Morning Rehash: Spurs face The Fear

Soobum Im-US PRESSWIRE

For perhaps the first time since 2007, the Spurs have the one thing they fear right in between the crosshairs.

"Never turn your back on fear. It should always be in front of you, like a thing that might have to be killed."

- Hunter S. Thompson

You always fear something. You fear death, debt, the unknown. You fear exposure, speaking to a crowd, danger. It's an unavoidable aspect of human nature that fear is something to manage, not eradicate.

The San Antonio Spurs fear, above anything else, irrelevancy. Every move the franchise makes happens under the pressure of working to stave off time's hand and an early playoff elimination. "Championship or Bust" is practically etched into every silver and black jersey, a constant reminder that the bar for success has been set, and former glories will not provide current victories. This fear has driven increasingly aggressive roster moves. It's been behind the minutes allocation for the team and its aging stars. And it's at the heart of the team's identity shift over the past fifteen seasons.

Perhaps more than any other matchup, the Grizzlies provide the perfect example of how San Antonio manages the fear. The 2011 Spurs won 61 games and were arguably the best offensive team in the NBA. Their defense was squared firmly in the middle of the pack, but few people entertained the idea that the team at the top of the Western Conference might not make it out of the first round, even against a pesky defensive team like the Memphis Grizzlies. But after the first game, it was apparent that the Spurs would have great trouble scoring on such a physically aggressive defensive squad. To make matters worse, the Grizzlies seemed to get whatever they wanted on offense, as a helpless Spurs team could only stand by and rely on the defensive awareness of a well paid Richard Jefferson, a NAARP-certified Antonio McDyess, and an in-over-his-head Matt Bonner.

It was brutal, but in retrospect, it could have been expected. For the Spurs, a team that prides itself in being several steps ahead, it had to have been particularly painful to have missed something so obvious in the construction of its roster.

The Spurs left that season regrouping, and in a way, the Grizzlies loss gave them a gift. It pushed them to reconsider their approach, and from that season on, the team shifted its focus to re-energizing its hapless defense. No longer content to let teams push their way inside, the Spurs brought in Tiago Splitter to a bigger role after McDyess' retirement. They gave Danny Green another shot. They somehow got another team to bite on Richard Jefferson. And they gambled by trading a known in George Hill for the rights to a promising unknown in Kawhi Leonard.

From a roster perspective, there is little that the 2014 Spurs have in common with the 2011 incarnation. Where once a team like the Grizzlies would have bullied the Spurs, it's San Antonio that now dictates the matchups. They've evolved to compensate for glaring weaknesses, and even now, the team seems to be a step ahead of us. (Or in ESPN's case, several seasons ahead.)

Espn
Yes, it's been championship-or-bust pretty much since 2003, ESPN. But thanks for trying.

As Jeff McDonald pointed out, since the 2011 series, Zach Randolph has averaged 34% field goal shooting against the Spurs. Sunday night was just another episode in this series, as Randolph scored just eight points on nine shots. San Antonio, to put it simply, seems to have figured out this matchup.

But there are other fears on the horizon.

As the playoffs approach, the Spurs know where they stand against positional and team mismatches. Jump-shooting bigs and athletic combo stars are still going to be frustrating, but the Spurs have learned from their mistakes. For all their robotism, the Spurs are still human, but they no longer find themselves afraid of the unknown. Instead, the fear of irrelevancy has become a motivator. This is partially why I predicted the Spurs would win the West:

A decade and a half of consistency, of military precision paired with constant ingenuity. Why would this season be any different? Why would we expect the Spurs to change their identity now? Game 6 should anger them. It should absolutely haunt them. But it can also push them. It can unite them. And just like pain inspired the 2005 and 2007 teams, I suspect it will again this year.

For perhaps the first time since 2007, the Spurs have the one thing they fear right in between the crosshairs.

Be sure to read to read Fred Silva's game recap if you haven't already.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

"I just made shots tonight."

- Kawhi Leonard explaining his career night exactly as you'd expect him to (via @Spurs)

GAME MVP

Manu

EMANUEL DAVID "MANU" GINOBILI

PTS

FGM/FGA

3PM/3PA

REB

AST

TO

+/-

MIN

26

8/11

4/6

4

3

2

+16

25:34


It's difficult not to give this highlight to Kawhi Leonard, who was seriously excited about matching his career high. (See tweet below.) But to be fair, Manu Ginobili matched Kawhi Leonard's points in fewer minutes and on fewer shots, and Ginobili also did a better job of filling up the box score, as Leonard was curiously absent from the blocks and steals categories. Still, choosing between the two performances is a bit like choosing between your kids. Okay, it's not like that all, but you get the point. Both players had exceptional nights, but I think in the end you have to give the edge to Manu Ginobili. I suppose there are worse problems to have than deciding which of your team's players had the better 26-point performance.

GAME LVP

Cl

COURTNEY "TWO FIRST NAMES" LEE

PTS

FGM/FGA

REB

AST

STL

TO

+/-

MIN

4

1/7

1

0

0

1

-23

23:03


Courtney Lee has had a bit of a career resurgence since his trade to Memphis, but you wouldn't know it watching him play on Sunday night. Lee was pretty absent on both ends of the court, and he didn't do much to help a Grizzlies team that seemed desperate for playmaking beyond what Mike Conley Jr. could provide. Lee was staggeringly inefficient and ghosted through most of the game. His line is basically the exact opposite of Manu Ginobili's line above in just about every measurable way. Obviously, Lee's play will need to improve for the Grizzlies to maintain any realistic playoff aspirations.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • If you're a referee, this is probably the worst way to start a game. If you're a fan, though, this is probably the best way to start a game. (Vine via The Editor)
  • Remember when Beno Udrih was going to make an impact on a playoff team? Yeah, me neither. :(
  • Kawhi Leonard tied a career high with 26 points on only 13 shots. He missed just one field goal all night and also tallied three rebounds and five assists. Surprisingly, he had no steals or blocks to go with that, but the Spurs didn't really need much from him on that end against an opposing offense that is prone to stagnation.
  • Danny Green, defensive ace, looks ready for the playoffs. Danny Green, fastbreak PUJIT king, shouldn't leave his hotel room.

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 5: Number of 60-win seasons the Spurs have accumulated, four in the Duncan era.
  • 46.9: Kawhi Leonard's three-point percentage since the All-Star Break, a serious improvement on his pre All-Star percentage. He hit both of his three-point attempts Sunday night. It's probably not a coincidence that as his numbers here have improved, so has the offense. The spacing is back.
  • 48.2: Tim Duncan's field goal percentage post All-Star Break, a slight decrease from his early season struggles. I guess I assumed his numbers had improved to coincide with the win streak, but sadly, I was wrong.
  • 14-2: The Spurs' record against the Grizzlies since the 2011 playoff upset (including last year's Conference Finals). The Spurs have owned this matchup since their post-2011 personnel change, and I don't think there's much reason to fear another first round upset should these two teams meet in this year's playoffs.
  • 2: With the Thunder's loss in Phoenix, the Spurs need two more wins to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

BIRD IS THE WORD

THE GAME IN SONG

"Another fight left behind / There goes the fear again / Let it go / There goes the fear"

– taken from "There Goes the Fear" by Doves

GOING FORWARD

The Spurs need to let Tony Parker rest as long as he needs to. They only need two wins to wrap up the West's top seed, and they still have a game against the Lakers left on their schedule. Tuesday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves is a make-up game after the NBA was forced to cancel an earlier match in Mexico City after a fire broke out in the arena. This time around, the Spurs probably shouldn't pack any Cornballers.

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