Game 57 Vs. Toronto: Spurs 107, Raptors 91
Six in a row! And they said it couldn't be done by this team. And of course by "they" I mean "us." Unlike some of the patsies we've fattened up on of late, the Raptors are a legit, for a LEastern conference squad anyway. They have multiple scorers, multiple passers and multiple shooters. I know what you're gonna say, but really so what if they can't rebound or guard anybody. If they could do it all they'd be a Western conference team. Trust me folks, if the Raptors aren't the absolute crème de la crap in the East, they're still awfully close. Much more about them to come...
Still, how awesome was that first half? An absolute "A+" 24 minute beat down, any way you slice it. We shot 58% from the field, held them to 38%, outrebounded them 27-16 (giving up only one offensive carom), outassisted them 16-8 and had only two turnovers. Yes, we did slip on defense noticeably in the second half, but we were caught off guard by T-dot's three guard lineup, Pop's rotations were all out of whack and they just hit a lot of tough shots. In a way Anthony Parker's bum ankle was a fortuitous injury for them because he wasn't doing much of anything out there (0-5 FG, -14 in 12 mins) and they were way more effective playing Jose Calderon and T.J. Ford together.
A couple of tiny things I noticed in our end that may or may not mean anything:
1) Pop played Tony and Manu together in the 1st and 3rd quarters the most of any game during the winning streak. He had been bringing Vaughn in around the 3:00 mark of the 1st of late but didn't do so against Toronto until only 50 seconds remained. He played the first ten minutes of the 3rd. This might be a signal that Manu is not long for the bench role.
2) Beno was the backup PG Pop called on in the 3rd, not Vaughn. I wonder why. Neither of them fared well in the second half.
3) Also, for just this game Manu was the de facto small forward. Every time he checked in, he checked in for Bruce. Every time Fin checked in, he checked in for Brent. Neither of those two pairs played a second together.
4) Only 6:30 of pt for Oberto, even in a semi-blowout. Methinks he is on the precipice of falling out of the rotation altogether. Pop has spoken of wanting to give Ely a look and it seems pretty evident to me at whose expense this look will come. Sure, Horry will still be unavailable in segababas so that'll open up a spot, but I'm guessing that Fab's allowed too many rebounds for Pop's liking.
So anyway, that's the game. Three off days to rest up and practice before dealing with superfreak Dwight Howard and the fading Magic once more. Fear not noble reader, there are a lot of other things I'd like to discuss.
First off, despite the asswhoopin' we laid down on them, the Raptors interest me lots. Seriously, how sick is this Bargnani kid? Seven foot tall and strokin' threes like it's nothin'. He is phenomenal and I am absolutely certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that Colangelo made the right move with that # 1 draft pick. Foye, Roy, Aldridge and perhaps even Morrison will become nice players. Bargnani will be a fucking unguardable superduperstar a la Diggler and the combination of him and Bosh in the frontcourt in two years is frightening to think about. Sure, Bargnani needs to toughen up some - okay A LOT - but so did Dirk. I think he'll rebound eventually and even if he doesn't, Bosh will. What's the most important thing to remember about the kid is that he's already a better athlete than Nowitzki, quicker, longer, with better defensive instincts and he's much better than ze big German was at the same age.
However what truly makes this squad dangerous is that they've got themselves a legit point guard to distribute the ball to their two studs up top, just like the Suns do. And no, I don't mean T.J. Ford. Jose Calderon, only 25, has emerged in his second season. He's shooting 53% from the floor, his assists are up while his turnovers are down, he's sporting a PER of 20.24 (that's very good) and the team responds positively when he's on the court (+ 20 compared to Ford's -45). At 6'3" 210 he's a hell of a lot stockier and more durable than Ford, who pretty much has A.I.'s body, yet he's just as proficient at getting to the cup. Once the organization discovers the sense to play Calderon 35 mins a night, they're going to have an All-Star on their hands.
Of course for that to happen they'll have to unload Ford first.
It's not like T.J. is an awful player. He's actually pretty good. He's fast as hell and slightly better defensively than Calderon. But just because he can run like Tony, it doesn't mean he can finish like Tony. And his jumper's crummy. I'm not sure if he's starting because of the head coach or what, but I'd like to think that Colangelo's smart enough to figure this out before long. Ford should be shipped out in the offseason for a perimeter player or maybe a rugged backup power forward. I've also heard rumors that the Raptors would likely hire the first foreign coach in the near future, but for that to happen Sam Mitchell has to be shitcanned first and that's going to be tough to pull off with him leading them to the playoffs an' all.
I haven't seen the Raptors play nearly enough times to form a fair opinion on Mitchell's coaching, but I will say he is by far the sharpest dressed head honcho in the league.
Screw pick and roll defense, I look niiiiiice.
