Lakers 102, Spurs 95 1st in Southwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference
One of my fondest memories of childhood was watching MacGyver religiously every Monday. Now I'm not a fictional spinster who works at the DMV with my twin sister, and I've never cared for science (it was my worst subject at school), but I LOVED MacGyver. Seriously, who didn't love MacGyver? That show lasted seven seasons on primetime TV despite having almost comically bad acting from everyone except the lead and, at times, dialog worthy of a porno.
None of it mattered. Not the cheezy acting, not Richard Dean Anderson's mullet, not the 800 lb. gorilla in the room that the guy was somehow never too concerned with finding himself a lady friend. MacGyver was a badass. Just the opening theme song would get me geeked up. WHO DOESN'T LOVE THE MACGYVER THEME SONG?
Who cares about things like "acting" and "complex storylines" and "character development"? Nobody on "The Wire" can do anything with a Swiss Army Knife but go all stabby with it.
MacGyver Intro (via nathanmx)
You DID NOT want to disturb me during my weekly MacGyver fix or else I would've found a way to make a crossbow using just my Legos, some dental floss and the "TV Guide" on the coffee table and make you immediately regret the decision.
As I sat there watching the first half of our recent loss to the Lakers, stewing in my own juices, I was reminded again exactly why we all miss one Emanuel David Ginóbili so god damn much. It's not the highlight plays that find their way onto Youtube mixes. It's not the way that no matter what simple basketball play he's making, whether it's a drive to the hoop, a pass, a block, whatever, he makes it look slightly different, in an inexplicable way, than everyone else. It's not his dashing good looks. Okay, it's his dashing good looks a little. Damn that boy sexy!
No, what makes Manu invaluable and irreplaceable is that he's basically the team's MacGyver. The problem solver. If he was a movie character he'd be James Bond. If he was an Autobot he'd be Jazz. He's not the guy to whom you ask "Why?" or "How?" You don't have to tell him anything at all. He knows what most be done.
The Cybertronian Manu, as illustrated by Guido Guidi
Manu will not provide an empty 25 points night in and night out. The Spurs don't need that. They have five other guys who can score over 20 on any given night (Tim, Tony, Mace, Rocket, Fin). No, Manu scores when the team needs him to score.
However, as we all know, it's never been just about scoring for Manu. He just knows, instinctively, what he needs to contribute. If the team needs rebounding, he rebounds. If they need play-making, he passes. If everyone is flat, he's liable to dunk on somebody to wake them up. When the other team can't seem to miss a shot, he draws a charge or gets a steal, a block, something. It's always something. He changes the momentum of games and takes them over by the sheer force of his will.
There's a term in soccer, where analysts label certain players a team's "talisman." It's not necessarily the team's best player, or their main goal scorer, as much as their most influential player, the team's heart, the ones the others rally around. For example, Ryan Giggs, the longtime veteran of the world's best soccer team, Manchester United, is the team's talisman. Man U has many more heralded and talented players such as Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez, van der Sar, Ferdinand, and Berbatov. But it's Giggs, the scrappy Welsh winger, who holds that team together. Sometimes he starts, sometimes he comes off the bench, but he can play a holding role, he can mark, tackle, he can be a playmaker, he can attack off the left wing, he sets up the corners, and he comes through with goals at the most opportune times.
Ronaldo is either the best player in the world or in the discussion, but when he leaves for Real Madrid this offseason, the fans won't lose a minute's sleep over it. The squad will just sign some other superstar and life will go on. But trust me on this, there would be a mass riot on the streets of Manchester if Man U ever sold Ryan Giggs.
Anyway, as I watched our wretched first quarter against the Lakers, where they hit shot after shot and we spent the whole time either launching bricks or foolishly turning it over, I knew the game would've evolved in a radically different way had Manu played. I'm not guaranteeing we'd have won or anything - that'd be silly. I'm just saying Gino wouldn't have let the Lakers slap us silly for the entire first quarter. He would've responded, somehow, some way. He would've brought the Spurs into the debate and dragged the rest of the group into the challenge LA was issuing.
