Game 9: Mavericks 105, Spurs 92
I'm upset. No in fact, I'm fucking pissed. I know I shouldn't be. It's only November 15 and it's stupid for me to expect us to be running on all cylinders at this point. Hell, what makes us so good in the first place is that we don't blow our load early like some teams. My brain tells me that not only should I have expected this loss but that I should quickly move on from it, knowing that the club will be better for the experience. My heart though tells me I fucking hate the Mavs, hate every single little thing about them, and there is no such thing a silver lining losing to them, under any circumstances. In short I am in a rotten mood today and I will not waste my time or yours dressing up this here post with bright pictures and witty comments. It's gonna be pretty short and straight to the point.
Simply put, it was obvious at the outset that they wanted it more. We chipped away at them for a moment here, a moment there, but their effort and desire was more than consistent enough to get it done tonight. I'm not going even going to make excuses or blame the refs or anything. The more aggressive, physical team got the benefit of the doubt of the calls and we didn't even have it in us to knock one of their guys on their ass just to let them know we were there. We were soft and mentally weak and we spent way too much time barking at the zebras and looking to them for help, a nasty stereotype that haters have about us that was only reinforced tonight, to my regret.
Blame? There's plenty of blame to go around, but it's not going to go in the direction you're all thinking.
I've got nothing bad to say about Tony at all.
What am I supposed to be upset with him about? It's not like the guy didn't try. It's not like he missed shots on purpose. He took the shots he usually takes and just had a miserable night, that's it. At the end of the day he's our starting point guard and he had eight assists and one turnover. For me to rail on him now for having a horrible scoring night but a good floor game night when usually I'm ranting out of my mind for him to pass the ball more and shoot less, well it would make me a hypocrite. If I'm going to pick on him for anything it'd be his lackadaisical defense, but really, every Spur who took the floor tonight was plainly guilty of being crap in their own end.
Actually, Tony is being put in a tough spot this year, more than ever. Manu, the team's most consistent and efficient scorer thus far, starts on the bench. Bruce isn't much of a scoring option and neither is Fab. For the team to get off to a good start in the first and third quarters of games, it is critical for both Parker and Duncan to score. So for all my wailing about Tony's ballhoggery, it has become apparent, even to me that the team as presently constructed needs him to be selfish and looking for his shot early. And when he has an unfortunate start like he did tonight, going 0-5 before the first time out, well, odds are we'll be in a hole quickly. Unless something changes quickly, the going will only get tougher for Tony and early deficits will be a common occurrence for our Spurs.
In short, Michael Finley is killing us.
Take a look at this. This chart shows all of our five man combinations used so far this year. You'll notice that the starting quintet Parker-Finley-Bowen-Duncan-Oberto has the third best +/- of all our lineups, at +11. So what's the problem you ask? Well, that unit has played far more together than any other we've used so far. They've logged 78 minutes on the court together, the next most common lineup Parker-Ginobili-Bowen-Duncan-Elson, has logged 34.
No, the real indicator of the problem is the +/- per minute stat. Our starting line-up is a very ordinary +.140 per minute, meaning that for every 10 minutes of floor time together they're going to outscore their counterparts by a mere 1.4 points. This figure is a worse total (in most cases obscenely worse) than any of our 40 most common lineups.
While it'd be simple to write off tonight's 0-6 game as a fluke, no more and no less than Tony's, I'm afraid it's not that simple in Findog's case. The guy is shooting 32% from the field and 24% from three. Not only has he been abjectly terrible, but he's been painfully consistent about it. Consider that the 7 for 12 showing against the Bucks a couple of games back wasn't only Fin's only +50% game so far, but it also happened to be his only +40% game as well. He's doesn't himself out at the line either as he's only had six attempts from the charity stripe all season. And as for "non-scoring contributions" Fin still hasn't broken the tie with you or I as far as how many offensive rebounds or blocked shots he's had on the season. More and more teams are starting to take advantage of him at both ends of the floor and it's hurting us.
Truthfully, I don't know what the solution is. Putting Manu back in the starting line-up ruins our bench and likely leaves him twiddling his thumbs for the first six minutes of the game. Replacing Fin's role with Brent is an option, but it also weakens the bench as we found out last year that teams exploit that match-up by trapping Manu, making him give the ball up quickly to one of four guys who can't dribble or create their own shot. Playing Brent with Manu works better because he's a more respected 3 point shooter and ball handler/playmaker than Fin.
But what else is there? Udoka? You know how I feel about playing Bowen and Udoka together. Besides, he hasn't shown a whole lot yet except for his debut game and I'm not comfortable with him at all.
Here's a wacky idea, probably something we'll never see but one I urge you to think about nonetheless. Why not, at least against teams that feature only one major perimeter scoring threat, start Bonner at small forward and shift Bowen over to shooting guard?