One misconception about the game I'd like to clear up though is that The Solid Slovenian played superbly. Yeah, he scored. He went nuts scoring. And the big lug even rebounded. But it was like watching Bizarro Rasho because the one thing he didn't do was guard anybody. `Sho was a game worst -20 in his 24 minutes and was quite the inanimate object on defense. So while I'm sure he was a great teammate, I still don't miss the dude as a basketball player, even if he's nowhere as bad as Screamin' A. would have you believe.
The only possible scenario this May where I would want Rasho back.
Anywho, the calendar says it's the first of March and that means three things: a) my rent is due b) I have to mail another $25 check to the middle of bumfuck California to pay my umpteenth installment of a $940 speeding ticket on Highway 5 and c) it's time to give February Spur of the Month honors.
The previous winners were
November: Tim Duncan
December: Tony Parker
January: Tim Duncan
So your February Spur of the Month is....
Emanuel David Ginobili!
Ginobili led the Spurs with 19.5 ppg in February and shot 54.2% for the month (65-120), stroking it at a .422 from three (19-45) and .852 (46 of 54) from the stripe. He also grabbed 4.2 rebounds and dished 4.0 assists in just 26.7 minutes per game. For winning this prestigious honor I awarded Manu by kinda sorta editing his Wikipedia page. See if you can figure out which section I added, it's very subtle. For whatever reason my contributions were not appreciated and Mr. Editor told me to "quit the nonsense."
Mr. February is pumped. Why he even magically grew some hair. Um... just ignore the logo.
Okay, next item o' business. Here's a column that ESPN.com's John Hollinger wrote the past Sunday...
And at the moment, the top question by an overwhelming margin is, to paraphrase, "How the @#%$ are the Spurs ranked No. 1 in the Hollinger Power Rankings?"
At first glance, I understand how this seems totally illogical. San Antonio has lost twice as many games as Dallas, for crying out loud, and the Mavs are currently riding an 12-game winning streak -- their third double-digit win streak this year. They're 46-5 since an 0-4 start and haven't lost consecutive games in more than three months.
But the key word here is "first glance." One of the biggest reasons I created this ranking is to force people to look beyond the superficial first impression. In this case, it involves looking past won-loss record at the elements that go into it.
On its face this sounds absurd, I realize -- isn't winning the whole point? But as I've been trying to beat into people's heads over and over again, point differential is a better indicator of future success than won-loss record. In other words, if you were trying to pick a game between the Mavs and Spurs tomorrow, you'd be better off ignoring the standings and looking just at point differential.
And if you took that route, you'd be surprised to learn that San Antonio, not Dallas, has the best point differential in the league, at +7.9 points per game. (Actually, Dallas is third at +7.7 -- Phoenix also noses in ahead of them). That difference looms even larger once you consider only two teams have played more road games than the Spurs' 30 -- so the Spurs should be able to improve their mark during a home-laden final two months.
Additionally, the Spurs don't appear to be losing any steam. In the last three weeks they've won games by 27, 25 and 31, helping contribute to their strong victory margin in recent play -- another major determinant in the Hollinger rankings.
Because of the Spurs' place in the standings, this has been perhaps the single biggest misunderstanding of the current season. Columnists are looking at the Spurs' won-loss record and falling all over themselves to write "What's Wrong with the Spurs?" columns.
Reality check: San Antonio won a team-record 63 games last season with a point differential of +6.8. This year they're more than a point per game better (They need to be, too: Those 63 wins didn't do them any good in the playoffs); they just haven't been as fortunate in close games (more on that in a minute).
And while the Spurs are disappointed because they're "only" third in defensive efficiency instead of their usual perch at No. 1 (they've been there five of the past six seasons), this is the best offensive team of the Popovich era. San Antonio ranks sixth in the league in offensive efficiency, just 2.8 points per 100 possessions behind the Mavs. With their defensive advantage being as big as it is (3.0 points per 100 trips), San Antonio is still well-equipped to rule the West.
By the way -- they're doing this while playing their scrubs for much of the game. No Spur is playing more than 35 minutes per game; Tim Duncan leads the team at 34.6. Tony Parker is playing only 33.0 minutes, Manu Ginobili a measly 27.8. No team is playing their starters less, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Spurs' big three will see a lot more action during the playoffs, making San Antonio even tougher.
In other words, not only is there nothing "wrong" with the Spurs, this actually might be San Antonio's best team since its 1999 championship squad. The Spurs' problem isn't age or a lack of fire or any of the other ideas trotted out in recent weeks. It's that they're 5-10 in games decided by five points or less, while the Mavs are 12-2. That's the main reason the teams are 8½ games apart in the standings, not any difference in the quality of their play.
