In truth, I'm finding it hard to talk about these Spurs, and the way they're playing. The Media, that old scarecrow that the NSF (Neurotic Spurs Fan) likes to portray as some villainous entity with an axe to grind against Gregg Popovich, has been spewing word after complimentary word on the excellence of the Spurs since the All-Star break, a period that now has the team at 17-1. While I am proud that many are taking the opportunity to scribble diatribes about the 1:1 relationship between how the Spurs play basketball and how it should be played, I am easily bored by the brutal statistics and GIF-based faces of awe that the blogosphere's breathless Spurs coverage represents. There's a saying in the music journalism community; writing about a great album is easy. Writing about a bad album is really easy. Writing about a decent record is impossible.
Which is not to say that the Spurs were particularly great tonight, or that the Pelicans were particularly awful. When playing without two of your three defensive aces (Tiago Splitter and Danny Green) on a SEGABABA, one can expect a little rust and exhaustion. Likewise, when not playing alongside Top 10 NBA Player (ALREADY) Anthony Davis, one should never expect the New Orleans Pelicans of being anything but a shell of the team that many thought they could be.
Thus, Saturday night somewhat resembled a game a Spurs fan might see in the preseason. One team holding out fragile players who already know the rotations; another giving extended burn to a pile of youngsters who probably don't stand much of a chance of getting increased playing time, even on a bad team. Barely anyone from New Orleans' impressive starting lineup was available at all (only Tyreke Evans, sans Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Davis and Jason Smith), which puts any sort of statistical analysis or interpretive value in this game pretty well to bed. The Spurs won, nobody was seriously injured. When you're a fan of a team like the Spurs, both of those things are welcome, but only the former is necessarily expected.
But again, it would be a stretch to say the Spurs played a great game tonight. Other than the magnificent Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, who both seem to be hitting different levels of their peak during this winning streak, we were treated to some bizarre efforts from usually consistent Spur players. Tony Parker continues a downward trend that probably should give Spurs fans at least a little pause. Tim Duncan, many times, seemed so certain that the Spurs offense could pick apart New Orleans' lazy defense in a 4-on-5 situation that he neglected to come back down to the offensive side of the ball, essentially working as a cherry picking defensive presence.
But that's what happens in the preseason, isn't it? Parker is going to have a string of off-nights, maybe because his shooting stroke is off, but mostly because he more than likely just isn't that interested. The Spurs offense is humming with such cold efficiency at this point it would be tough to analyze exactly how little Parker's ice cold stroke is effecting the Spurs' bottom line. And Duncan... he's Tim Duncan, he can do what he wants at this point. Who would begrudge him turning into a defensive cherry picker? Especially when the lineup he was playing with at the time consisted of Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills and Boris Diaw; most offenses would be lucky to play 4-on-5 with guys of that caliber and offensive potential. An impossible stat to look up, but the idea that a Spurs team scored 96 points with a healthy Tony Parker storing 2 seems like something that has probably never happened before. Parker is such a lynchpin for the way the Spurs offense hums along normally that him\s having a bad night and it affecting the Spurs so little should be both a positive and a negative. On the one hand - yay! - we don't have to worry that Parker is the only thing holding the Spurs together. On the other - what in the world is holding the Spurs together?
New Orleans is such a mess of influences, that it would be tough to find ways not to stick together and execute a game plan efficiently. Being without your five best players (the four mentioned above plus stretch four Ryan Anderson) will certainly do that to a team, but even trotting out a bevy of your dregs should bring up a little more than this. Monty Williams has a tough task ahead of him - build a contender in the short term so that Anthony Davis will be happy enough to stay in New Orleans so that he can contend long term. New Orleans management have done an admirable job trying to surround Davis with young talent -- no player on the Pelicans has served more than five years in the league -- with potential to win now. Holiday, Gordon and even Al-Farouq Aminu seem like solid pieces to have around. Even backup point guard Austin Rivers, who notoriously was one of the worst rookies ever last season, showed flashes tonight of being a productive large point guard, aware of his size advantage and eager to exploit it.
The problem comes when the system isn't bought into by all involved. Many words (mostly tweets) have been spilled over the perplexing notion that somehow New Orleans is a better defensive team with Anthony Davis off the floor. While this may seem ludicrous, given Davis' excellence on D, I don't really see so much hilarity. It's clear while watching the New Orleans Pelicans that experience and communication are at sad levels. Most NBA players are capable of sufficiently defending their position in isolated space. Where defensive breakdowns happen is when players are forced to collide and operate intelligently within the space of a 5-on-5 NBA game. Most of the Pelicans don't yet have the wherewithal, experience or developed basketball IQ to be able to handle operating in this exponentially more difficult environment. To me, this also includes Davis. A young team trying to learn a defense that will benefit them years down the line still needs a guy out there barking orders and controlling the situation. Unless Davis attains that level, he's never going to be anything more than Serge Ibaka on defense. And given talent like Davis', that's a bad thing.
Calling this a preseason game also fits a neat little paradigm. Not only did the Spurs play this game with the energy level and attentiveness of a team warming up for the regular season, but if we're going by how the team operates philosophically, we're actually still in the preseason. The real grind starts in less than a month, when at this point the Spurs would be slated to host the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. These Spurs have been through the ringer since the start of last season's campaign, with some players barely stopping to rest in over the summer. So it's imperative to take games off and exhibit less than superlative effort during the preseason, especially when the big show is so close at hand.
The real Spurs season is coming. Games like this are a good opportunity for the Spurs to get rest and prepare. The Spurs won. Again. But it's the preseason, so it feels a little less than real.
They run their offense the way you dream your team running their offense.
-Monty Williams, on the Spurs.