Look, I know we're a good team. Even without Manu, we're one of the better teams. Tim is that good. Tony, especially this year, has really stepped up his game. He is an elite guy. The rest of the guys, Mace, Fin, Bonner, KT, etc., they all contribute just enough - with Pop mixing and matching the pieces as best he can - and on most nights it's good enough. We're not in the top level, with LA, Cleveland, Boston, maybe Orlando, but even without Manu we're in that second tier with Houston, Portland, Utah, basically all the other Western playoff teams. What Ginóbili does is elevate us head and shoulders above these pretenders and onto that top level.
I don't think it's a coincedence that the last three times we've beaten LA, Manu was the MVP of each game. January 14, 2009, he dominated the game for three quarters before the Lakers pulled out all the stops to take the ball away from him in the fourth (the Spurs barely held on). Last year, May 25th, Manu's one good game in the Western Conference Finals, he scores 30 playing on a ravaged ankle and the Spurs win easily, 103-84. Neither of those games really exemplifies Manu's value though, like last year's 103-91 win on January 23rd, 2008. You look at the box score and you think Duncan dominated the game with 28 and 17, and that Manu had a rough night shooting 3-of-16 and finishing with just 12 points. Trust me though, it was Ginobili who completely took over that game defensively, coming up with eight steals and electrifying the whole building. His energy just spread like a virus, infecting the rest of the team. When Manu's at his best, he makes everyone around him play like their hair's on fire. He just inspires people.
We were certainly missing that on Thursday, coming out emotionally dead and completely unprepared for LA. Duncan looked stiff and sluggish the whole game. He couldn't jump, couldn't run, couldn't even bend his legs really. It was the worst I've seen him, from a health standpoint, in considerable time and I'm not at all convinced that he wouldn't be on IR right now if Manu was perfectly healthy. Not only was Pau Gasol having his way with Timmy, but a bum like D.J. Mbenga was as well. Very troubling. Sometime between now and the end of the year, Timmy I think is gonna have to take another week or two off and get his body ready for the playoffs. He hasn't been right for a while.
Tony on the other hand has been playing superbly for a good long stretch here and carrying the team on his little girly shoulders with aplomb. Against LA however he missed his wake-up call and was flat out terrible for a half. He dribbled the ball listlessly, not initiating any kind of offense for himself or others, and he made a number of stupid turnovers, chief among them an attempt to force a bullet pass to Duncan inside through a maze of arms when Bonner was completely alone in the corner for an open three. Parker was a big reason we were down 18 after the first quarter (his closeout defense on Fish was nothing to write home about), but to his credit he's gotten a lot mentally stronger this year and he battled back with a fine second half to spark a rally and make the game competitive.
Finley led the way for the comeback with his highest scoring game of the season, and his three first half threes kept the first half from becoming a complete farce, but he was only an asset from the second quarter on. In the first quarter he was basically trading buckets with Trevor Ariza, leaving him completely open. Matt Bonner meanwhile had an awful showing, registering a -17 in 13 minutes of "work" as both Gasol and Odom scored on him effortlessly. Banner only contributed three points to the cause and couldn't corral a single rebound. The Lakers' manhandling of the Spurs on the glass (they would get ten more shot attempts) was one of the three major factors that led to us losing the game, along with poor free throw shooting (Tony was an uncharacteristic 3-of-7), and too many turnovers (a bad day for the point guards as Parker had five giveaways and Hill had three, in 14 minutes).
Despite the loss I remain convinced that the Lakers can be had, particularly if Andrew Bynum won't be 100%. Their bench is both inconsistent and overrated. Jordan Farmar plays too fast and out of control and is practically useless on the road. The others are all easily defensible and won't beat you off the dribble. The team's defensive philosophy seems to play into the Spurs' strengths as they allow lots of open threes. It's just a matter of making them. Also, there's no one on the roster who can guard Tony and if they stack people in the lane to cut off his penetration, that should open up our shooters even more. Obviously Tim and Manu will have to be healthy and everyone will have to contribute what's expected of them.
