Game 3 San Antonio @ Denver: Spurs 96, Nuggets 91 (2-1)
Now that's Spurs basketball. We didn't dominate anything statistically but we hung in there, refused to be intimidated by the refs or the crowd, and pulled away a bit by bit thanks to our veterans. We didn't play gracefully or even particularly well for long stretches, but we didn't do anything overwhelmingly stupid either. Nobody killed us with a bonehead play or a nightmare performance.
The positives: We played to our strengths. We outscored `em by 18 from the three point line, won the defensive "playmaker" stats (steals + blocks) 16 to 7, and just didn't let Denver do anything better than us. Maybe a couple of things they did as well, like offensive rebounds, (which is to be expected) but they weren't better at anything.
Tim was again a strong presence inside, gobbled up seven big offensive rebounds, and once again did a good job of finding the open man when doubled.
Manu took it to the hole strong in the first half, got a few buckets (including a dunk) and paid dearly for his trouble as the Thuggets predictably resorted to hacking away at him whenever he penetrated in the second half.
Tony cut down on his turnovers from game 2, giving it away just once as opposed to six times, and he hit several big shots in the fourth when George Karl stupidly decided to put `Melo on him. That would be an example of what us basketball experts call "a speed mismatch." He also played his best defense of the series so far on AI.
Horry was sensational all game, showing all of us (including idiot me) that the 82 game regular season was just one elaborate game of Three Card Monte. Or in his case, perhaps Three Pointer Monte. Ha ha. His steal of a careless J.R. Smith inbounds pass and three pointer afterward late in the 3rd quarter turned the tide in our favor for good and was really the back breaking play of the game.
Findog wasn't much to write home about defensively, but he buried five threes and even rebounded and passed a little too. You don't mind the bricks so much when he's doing other things to fill up the box score, y'know?
The Negatives: The free throw disparity was a bit too much to ignore. I can't accept that Gino got 11 of the team's 14 attempts. What, nobody else got fouled all day? Nobody else was aggressive? I don't think so. Tony had 23 attempts and 0 free throws. But you don't catch Pop mentioning things like that in his press conferences, now do you?
Speaking of Tony's 23 attempts, that's really too many, if he's not having a good shooting night. Before this series Parker has had 14 career playoff games with 20+ attempts, and of those 14, he shot 50% or better in ten. So that's four playoff games his whole career where he's taken more than 20 and hit less than half.
He's already done it twice this year in three games. Not good. Pop has to rein him in a bit if the shot's not falling and tell him to spread the wealth.
Elson sucked again. I don't care that he hit a couple of pretty jumpers, his defense was terrible.
Fab, in his own right deserves to be held accountable for not coming up with a single defensive rebound in ten minutes. Eduardo Nejara, Nené and `Melo all went to town on him inside.
Bruce struggled mightily out there. He was so-so against Iverson, but Melo had his way with him most of the afternoon. Outside of a double team or a zone, there really isn't a whole lot we can do with Anthony. Bowen also reverted to his usual masonry on offense, so he was a liability there and finished the game a team worst -12.
Anyway, yeah, we got the toughest game there is to get. It wasn't a masterpiece, but playoff wins rarely are. As I said yesterday in the Mavs-Warriors blog, Game 3 is the toughest to win for a heavy favorite because the home fans are pumped to finally see a playoff game, the refs are eager to give the underdogs every benefit of the doubt, and the road team usually needs a game to adjust to their surroundings. In comparison Games 4 and 6 are much tamer. The "new" factor is gone from the fans and the game becomes just about basketball again.
With this win, we've won two in a row, taken back the home court advantage, and planted that seed of doubt in Denver's minds. Now they realize that even in a best case scenario, they'll have to win a Game 7 on the road to pull off the upset. They'll have to beat us 3 out of 4 to do it. Negativity has to be creeping in. Iverson and Anthony are already playing monster minutes. They can't play any harder. The whole team, the coach, the star players, the media, they all threw J.R. Smith under the bus after the game. Not exactly an encouraging sign from them.
I don't think Karl is coaching particularly well, not that he has many options. When your two best guys suck at defense, there's only so much you can do. The problem is that he only has six guys he can play. Najera doesn't hurt us. Yeah he gets his share of offensive rebounds, but he can't score at all so we can double off him all we want. Dude was -16 in 19 minutes for a reason. Smith is atrocious defensively and Manu can do whatever he wants against him.
Basically, if I'm Karl, I'd think about playing Camby, Nene, Anthony and Iverson 48 minutes and have Blake in there for 30 and Kleiza in for the other 18. No other line-ups are working. We play four minute stretches with Manu and four scrubs and build leads. Unreal. The one major mistake Karl made was not fouling until it was too late and he might want to consider fouling Duncan on purpose whenever he has the ball late if it's close. Fouling Manu isn't the best idea.
As for Pop, I'd play Brent Barry ten minutes more and both Fin and Bowen five minutes less. Barry can't be much worse defensively than Finley and if you're that worried about him on Carmelo, then put him on Blake/Kleiza and let Manu deal with `Melo for a bit and help him out on the weak side.
I'd also preach a little bit better ball movement. Between Tim/Manu/Tony/Horry/Fin, we probably took 15 out of rhythm jump shots that had no chance. That's like 8 too many for a whole game.
Besides that, we're good. Let's get this game and see Karl and co. go nuts in the presser.
Your 3 Stars
3. Carmelo Anthony - 28 and 12, giving us all kinds of trouble. If he can get garbage points on put backs, it's almost unfair.
2. Manu Ginobili - 19 points on 9 shots is always nice and he had 7 rebs and 5 helpers to boot. +15 for the game.
1. Robert Horry - Not only ten points but also 6 rebs, 2 steals and 3 blocks. Was all over the place. Also +15.