Amid the intolerable promotions for Social Media Saturday, the Coyote put together an impressive string of small bits after his debilitating injury at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. Not only did the Coyote come out bruised, bandaged and on crutches, but we also got to see a 'lil Coyote, and an ultra-rare Baby Coyote. The Baby Coyote in particular was fascinating; at times it looked like nobody was watching her and she would just wander out onto the court to join the full-size Coyote. I'm not sure the child will become a recurring bit, but it was a charming display from the 31 year-old varmint.
Manu Ginobili - 21 MIN | 7-10 FG | 1-1 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 15 PTS | +13
The minutes are the thing to keep track of here. Manu has been ever so slightly ramping his production and efficiency up as the weeks go along, likely because of his developing health status. He's now officially the best of the Big Three right now, with Parker's slump knocking him down and Duncan's lackadaisical attitude toward bad teams sometimes egregiously showing through. Kawhi Leonard had a similarly effective night, which is cause to believe some of the Manu's success is due to the offense, again, just clicking on another level. 96 points is not a lot, but it seemed like it tonight. Manu Ginobili was a big reason why.
Tyreke Evans - 29 MIN | 4-13 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 5 TO | 11 PTS | -25
I've always been sort of a Tyreke Evans booster. He just looks like an NBA player from all angles. Except the angle you watch him from when he's playing an NBA game. Simply put, Evans was abhorrent tonight. Alex Ajinca did enough ball stopping and FG% ruining for the entire Pelicans team; Evans helped nobody by jacking up ill-advised shot after ill-advised shot. One can tell he's not used to be stuck staring at a stopper like Kawhi Leonard normally, mostly due to the ghastly five turnovers. Evans was taken to be a crucial piece off the bench or as a small-ball three in the Pelicans lineup. When you're playing markedly worse than Austin Rivers, I'm not so sure you deserve playing time at all.
By the Numbers
- 65 - Percentage of baskets made by the Spurs that came off of assists. Sweet mercy.
- 6 - Place, All-Time, of the Spurs road winning percentage. I know this wasn't a road game. But MAN.
- 10-14 - Marco Belinelli's three point shooting over the past two games. So... not terrible.
- 2 - Number of wins from the Spurs locking up the Southwest Division, yet again.
- 17 - straight win. I know y'all know. But it's still pretty incredible. Appreciate it Spurs fans, probably not going to see something this special anytime soon.
Bird is the Word
Just saw a DeColo jersey in the crowd. Time to trade that sucker out.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) March 30, 2014
If you give the Spurs a cookie, they will ask for another cookie and KEEP DESTROYING YOU AT BASKETBALL.— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) March 30, 2014
No... you give the Spurs a cookie, Boris eats it and the rest of the team goes hungry.
Nothing fuels tanking more than protected picks. This is a pretty easy thing to fix.— Dennis G (@bigpumpkin4real) March 30, 2014
This is an interesting perspective I had not yet seen thrown into the tanking discussion. I think the whole tanking subject is suspect... but protected picks to often lead to GM-to-Owner chicanery that rarely benefits fans. Worth investigating.
Bonner is looking dapper in plaid & corduroy tonight.......— Dr. Dre (@AndreaDuke15) March 30, 2014
My girlfriend's roommate audibly swooned seeing Bonner's outfit. I don't blame her.
Michael visits Paw-paw Ginobili in jail. http://t.co/I7cmgFar3Z— josh ✈ (@jortle) March 30, 2014
This just made me think of Jeffrey Tambor playing for the Spurs.
Pretty safe bet that Social Media Night is my least favorite night of the year at the AT&T Center. And I get the irony of me tweeting that.— Andrew A. McNeill (@drew_48moh) March 30, 2014
Andrew McNeill, Truth Sayer.
Dayes comfort level with the team is vastly different from a month ago. Looks like a natural fit.— Aaron PS (@DukeOfBexar) March 30, 2014
Daye does a good job recovering from off-the-ball screens. Dude will jump at almost any fake though,— Aaron PS (@DukeOfBexar) March 30, 2014
I have been saying both of these things to any friends that will listen, especially trying to hammer home the former point. It does look like Daye is picking up the Spurs system relatively quickly, which might actually say something about his desire to play in an efficient system. His assignments so far (Detroit, Memphis, Toronto) have been fairly out of control offenses, so it must be a relief to get to play in something as well-oiled as the Spurs and contribute. I don't know if Daye is back next year. If he's not, I hope he finds a sufficient system for his talents.
Odds and Ends
- Bruce Bowen was at the game tonight, and made a point of glad-handing the courtside media. He was so wrapped up in this that he missed saying hi to Sean Elliott, who was waiting dutifully for way too long. Bowen also was dressed down in a worn henley shirt.
- Also in Spurs Alum notes - David Robinson! he was there tonight and managed to avoid a Jumbotron appearance to boot! The Admireal looks like he's put on a few pounds recently, but I'm really in no position to blame him. You go back for seconds, Admiral. You've certainly earned it.
- Tiago continues to work on his pick n' pop 18-footer in shootaround before the game. I doubt we're going to see any of it this year, but it's something to monitor for next season, I think.
After Baynes' 4qtr hook that bounced all around before going in, Duncan stares him down before finally smil... https://t.co/FIHYwG2nb9— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) March 30, 2014
@ Indiana Pacers (52-21), Monday March 31, 6:00pm CST: Here we go. Hell week. Indiana, Golden State, Oklahoma City, Memphis. Thus begins the Spurs' brutal trip through the final "preseason" games into the Playoffs. Indiana is a fantastic home team, despite being relatively light over their past few games (6-8). Hoping for the Spurs to go 2-2 over this stretch would seem reasonable, but I'm of the mind that the Spurs are just getting into that state where they're going into arenas looking to prove something. Hopefully this doesn't wear them out.