubles by Tim Duncan after tonight's 19pts/11rbs, putting him just 10 away from Karl Malone's All-Time Leading mark of 938. My jaw dropped seeing this, just because I can't imagine doing 928 of anything.
  • 4-18 - Three-point shooting for the Spurs tonight. Staggeringly low, given the impressive nature of the win. But when the two bigs guarding the paint are Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, I can imagine you'd salivate at the thought of uncontested layups too.
  • 34 - Assists for the good guys tonight, a season high. However it was their fifth 30+ assist game this season, which is unreal.
  • 12-1 - Rebounding differential in the first quarter of the game, advantage Spurs. I'd like to think Pop would be satisfied with this, then again there's that pesky "1" that's probably getting him steamed.
  • 18-0 - Spurs record when Tony Parker shoots over 50%, including tonight. This seems like an obvious metric that would correlate to a win, but still interesting to note given Tony's recent struggles.
  • 16th - Largest win for the Spurs over the Clippers, All-Time, at 24 points. This is one of those things that can't possibly be real, but then you remember that it's the Clippers and of course it's real.

Bird is the Word

Easily the most bizarre moment of the game.

WE. DON'T. WANT. TO. KNOW.

Half of this can be attributed to a tired Clippers team with not Chris Paul. But still, that's Championship level defense.

Sad foreboding for Hollins' agenda later in the game.

And they have no good defensive big man. Remind me again why this team is supposed to be a Championship contender?

YOU DON'T SAY?!

*emoji prayer hands*

Odds and Ends

  • Pregame, Pop elucidated the reasons for Marco Belinelli's continued presence in the starting lineup at the expense of Danny Green. I almost wholeheartedly agree with the idea behind Marco being in the starting lineup, considering his fantastic shooting. That shooting is going to be very valuable come playoff time, especially if Danny goes cold. Marco needs to have knowledge of the starters' offensive rhythms to be able to get the shots he wants. As to Danny, I am a bit more skeptical about this reasoning. While second units are typically more lax at running out on shooters, I don't know if this overwhelming evidence behind Danny's shot attempts since he's been on the bench confirm Pop's idea. It had to be done for Belinelli's sake, however I think Green is benefitting quite a bit less from his time on the bench than it seems. But as long as he's fine with it (and all indications are that he is), no harm no foul.
  • My crusade against the music people at the AT&T Center continues, this time supported in my cause by Matt Tynan. The third quarter break that saw this profoundly inappropriate display of music-to-timeout distraction synergy made me think that we might actually have a genuine inept man at the hands of the AT&T Center PA. I know that that's somebody's job, and that San Antonio has in the past been considered a very metal town. But there is only so many times that one can hear Jock Jams before going completely bonkers. I'm definitely not there yet, but we'll get close if things don't change. Tonight was just the most egregiously inappropriate example so far that we have a PA guy asleep at the wheel.
  • Oh yeah, and we got TWO (TWO!) @spursdj drops tonight. Sigh
  • OH YEAH, and they replaced the awful Ke$ha & Pitbull pre-tip song with the mind-numbing, computer modems vomiting blood stylings of Skrillex.
  • Stephen Jackson, he of Trillions fame, returned to the AT&T Center tonight after being unceremoniously cut before the start of last postseason. He had an immensely forgettable stat line (a turnover and a foul in five minutes), but he did get to share some quality time with the Spurs players and coaches after the game. He embraced and seemed genial with Gregg Popovich, but spent the majority of his time catching up with Tim Duncan. The two had a reasonably long conversation by end-of-game pleasantries standards, and it didn't appear, from very far away, to be all that pleasant. Both seemed concerned and serious, but then again that's my armchair interpretation that really means nothing. In truth, I'm glad Tim got to see and (hopefully) clear the air with his dear friend.
  • Can we just have one of these every night please?

Tim Duncan is a decent passer. on Twitpic

Going Forward

@ Memphis Grizzlies (14-18), Tuesday January 7, 7:00pm CST: The Tiago-less life begins. Like I said above, Pop will more than likely be using a healthy dose of Jeff Ayres in the starting lineup, increased minutes for Boris Diaw and (one can hope) some lengthy experimentation with Kawhi Leonard: small ball four. Normally a matchup with Memphis without Tiago would bother me. But Marc Gasol is still out, Tayshaun Prince is still one of the worst starters in the game and Tony Allen's offensive game is, well, offensive. This is a Memphis team that has none of the swagger or brutality that last year's Western Conference Finals Memphis Grizzlies did. This is a team that's going to struggle for a playoff spot, not up-end the Oklahoma City Thunder. It will be a good test for the smaller, interior defensively weaker Spurs sans Tiago, but not a game I'd suspect to keep us from starting a mini win streak.

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