Is it just me, or are the Spurs playing their best defense of the season? Their rotations are strong, they are playing more physical than I can remember, and their double-teams are immaculate. Who is responsible for this havoc-wreaking defense? What adjustments have resulted in the sudden emergence of this, dare I say, championship-level defense?
In my opinion, the credit should go to Antonio McDyess and George Hill. It seems that Antonio McDyess has pulled a Robert Horry on us. He coasted through the regular season prompting many of us to question whether he was too old, too slow, or too unmotivated to be the big man that this Spurs team desperately needed. He was missing his jumper, his defense seemed extremely exploitable, and his help rotations were a step slow. Well, apparently he just needed the post season lights to shine on him to snap him out of cruise control. I read on ESPN a month or two into the season that Dice was one of those guys that turned it on in the post season. I had hoped that this was the case, but it was just hope. Now it's reality and the Spurs defense it benefiting greatly from McDyess' improved play.
Now, take a look at the chart I just put together. I created this to illustrate what I feel is responsible for the Spurs' improved defense. Simply stated, McDyess and Hill are playing more minutes, resulting in our weaker defenders getting benched. Now, I do not want this to turn into a Red Rant, but I did want to point out that the Spurs are playing their best defense of the season because Dice and Blair are getting more minutes at Bonner's expense. Even the biggest Matt Bonner fan on the planet has to admit that his defense is poor. He tries as hard as anyone on the floor, but he was simply not blessed with the talents necessary to play shut-down defense. Pop has apparently noticed this, I have no idea what took so long, but the minutes and our team defense is reflecting it.
Clearly, George Hill was coming off of injury, and that is why he only played 18 minutes in Game 1. But even so, when we give George Hill minutes, our team is much better. I wrote before Game 4 that George Hill was our Difference Maker and if he could give us 15+ points a game, we would win the series. Well, he exploded for 29 points and in a game that saw our Big 3 struggle mightily, Hill's play overcame it all and secured the win for us.
The bonus is that when Hill plays 45 minutes, it means that we do not have any left over for Roger Mason Jr. or Keith Bogans. Now, I know I will not get any hate from Mason supporters, because I don't think they exist. However, some of you may still be under the impression that Bogans is a good defender. I would argue that he is a situational defender. Bogans can be effective against the bigger, slower forwards in the league. Think Camelo Anthony / Lebron James type. Bogans is strong and has a low center of gravity, which is perfect for bodying up Melo and James. The problem with Bogans is that he is slow. He can get away with being slow when guarding bigger players because their first steps are not lightning quick, but he gets into trouble with the smaller, quicker guys, like a Jason Terry. This series is a horrible match-up for Bogans so the fewer minutes we play him the better.
Just to be clear, I am in no way attempting to downplay Tim, Manu, RJ, or Tony's defense. Tony does what he can, RJ has actually played very respectable defense, Manu is like a tornado on the defensive end, and Tim is the steady anchor of our team. But these guys have been performing well all season. I'm attempting to point out that the emergence of McDyess and the increase to Hill's minutes have pushed the Spurs' defense from respectable, to dangerous. As Spurs fans, we all know how important defense is to a championship level team. Defense can be a fixed value, offense is often variable. If our defense remains at the level we have witnessed over the past few games, this team could go all the way.