Game 59 @ Houston: Spurs 97, Rockets 74
And that makes eight in a row. Nothing seems to bother this team anymore. Playing a team that handed it to you twice already this year? Eh. Playing them on a segababa? Whatev. Playing them on a segababa without the wee rapping Frenchman?
They. Don't. Fucking. Care.
Like I wrote in yesterday's Orlando recap, as long as the Spurs play this hard and communicate this well on defense, they'll be in any game no matter who the opponent is or what the circumstances are. So I suppose going up against a Rockets team that's already scoring-challenged on their best day and facing them Yao and Bonzi is almost like stealing at this point. Outside of T-Mac how could they possibly score?
With Timmy and Elson sealing off the paint Houston would have had to go crazy from outside to have a chance and that's just not who these guys are. As a shooter Skip To My Loo is god awful. The problem is they can't start Luther Head over him because he's worse defensively and doesn't have Alston's handle or floor vision. T-Mac basically has to be the full time point when Head is on the floor. Just like the Orlando game Houston got off only 65 shots (helped in part by 18 ghastly turnovers) and 23 of those were from downtown. This is excellent news my friends.
There is only one team in the NBA that can beat you consistently shooting from outside and it ain't the Dallas Mavericks. To me one stat above will tell you all you need to know about whether we're going to shock the experts and win it all this year: Can we keep Francisco Elson on the floor? Believe it or not when The Flying Dutchman is on the floor 22 minutes or more we're 19-0 this year. He played 34 minutes against Houston and we dominated them. If he can play the majority of the games in the playoffs and stay out of foul trouble while still being a factor defensively and on the boards, we've got a realistic shot at it. I know it's asking a lot for him to guard Dirk without fouling, but it's pretty much our only chance. We need two bigs to rebound and for Bowen to check The Big Bug. It can be done. (We just gotta get by the Suns first).
As far as the Houston game went though, it was still remarkable that we played so well offensively considering that Tony was out and Manu might as well have been (1-8). Yeah Gino had six dimes, but he was only + 4 for us, the worst of anybody on the team who didn't play just during garbage time, so really he was a non-factor. That we still scored so well is mainly a tribute to Timmy the Golden God. He tied the Rockets in scoring for the first quarter 15-15 and put all their bigs in foul trouble in the process. Duncan made four, count `em four bankshots in the game plus a couple of other off balance falling backward doohickeys that were just sick. He could do pretty much whatever he wanted out there and it just opened up the game for everyone else. You wanna know why we're so much better in segababas this year than last? Three simple words: Timmy. Fucking. Duncan. For the record I know either Dirk or Nash will win the MVP - and they deserve it - but I think it's ridiculous that Tim's not in the conversation. Nobody in the league is better when you account for all 94 feet. Hopefully he'll have a chip on his shoulder about it this May.
The other key though was the play of our backup points. By now we've become accustomed to Vaughn's heady floor game and sticky D, but how `bout that Beno Udrih eh? Twelve points on 4-7, hit both of his threes, four rebounds and three (actually four) helpers in 27 minutes. Let's face it, Leslie Alexander might be listed as the owner on the Rockets' media guide, but this is Beno's House. He could be an All-Star if he played 41 games a year at the Toyota Center. We should trade him to Houston in the offseason for Shane Battier? No? How about Chuck Hayes then? Steve Novak?
Just not Vassilis Spanoulis. He stinks. (Sorry Manolis, but he does). Guy can't go three straight possessions without a turnover.
In small doses Beno might not kill us, under the right circumstances. For most of the 2nd quarter Manu was the de facto point guard, always handling the ball, always making the decisions and Udrih was at the two. Really the main reason he lost his job is defense. Vaughn allows 86.2 points per 48 mins, Beno's at 93.4. Admittedly those numbers are skewed somewhat by the jokers the Bean Burrito has to share the floor with in fourth quarter blowouts. The best way to illustrate that he's a Slovenian victory cigar is this: The Spurs are 11-0 when he plays 18+ minutes. Clearly both he and Elson have to play more.
Whatever. Our two backup points combined 20 points on 8-12 shooting and had 9 (actually 10) assists. We're 2-0 in games Tony has sat out this year and had no problems scoring whatsoever in either game. Could it be that shooters respond positively to point guards who look to get them the ball? Nah, that's crazy talk. And that 65 point half we had against the Clips when Tony had 12 dimes and took one shot was just a fluke as well. I'm just babbling. Anyway, because Tony was out with the hip flexor we activated Melvin Ely, who I believe is the first Spur to have cornrows since Ron Mercer. Am I wrong about this? Ely's debut was decent enough (7 minutes, 1-2 FG, 2 rebs) but for some goofy reason the score keeper awarded him with an assist on a possession where he never touched the ball. Beno passed it to Fab for a baseline jumper, clear as day and Ely got the assist. I've said it before and I'll say it again: NBA Scorekeepers are glue sniffing gerbil jockeys. One of these days they're going to screw Manu out of a triple double and my head will explode.
Despite the drubbing it'd be foolish to dismiss the Rockets as a contender. Rumor has it that the big Chinese feller will be coming back on Monday and hopefully his game will be back to 100% by late April. Obviously I'm a Spurs fan first and foremost but I'm still curious about what this squad could accomplish if their two stars could ever be completely healthy simultaneously. I think they could give Dallas some serious problems in the second round and I'm hopeful they'll get the chance. And I don't want to make it sound like I'd rather duck the Mavs because that's definitely not the case. I feel that the Yao-T-Mac-Bonzi triumvirate gives us more match-up headaches than anyone. I'll be rooting for them in the second round simply because the Rockets are my second favorite team and I hate Dallas, that simple. Not for one second do I think they'll be any easier to beat.
Alright I'm lying. They'd be easier. I don't care.
Your 3 Stars
3. Beno Udrih- Rafer Alston's Daddy.
2. Francisco Elson - 13 and 8, team best + 32 in 34 mins.
1. Tim Duncan- The talking heads at WOAI had the nerve to debate whether he or Manu is the team's best player. Kori Ellis looked embarrassed to even be a part of the discussion. And rightfully so.
Record: 41-18 Streak: W-8
Up Next: @ Los Angeles Clippers
Both teams will likely be without their starting points, Tony with the bad hip for us, E.T. with a groin strain for them (must be hard to run while supporting the weight of those gigantic testicles night after night). Couple that with Livingston's horrific injury from last week and we might be looking at a duel of Vaughn/Udrih vs. Daniel Ewing and Will Conroy. We've already laid the wood to these guys twice this year so I'm not too concerned. Gonna have to tape "Heroes" though. Dammit.