Let's see... we're down 2-0 in the series. About 94% of the time, that ends badly (just ask the Phoenix Suns or my San Jose Sharks). What do we do what we do what do we do?
Well, this might be cra-Z, I mean, really, really out there, but how about we start our second best player and play him a shitload of minutes since y'know, this game is important an' all. He just got named third team All-NBA, so that kind of unofficially makes him one of the 15 best players in the league. Perhaps we should like use him and give him more than 12 shots per game. Whaddaya think?
Eric Bana? Edward Norton? Get the fuck outta here with that shit.
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Oooh ooh also... and I warn you that this idea is even wackier than the last one... how about we use our best perimeter defender to guard their best perimeter scorer? That's just so batshit insane that it might catch the Nooch off guard, right?
Might as well try it, since we don't have anything to lose except for a couple more basketball games.
So there you go amigos, just like that, presto-change-O, our lovable Spurs are back in the saddle, their geriatric bodies still alive and kicking, their seldom rhythmic pulse once again athumpa-thumpa-thumpin'. And all it took was two strategic changes so simple a Cav man could make 'em.
Okay, okay, it wasn't quite that simple. We still needed Antoine to play Chris Paul to a draw on the offensive end, (no easy task, that) needed Plainview to start driving inside and start drinking some people's fucking milkshakes and we needed two guys who we wouldn't bet our lives on making open jumpers in Bruce and Fin making open jumpers. But you know, after all that stuff happened, it was totally easy.
Sacrebleu! You like making lay-ups too?
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Except it wasn't. As good as we played offensively, and as sound as our defensive game plan was, it still wasn't enough to make it a formality. We played our guts out against them, and usually, in all my years as a Spurs fan, when such an event occurs, the result is an inevitable blowout, not a back and forth affair that wasn't settled until maybe four minutes to go.
This has me very, very concerned.
Why didn't we kick their asses?
Because Chris Paul is ridiculously good, that's why. In fact, he just might be the single best player we've ever gone up against in The Big Three Era. Better than the '03 O'Neal, better than the '04 Kobe, better than the '05 Nash, better than the '06 Dirk, better than the '07 James. This guy tops them all. We've never faced anyone who can score so effortlessly for himself and consistently get his guys easy shots no matter what defensive looks we throw at him, all without seemingly ever making a mistake.
The acrobatic lay-ups, the floaters, the jitterbugging through the lane, finishing with english with either hand, we've seen all that. Thanks to the Wee Frenchman, we see it every freakin' game.
It's the passing that's the show. The patience he has and the way he sets up defenders to get Tyson Chandler, a guy with practically no offensive game whatsoever, dunk after dunk after dunk. Paul never forces the pass, never telagraphs it, always wait for the guy in front of him to commit first, like a good goalie facing a shooter on a breakaway. Not only do the alley-oops get the Nooch easy points, but they energize Chandler - the team's defensive linchpin - on the other end, where he's the key to making things work on that end of the floor.
Two plays, on back to back possessions at the end of the first half really stood out for me and really showed how good Paul really is.
On the first, Tony had just made a tough baseline floater, and as is his wont, he was crumpled in a pile on the floor. Paul, realizing he had numbers, quickly raced the ball down the floor, catching our defense in a scrambling backpedal. He saw David West barreling down the right side of the lane, unchecked. The closest guy to him was Manu, on the elbow. Paul feinted the pass to West and Manu took a couple of steps over to the lane, in the hopes of drawing a charge, one would assume. That left the trailer, Peja Stojakovic, wide open for three, which he canned.
On the next sequence there was Paul in the lane, rubbing off a Chandler pick, and Paul did this thing with his shoulder, this little twitch, that to Ginobili must have seemed instinctively familiar, like déjà vu. Manu sniffed out an alley-oop to Chandler and reacted accordingly, racing over to intercept a lob pass that never came. Instead the pass went to Ginobili's man, Morris Peterson, in the corner for another three.
To the untrained eye, it looks like Manu screwed up royally twice in a row and left his guy open shots. But did that really happen? Did Paul intend to pass out to his shooters all along in the hopes of getting them going? Or was his original plan to get his inside guys two dunks and the ensuing result the byproduct of CP3 making split second decisions to counter-react Ginobili's defensive improvisations? Did Manu make the right play twice, trading the takeaway of the easy two for the sacrifice of the open three, or was he simply suckered twice into mindlessly humming along to the symphony that Paul had orchestrated from the beginning?
We'll never know.
Uh oh. Who's got Chandler?
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Here is what we do know: On the court, Chris Paul, in addition to being a wondrous virtuoso talent, is also a prick. A total, classless, bitch-ass punk. He whines, he berates teammates and officials, he talks shit, he struts, he poses, he preens, and he flops enough to make Rivaldo blush. I don't know if it's the Napoleon complex, this gigantic chip on the shoulder he's got, but I don't think it's an impossible thing to ask, for an athlete to excel without acting like a total asshole, making sarcastic comments at halftime about his opponents' accomplishments, just being disrespectful in general. I will never understand, for many superstar athletes, why the hardest thing in the world, the one missing line on an otherwise spotless résumé is to play with sportsmanship and a sense of humility.
The trio of Paul, West and Chandler seem intent to prove they're not afraid or intimidated by the champions, and that's all well and good. More power to them. But you earn respect by making shots on one end and making stops on the other. You don't earn it by going into tuck-and-rolls like you were just tossed out of a Honda Civic on I-35 or trying to talk shit to Fabricio Oberto. I would much prefer it if the Hornets could just shut up and play.
As for our Spurs, who the hell knows what's going to happen? Pop shortened the rotation big time in Game 3 and in the long run that does us more harm than good. We're too old to lean on just seven guys and it's highly unlikely that Bruce will play like he's worthy of 40+ minutes game after game. I think for us to win three more games we'll have to get viable contributions from Brent and Ime.
One thing we saw in stretches in Game 3 that I believe is a must going forward is for us to GO. Get some easy fast break points with Tony. Make quicker decisions and quicker drives. Both Tim and Manu had success when they attacked a single defender before a second one could arrive (to double in Tim's case, to trap in Manu's). We have to get into the lane, draw fouls on Chandler, and hopefully get him out of the game. The Spurs were +7 during Tyson's 12 minutes on the bench, only +4 in his 36 minutes on the court. We're going to need more points in the paint next game, especially from Timmy, because it's probably unrealistic to expect Fin and Bruce to shoot 7-14 from beyond the stripe again. For another three point explosion to happen, Brent and Ime will have to be prominently involved.
We need more of this Timbot.
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
This game is every bit the must win that Game 3 was. All the last win did was make the Hornets shrug. The underdog always gets Game 3 when they're down 2-0, it's no big accomplishment.
We get this one though, and the Hornets will do more than shrug. They'll think. And when you get a young team thinking instead of acting, you've got them right where you want them.