One future match-up I don't believe in is George Hill against Kobe. I thought he did okay against Bryant, but nothing special. He also gave up buckets to Walton and Vujacic when he was on them. I thought Bruce still did the best against Kobe overall and I'd be very surprised if Pop didn't go back to it should we face these guys for keeps. Right now he's just trying to see what his youngster's made of. He already knows what he has in Bruce.
Spurs 88, Rockets 85 Spurs 44-21 1st in Southwest Division, 2nd in West
Speaking of knowing what we have, I was delighted to see a vintage defensive, gutty, road performance from the Spurs against the always streaky Rox. It was one of those "just enough" games where whatever facet of the contest you want to talk about, the guys did it just well enough to get by. It certainly wasn't pretty, but it's the kind of games you have to win not just to stay ahead in the standings, but also in May when few playoff games are Mozarts.
The big story, of course, was Drew Gooden's play in his first real hunk of playing time; 15 minutes to be exact. While 13 and 4 certainly makes for a good first impression, I think it best to not get too carried away. Offensively Gooden is an asset in that he gives us something we haven't previously had - a second legitimate post-up threat. And I recognize the importance of that. But ultimately, for him to integrate fully into the offense he will have to work on his passing, set better screens and exercise better shot selection. There were a number of times I thought he passed up a perfectly open 17-footer to take more difficult runners in the lane.
I have questions about his game, and I'm guessing Pop does as well, and we'll both get them answered over the next month. For example, I know that Pop called a lot of plays for Gooden when he was in there, partly to get his feet wet, so to speak, and partly because for long stretches against Houston's defense not much else was working. What I want to know is how Gooden functions without the ball, without plays called for him. Will he keep his head in the game? Will he lose focus and take silly over-the-back fouls in hopes of getting offensive rebounds or play lackadaisically on the other end? Or what about if he's posting up and gets doubled? Can he make the right pass? Can he be trusted to not force up bad shots?
Defensively Gooden's been about what I expected so far. His size, physicality and athleticism will make him a better option than Bonner on most bigs we face, but as a team defender, I don't have much faith that he will make the proper rotation time and again. Hell, even Timmy screws up rotations sometimes. I just want it made clear to Gooden that it's his play on this end of the floor that will determine how much playing time he gets. And four rebounds is okay for 13 minutes, but nothing spectacular.
My biggest question with Gooden, and one that I have no clue what the answer will be is how the guy will play with Duncan. Pop has yet to have them share the court so far, but it will happen eventually. Gooden has ample experience playing with a center, having laced 'em up alongside "The Big Z" in Cleveland for a while, but Ilgouskas was more of a high post/wing shooter. Timmy's taking more jumpers now than ever, so perhaps he'll relent the post-up duties to Gooden when they're on the court together and play as a true power forward. However Gooden is used, it is exciting to have another guy who can post up and it should give the second unit another option besides the screen/roll with Manu.
Outside of the new guy, kudos have to go once again to Tony Parker, who was having a fairly ordinary outing before scoring the Spurs' final nine points and 11 of their final 15. 10-of-23 from the field doesn't look so hot, but getting points against the Rockets has often been akin to squeezing blood from a rock for the Spurs, so you take what you can get.
"I'm married to who? Really? Wooooooooooooo!"
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Also, Duncan looked noticeably sprier today than against the Lakers, and while he isn't anywhere close to 100%, it is hopefully a sign that he's turned a corner in his recovery. The Spurs have no chance to win anything if the Duncan they're riding with is Thursday's version. They need a guy who can run and jump and move, if only a little. Similar to Tony's evening, Tim didn't have an impressive shooting night, but he made an impact on the game with 15-12-4. Perhaps his biggest play though was a block on Aaron Brooks' layup attempt when the Spurs were nursing a one point lead late. Parker hit two free throws after Houston fouled and then the we survived a couple of three point attempts to survive with the win.
We also got some solid efforts from Fin, Kurt and Eeyoopeeyoo, as well a ten rebound outing from Rocket. Like I said, it was just enough. We're still hanging in, by hook or by crook, as the two seed. But we need our MacGyver back and we're running out of time. At this point I'd even take Manu back with a mullet. I just hope his ankle will be held together by more than paper clips and a rubber band.