I realize this is hard to swallow when one looks at the standings, but that's the whole point here -- I'm trying to get you to look beyond them. Once you do, it immediately becomes apparent that the Spurs are a major threat to win the championship, and that they're No. 1 in the rankings because, as heretical as this may sound, they're playing better than everyone else right now. Dallas included.
Yes, we're 5-10 in close games, but wouldn't Spurs teams from past years have figured out a way to win such games? And don't the Mavs deserve any credit for being 12-2 in that situation? Look I understand the point that Hollinger is trying to make. He's not saying we're way better than the Mavs. He's not saying we're way worse. His conclusion is that the way the two teams are playing right now, a potential playoff meeting would be a toss up. Lots could happen between now and then that could lead the mainstream media to agree with him or for him to change his mind. For example, if we win at Dallas in our last regular season game against them and beat Phoenix in the semifinals then obviously we'd have a lot of new people on our bandwagon. On the other hand all it'll take for us to tumble back down his rankings is a couple more losses.
The bottom line is that the playoffs will be a bunch of down to the wire games so one way or another, by hook or by crook this team will have to learn how to win tight games and against good teams to boot. What's more important right now, that we lead the league in win differential or that we're 5-9 against Dal, Phx, Utah, Hou and LAL? Call me crazy, but I'm leaning toward the latter. However, I'm certainly not about to crap all over my team before the playoffs even begin and it is certainly accurate that we're playing as good as anyone right now.
Still, which is the fluke, this two week stretch or the past two months?
One thing I know for sure, Hollinger's contention that this has the potential to be the best Spurs team since '99 is rubbish. The 04'-05' squad was the shiznit, yo. Defensively they had `Sho for most of the year plus a younger Duncan, Horry, Bruce and Devin Brown on the wing. Offensively they were just as good as this year for the most part. Their stats are just skewed because Tim and Manu missed 16 and 8 games respectively, sometimes simultaneously. The one concession I'll make is that they had a pretty easy road through the first two rounds of the playoffs. If this squad can somehow overcome the Phx-Dal-Det gauntlet (plus either the Lakers or Rockets in round 1) then they'll deserve to be called the best.
The one point that article does make - which I hadn't thought about before - is how the hell did last year's team go 63-19? Tim and Manu were hobbled and Brent was worse most of the year. Did the Rasho/Nazr combo really make that much of a difference? Was everyone we played so much worse? It would seem that last season we weren't quite as good as our record and this year we're not quite as bad as our record. I'm sure I'll have a more concrete opinion on the subject by mid April.
Finally, a quick "blow me" to one Shaquille O'Neal. The Big Clownshoes spouted off recently that Steve Nash's past two MVP's were "tainted" and presumably believes he would've been more worthy of at least one of them. Just the latest in a decade's worth of idiotic comments from Fat Daddy.
One would think he could be humble and shut his yap after being humiliated the other day by Eddy Curry. Of course humility has been about as high on O'Neal's list of strengths as free throw shooting. This guy shamelessly coasts every regular season, didn't decline his All-Star invitation even though he didn't play the whole year and more worthy players were left at home and he doesn't even rebound anymore. Somehow his freebies get worse every year, he's a complete liability in crunch time and in his 14 years in the NBA he has yet to discover how to guard anyone without fouling.
Through it all, I mostly ignored his buffoonery because despite it all, the guy was a dominant player, even if he was a total dumbass. But now he doesn't have the good sense to walk away. One would think having the worst +/- in the Finals for the Heat last year would've been a hint (especially since his backup had the best). Or maybe he doesn't remember being benched every 4th quarter. But no, not only is the guy who swore he'd retire long before he was as bad a player as David Robinson still hanging around, but he hasn't learned a damn thing about class in all this time. I can only hope that when a youngster like Curry or Howard bounces his fat butt from playoff contention (remember O'Neal called himself the "Last Center Ever") that they'll do so with more dignity than Shaq Fool ever showed.
Say anything stupid lately?
And on that note, your 3 stars...
3. Robert Horry- Owed him one from the last game, but what the heck is up with Robert frickin' Horry? Two good games in a row? Does he actually have something left? I don't want to believe it. I can't. God?
2. Tim Duncan- 24-16-4-4. Did let Rasho abuse him a bit though, despite the "those were against Elson" protests. Still, I think the let "Nesty get his and shut everyone else down" strategy is sound. If it works against Amare, it'll work against The Solid Slovenian.
1. Tony Parker- 27 and 9, what can I say, he was brilliant. If I ever tweaked his Wikipedia page though, it might start a flame war on here. Maybe we should make a contest of it.
Record: 39-18 Streak: W-6
Up Next: Vs. Orlando Magic
Let's hold Howard to under ten dunks this time, m'kay?
P.S. You wanna vomit? Check this out. Way more disturbing than the video.