I'm not crazy.
Bowen is basically a de facto two guard anyway. That's who he usually guards and he certainly rebounds (or doesn't) like a guard. Against bigger teams with small forwards who aren't a big part of their offense (like Houston for example) I think we could get by with Bonner at the three spot for a few minutes. At this point in his career he can't do ANYTHING worse than Finley except make free throws. And he'd certainly help our rebounding and interior defense playing with two other bigs. I'd certainly rather see Parker kick it out to him for a jumper than Finley, that's for sure.
Like I said, it's probably a dumb idea and something Pop would never seriously consider. Then the only solution is to simply demand Finley to play better, to play like someone who still deserves a rotation spot let alone a starting job. It was disappointing to no end to see him come out so flat against his former team. You'd think he'd be more geeked about sticking it to them than anyone.
Also, speaking of disappointment, I must say I feel quite let down by the team's two main leaders, Tim and Pop. Duncan once again started with no fire in his belly but quite a bit of lead in his feet. I realize that getting kicked in the gonads by The Big Bug early on couldn't have felt too good, but Duncan appeared ground-bound all night, was terrible defensively and was quite careless with the ball. Also, he had another terrible night on the glass. Is he injured? Did his plantar fasciitis rear its ugly head again? One would think that he'd want to really assert himself in this one since the last time he was in this building it was the infamous Joey Crawford game but he really wasn't into it at all until much too late.
As for Pop, he might love early season losses for their ability to provide teaching and motivational tools, but he's got to realize that losing to the Mavericks is not the same as losing to say, the Memphis Grizzlies. Like it or not, no matter how skewed the refereeing was that series, and no matter how many times he wants to lay the totality of the series on Manu's one dumb foul, the Mavericks are the last team to have beaten us in a playoff series and they're very aware of it. Don't forget, they got the better of us three out of four games last year too. At this point we have to concede that not only are they confident and not intimidated by us, but they have the psychological edge on us as well. They're in our heads.
This was not a simple, "Oh well, it's only November" game, Pop. It was up to you to make that clear to the guys and clearly you failed. Only two or three of your players looked like they gave a shit and the team as a whole looked listless and unprepared. Oberto cannot guard Dirk (tonight might have been a good day to start Frankie) and not enough emphasis was put into getting the ball inside to Tim early and often. Instead of targeting Dirk, their worst defender, we went after Harris who's likely their best. Trusting Tony to handle the early scoring load when he historically has struggled more against this team than any other was foolish, and you brought Barry into the game much too late and for far too few minutes. Mainly you saw your guys get knocked down and beat up time after time but you never instilled in them the importance of fighting back. The Mavs are a very fragile, volatile bunch with Dirk, Howard, Stack, Terry and Harris and the one time we beat these guys last year was when Bruce got into Howard's head. We need to be the instigators against these guys the way the Warriors were and need to quit playing Jesus ball against them.
Hopefully coach is right and this loss will serve a purpose for the future, but we will have to wait a bit to find out. Personally I fear that Pop's continuing friendship with Avery is hurting us in this rivalry and for us to ever get over on these guys he's going to have to be a little more ruthless and cutthroat about things. A part of me feels like Avery is using their friendship to his advantage, getting more from Pop than the other way around like a true manipulative opportunist he is. I get the sense that while the L'il General respects Pop, a guy like Bill Belichick is his true coaching role model, and the way he still had his starters out there after we'd long waved the white flag is only further proof of that. I don't think we're going to be able to beat these guys until our coach despises them as much as we do.
Your 3 Stars (such as they were)
3. Jacque Vaughn - Knocked down one of two jumpers and was a team best +8 in his season debut. I would have preferred for Washington, who has a good rhythm going on his jumper as well as the ability to attack the basket, to get the nod, but Vaughn certainly had nothing to do with the loss.
2. Brent Barry - Triumphant in his return from an ankle injury, Brent buried all four of his shots, three from downtown and briefly sparked a comeback bid in the 3rd quarter. A couple more games like this and he might be back in the starting lineup, and that worries me.
1. Manu Ginobili - If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times - while I'm the biggest Manu fan on the planet, it's not the recipe for a successful season for him to be our best player. We desperately need Tim to pick it up or else Opus will be worn down to a nub by February. He is plainly having to play too hard right now and you can already see it affecting him as he had that wrap on his left leg tonight and hasn't looked very explosive at all the past couple of games. 25-9-7 is a sensational line, but he had three early turnovers as well that helped to put us in a big hole and gambled far too much on defense.
Up Next: Vs. Houston Rockets
A perfect time for round two against the other contender from Texas who kicked our ass. Unfortunately it won't be a true test as (SHOCKING!) McGrady has suffered an injury and will be out for the game. We'll probably win -we'd better- but what will it mean?