Another game, another win. We San Antonio Spurs fans used to be really comfortable saying that right around the period of the Rodeo Road Trip, but in November? Who would've guessed? The Utah Jazz announce team kept on mentioning that the Spurs are still undefeated this month (how does that sound, eh? like beautiful jazz music, me thinks) and I kept on pinching myself to wake me up from what seems like a dream start for our beloved Silver and Black. After all, I'd still rather have us peak towards the end and win it all than blast out of the gates and run out of gas at the finish line.
After the jump, the usual recap, and then I'll introduce you to a not-so-novel nor original concept I'd like to refer to as the Player Lock.
It's been a whirlwind two days for me so far, and my head is spinning. After attending a good friend's wedding, drowning singlehood in different variations of vodka and Jaeger bombs, I proceeded with two of my good buddies to a pool party which was deader than the corpse of Michael Finley. The good thing was, the open bar still had plenty of alcohol to go around, so we took turns taking shots of some unknown drink that practically led to me getting home without remembering how, crawling to the sofa with my suit intact and being startled three hours later by a wake up call from a teammate to remind me that we had a game at 9:00 am. At that time, it was 7:30 am already. Right on schedule.
You know what I just discovered this morning after spending more than half of my life playing basketball? It's incredibly tough and wrong to play ball with a terrible hangover and not enough sleep. I don't know how the Stephen Jacksons, Zach Randolphs, Isaiah Riders and Billy Ray Bates's of the world do it and then still be able to compete at the highest level the following day.
No doubt, our team's coach sensed my timid play. He left me out there for long stretches where I felt like puking, and my head swelling as if wanting to burst into a million different version of me scampering around the court. We proceeded to get blown out by 34 points. Not that I'm a really crucial part of the team, because we don't have much of a team in terms of talent anyway. I think I just wanted to sound "integral" to our success by sharing this bit of information. All things taken into consideration, I've already learned my lesson - don't even think about playing (or exercising for that matter) after a heavy night session painting the town puke-y flesh.
Anyway, before the start of the Jazz game, I hit up league pass and the first thing that pops out of the screen is Matt Harpring saying we're one of, if not the oldest team in the league??! Excusez-moi, WE ARE NOT OLD! I already knew the results, but not having watched the game, I initially thought we got a huge break with Jerry Sloan not being on the sidelines for this one.
Because I seriously need to get some reps with my pillow and bed, pardon me if I miss some good parts. For this recap, I had the intention of watching the game while observing one Spurs player carefully. Yes, its very FARS-like, and I ripped off the name from a random b -ball blog, who called it the Player Lock in the mold of those basketball sim games.
So who's the lucky guy to get burned on the initial salvo? Seeing his significant improvement at the start of the season, I wanted to get a clearer reading of Richard Jefferson 2.0. Is this transformation or reversion to the pure, unadulterated basketball player who once played for the back-to-back NBA Finals bridesmaids New Jersey Nets a testament to Pop and his staff's player development acumen? Or is it simply a result of a relatively pancake schedule? Or is it FSM's noodly appendage once again touching the life of a man scorned, if at times unfairly, last season? So many questions, so little time. Let's lock down RJ 2.0.
*I'm not really an expert at the FARS system, so I'll just go basic and put +1 for every good play and a -1 for the bad.
Is it just me or this whole divorce thing has actually helped the team put on their blinders and solely focus on winning every basketball game? From the beginning, the Spurs seems locked in, especially The Oldness, Tim Duncan, who starts aggressively - even tried to dunk in traffic over two JazzHands but missed. Blair was also a picture of what hustle looks like if it took on the shape and form of a human being, beating out the supposedly more active Millsap on the boards.
Jazz missing the great perimeter plays and defense of Wes Matthews and Ronnie Brewer. I mean, as much as Ronnie Price and CJ Miles have stepped up this season, Manu and Tony just kept on abusing them the entire game. Deron Williams isn't much of a defender either, while Raja Bell is washed up.
Speaking of, Raja, can you stop licking your fingertips, please? It's grossing me out. Our two all-world guards also continue wreaking havoc in the perimeter, creating 6 steals in the 1st quarter. On a side note, Parker's body control is amazing and his finishing abilities at the rim I feel is nearing 100 percent from what it was in 2008. It may or may not get there, but it's still better than probably 98% of PGs in the league.
We have our biggest lead at 21-6 after a perpetually smooth-like-Brian McKnight Dice J. The Jazz announcers gush over the Spurs finds - Hill and Neal.
One very noticeable trait so far has been the legitimacy of our outside threats, which shows with the team's league-leading three-point FG accuracy. Opponents are forced to scramble and the Spurs just have to patiently rotate the ball to find an open guy. Basketball becomes really simple and elegant when you got all the bases in your offense adequately covered.
Meanwhile, during a break in the action, the Jazz Bear is used as a human bowling ball and crashes into XXL softdrink bottles. The Jazz announcer proceeds to proclaim the Bear as the best mascot in the league. The Spurs' Coyote might have something to say about that, mister.
The second quarter was rather sloppy as the Spurs bench get outplayed by Jazz bench. Jazz cut lead the to 3 but Spurs extend it back to 7, with the rest of the quarter swinging between those two figures. Duncan also produces some spectacular blocks. His at-the-rim defense is awesome. How can you not love this old guy with bum knees? He just might be the most lovable man with two bad knees.
Late Bell three cuts lead to 44-40 at the half.
At this point, I'm feeling comfortable about the game. It seems like we could get whatever we want against the Jazz defense, and the team on the other end, has been making life harder for Sloan's Supertroops.
Player Lock Highlights:
1st Quarter (+3)
- Sets two screens and then receives the ball inside the paint but can't catch it, resulting in a TO. Not a good start. (-1)
- Hustles back to try and rebound a Parker miss, and creates an extra possession (+1)
- Manu gambles for a steal but RJ is just in time with the perimeter help D to challenge a Bell shot, causing Mr. Takedown to miss (+1)
- Challenges an AK47 long two which misses (+1)
- Long midrange jumper on a half-contested attempt misses (-1)
- Misses first 3-pt attempt, wide open from the corner (-1)
- Loses AK47 off a baseline screen but recovers to challenge the long two and miss (+1)
- From the top of the 3-pt line, recovers the ball on a broken play off a TP drive; pulls up near the FT line for a deuce, to put Spurs up 8-0 (+1)
- Millsap receives a nice pass on the right high post, drives to the hoop but RJ leaves AK to help TD and gets the Rage block, plus the save as the ball was going out of bounds! Pure athleticism and good recognition on the help. (+1)
2nd Quarter (+3)
- Mistimes his jump for the rebound off a FT miss, Kirilenko gets the ball and dishes to Big Al for the score (-1)
- TD loses the ball, Jazz 2-on-1 break against Manu. RJ hustles back to try and block AK's dunk attempt but instead, brushes Kirilenko's straw hair with his arm and gets called for a foul, and-1 for AK 47 and a minus-1 for Peanut (-1)
- Receives kickout pass from Gino at the 3-point line, fakes, drives to his left and pulls up for the J that's defended well by CJ Miles resulting in a miss (-1)
- Sags off Miles to provide help defense at the rim against Kirilenko, who then issues a drop pass to Miles in a very tough position beneath the rim. Miles faces a swarm of bigs and gets blocked (+1)
- Funnels Miles into the baseline where his floater is nicely contested by TD (+1)
- Receives an outlet off a defensive stop and drives hard to the rim to draw a foul: 2-2 FTs (+1)
- Strong dribble-drive move draws another foul but a non-shooting one (+1) - Defends Kirilenko floater and the miss (+1)
- Leads a 3-on-1 fastbreak and dishes off to Manu for the easy layup (+1)
Again, extra possessions created by Blair's rebounding and hustle keep Utah from going on a big run. Never underestimate the power of glass-pounding, as these plays continually snuffed the life out of a Jazz team that was supposedly a handful on the boards with glass-eating Wookies like Millsap and Al Jefferson. Actually, Blair AND Timmeh were the ones creating havoc in the paint with tap outs and offensive rebounding aggression (a sub-stat of URA).
If not for the tons of missed threes - I'm giving you the mad eye, Bonner (0-6) and Manu (1 -7) - the lead would have been bigger. Still, it's good to know we didn't die by the three as the lanes were open all night.
Big Al not getting into a rhythm because of foul trouble was also very critical to this game's success. Al got foul #4 with 7 minutes left in the third. To be honest, I still prefer Boozer in this team. Jefferson is just not as crafty underneath and in a general basketball sense as Bozeman, which leads Big Al to make dumb mistakes and expose his defensive deficiencies. Still, his coach now is Jerry Legend Sloan, so I'd hate to see the day when he finally improves on weaknesses in his game and beasts out.
With Big Al out, TD just had his way in abusing Elson. If I may share a not exactly expert view of Timmeh's brilliance, but one I really appreciated seeing: Aside from the gorgeous footwork, Duncan has perfected several nuances in his game. One of these is the subtle hooking of the hip of the defender when executing a spin move, just the right amount of push to avoid getting called for the offensive foul, but enough to create space and get off a decent look.
In one play, Timmy softly puts his palm on Elson's hip as Duncan spins to his right. This move is designed to slow down a fraction of a second on Elson's recover defense, but as Elson is nearing the point of getting good defensive position again to block out the spin move, TD spins back the other way and again puts on the subtle hand-wrist hook to free him up for good with the baby hook off the glass. A beauty.
Duncan surpasses The Admiral at 2nd in all-time points leader for the Spurs at the free throw line. Congrats Timmeh! (Some list Duncan as 1st in points scored in the NBA, but Gervin's ABA scoring still counts for some of us.)
Defense is pretty solid forcing the Jazz out of the paint, but we still can't make threes. Matt Bonner misses all his attempts and getting beat off the dribble by the Utah guards. - 342 in this game on the FARS. Fred finally wakes up from a two-game coma caused by Bonner's 9-9 streak.
The Spurs, feeling a little bit bored by the ineptness of the Jazz perimeter defense, allow the Comeback Kids of the season to tie the game off a Millsap and-1. Still that was the closest they'd get for the rest of the game.
With the Spurs up by 10 inside the 4 minute mark, D-Will scores to put some life in the crowd. Pop then calls a timeout to quash any signs of a run building. That's sound, smart coaching right there and Harpring gives GOML some props for it.
Manu puts the finishing touches with a tough layup over Kirilenko and a steal leading to two freebies. Ball. Game.
Player Lock Highlights:
3rd Quarter (+3)
- Receives a pass from the elbow area of the 3-pt line, quickly recognizes the defense in disarray and swings it to an open Parker for the corner three. Swish. (+1)
- Commits a foul on a driving AK47 (-1)
- Battles Big Al on the rebound after a missed Deron three and draws a loose ball foul on Al Jeff (+1)
- Failed gamble for a steal off an entry pass to AK frees the lane where Broom Hair dishes to Millsap for the score (-1)
- Successfully manages to scramble and contest a Raja Bell three (+1)
- Recognizes double on Duncan in the post and makes a hard cut in the middle of the lane where TD finds him leading to a shooting foul: 1-2 FTs (+1)
- Gets the ball a little inside the 3-point line and drives but gets called for travelling (-1)
- Good help defense at the rim - after Deron loses his man on the drive, RJ was there to provide a decent challenge that makes D-Will miss the layup (+1)
- Successfully distracts Kirilenko's midrange J by trying to sneak up under AK while craftily angling his body to avoid the foul. This, even without putting a hand up. The move seeds enough doubt on the shooter's mind that he might land on his defender, which is enough to cause the miss. (+1)
- Gets caught on an Elson screen leaving Matty alone to deal with an AK spin move, the layup plus one (-1)
- Does a good hustle job to save the ball off an errant Bonner pass to save what seemed like an already lost possession for the Spurs (+1)
- Just as the shot clock is running down with the play broken, RJ receives a pass from TD at the top of the three-point line, drives hard to his left after recognizing his defender overplaying the right, and draws the shooting foul: 1-2 FTs (+1)
- Fails to help out George Hill on the rebound tip struggle, with Millsap getting the O board and flushing the ball home (-1)
4th Quarter (+1)
- Receives a pass from Hill at the top of the right quarter 3-point line, fakes the drive with a quick first step then pulls back for the jumper. Swish. (+1)
- Gets the ball with 4 seconds on the shot clock, quick head and shoulder fake before driving and decking Price with the shoulder charge. Offensive foul. (-1)
- Drains the corner three from a Parker speeding-out-of-bounds feed for his final points of the night (+1)
- Short arms a wide open elbow three-pointer (-1)
- Huge late offensive rebound (one of his two total) off a Duncan miss to further dash the Jazz comeback hopes (+1)
3 - Manu
2 - Tony
1 - Timmy
Player Lock Summary- Richard Jefferson
RJ still stands in the corner most of the time, which has been by design since Bruce Bowen built his hacienda there. But now, instead of standing there ruing moments where his teammates fail to find him, he now has the presence of mind to sprint back as a safety when the guards are deep in the paint. This is important to note since Manu and Tony are mostly spending their time near the rim, which makes our transition defense susceptible to leak outs. Don't worry though, TP and Gino can attack all they want, because Rage has the transition D covered.
For the Jazz game, RJ started out roaming a bit on defense, not respecting AK's jumper that much. However, the Jazz staff recognized this and ordered Kirilenko often to put the ball on the floor and make RJ defend him more up close.
Both RJ's catch-and-shoot and shot off the dribble have improved tremendously this season. It's fairly obvious, but didn't you know I'm pretty good at playing Captain Obvious?
Princess Peanut has also become a critical part of one of the variatons of the 4-down play, with him setting up Duncan with the entry pass to the low block. If Tim isn't double-teamed, usually Jefferson makes a half-hearted cut to the middle knowing he won't get a pass. Despite this, I think this adjustment has helped tremendously in keeping Rage involved. It's amazing how the effect of a few touches can do to your focus on the game.
Another set to keep Richard involved is one where he gets the ball at the top of the three- point line, waits for the guards to run routes using off-the-ball screens, and then dishes out to them when they shake free. It might not seem much, but it actually sets Rage up for several possible courses of action while holding the ball. For one, he's already in triple threat position, and can choose to take matters into his own hands. And then, this also forces him to direct an offensive play - his height allows him to get a good view to survey the play developing, and if it breaks down, I'm guessing he has the green light to take matters into his own hands. I'm no expert and may be speculating a bit, but RJ's relationship with the coach has come a long way for Pop to entrust him in initiating some of the offensive sets.
Lastly, what I like the most is that RJ's moves these days are now mostly measured and deliberate. He really seems to have figured out how to find his points within the flow of the game, which I assume stems from having a more improved familiarity with the team's style of play. After the game, the camera shows RJ talking to Big Al - the Jeffersons! - probably offering him advice, and then taps him on the chest as if to say, good game buddy. No Rage, let me tell ya - despite last night's stats not being as gaudy as those 20-point barrages from earlier this season - you still had a good game.
Up Next: A SEGABABA at home with the LeBron-less Cavs. Can we handle them? Hopefully, and put this win streak up the double-digit category!