Fresh off a win against our arch-almost-rival, the Phoenix Suns, the San Antonio Spurs went to the Deep South to take on the Atlanta Hawks. The Spurs are once again on the right path- the winning one, and took out the Hawks 97-90 behind a balanced effort of our big three and a decent showing from George Hill off the bench. It was a slow paced game and I’m still not sure how the score ended up so high. Regardless, I don't remember the last time I was so excited to win two games in a row.
Let me get the following two paragraphs out of the way right from the get go. Kirk Hinrich is probably my favorite non-Spur, maybe of all time. I can remember watching him playing for the "baby Bulls" teams a few years ago, and I remember him and Joakim Noah played such excellent defense that they took the Celtics to 7 games. Hinrich started covering Rajon Rondo (and did this), then switched to Ray Allen, and finally took a turn on Paul Pierce. I have never, ever, seen a point guard play defense with the tenacity Hinrich did. I have also never seen a point guard overcome the size differential that Hinrich had when covering Pierce as effectively as he did. He legitimately shut him down. He didn’t play dirty, he didn’t take cheap shots, but he played with an old school physicality and intelligence that the vast majority of players (not just young players) in this league lack. That was the beginning of my giant man crush on Kirk Hinrich.
That was the first thing I needed to get out of the way. Now, I need to talk a little bit about Al Horford and why if I was starting a franchise from scratch, he would be the first big that I took. Horford is, by far, the best young PF in the league. The best thing about him? He’s been playing out of position (at Center) his entire career with no other big-man help, and he is still putting up all star type numbers. He’s no Tim Duncan, but he’s also never had a stable coaching situation and he’s never spent a whole year playing his natural PF position. Would Hawks be better pairing him with a real Center instead of making him play it? I don’t know. This is a Spurs blog, so I’ll get back to talking about them. Sorry for the detour.
There was a lot of back and forth action, with both teams playing (mostly) pretty good defense. So far it’s been a pretty slow half court game. We’ve moved the ball really well. I don’t think there have been lots of assists, but we constantly are reversing the court, moving the ball in and out and from ball side to weak side. We played Bonner and Blair together. Tonight, that’s OK as long as they aren’t force feeding Horford down low. They don’t have anyone else down low that can exploit our defense. But Jamaal Crawford can. He’s heating up, which means we absolutely have to have someone on our bench heat up. Sloppy execution, once again, to end the quarter. I think recently closing out quarters/halves has been our biggest Achilles heel. Whether it’s bad offense (which leads to bad defense), or outright bad defense, we haven’t been able to close things out, and in the last two or three minutes we went from one basket down to 5 points down. That’s not much, but it’s the way it happened- we had at least three turnovers - one from Tony, a loose-ball/offensive foul on Blair, and one from Hill where he fumbled the ball.
We open with a Blair dunk followed by him picking up his second foul on the defensive end. Let’s hope he can play a bit longer before picking another one up. I think this might be a good example of Pop using a situational rotation, if the Hawks had a low post presence outside of Horford. But they do have a player in Zaza Pachulia who’s as active on the glass as Bonner is in a Hoagie Hut. For all Splitter brings to the table, and it is a lot, "energy" type bigs will destroy him right now. He doesn’t have the conditioning to constantly keep up with someone like Zaza. But Blair does. In fact, that’s what Blair is made for.
Josh Smith interview during the timeout - that’s interesting. He didn’t sound nearly as boneheaded as I expected him too. Not boneheaded at all, actually. Meanwhile, Blair has drawn two fouls on Pachulia. Way to get those two back, DeJuan.
We turned the ball over six times in the first half, but it felt like 26. I hate turnovers.
Halftime Score: 46-43
So far, it’s been Tim Duncan (5-6 FG, 4-4 FT, 4 Rebounds) vs Al Horford (5-9 FG, 5 Rebounds, 3 Assists) and Jamaal Crawford (The other half of Al’s assists, 5-7 FG, 2-3 3ptFG) in a handicap match. Tim needs a tag partner. Anyone? Anyone? Please?
As a team, the Hawks shot 54% in the first half. I promise, that sounds a lot worse than it is. Most of their shots have been contested and most of them have been longer jump shots.
What we need to change to win? Well, we need a super sub. George Hill is doing OK. But what we really need? More Novak. We only shot 6 threes and we only made one. We do our best when we shoot at least 17, and make at least 10. So by my math we need 9 more. Pop, it’s time to put in Bonner, Novak, Neal, Manu, and Hill. In 5 minutes we’ll either be up by 30 or down by 30. Either way, our stars can get some rest before the playoffs. If only one of them is hot, have the others use the flying V formation to set screens and free up the shooter for open baskets.
That’s sound logic. Right guys? But seriously. We’ve only lost two games all year where we shot close to 40% from 3 (both against Portland). Need more Novak.
The Spurs opened the quarter playing much, much better defense, and regained the lead. Were it not for the dastardly Kirk Hinrich, the Spurs could have pulled away.
GREAT play from the Hawks. For several plays in a row, Hinrich brought the ball up over halfcourt and stopped at the top of the three point line. Joe Johnson started on the baseline, curls off a screen set by one of their bigs, then starts to set a screen for Hinrich, initiating a 1/3 pick and roll situation. The first play, Johnson slips the screen and since RJ was showing hard on Hinrich, he was out position and Johnson got a semi-open jumper, which he drained.
The next time up the court, same initiating sequence, Johnson again slips the screen, but this time, Tony and RJ switch, even on the slip. This creates a mismatch with Johnson posting TP up from pretty far outside. Tim Duncan comes to help but doesn’t double hard. Zaza Pachulia, being covered by Bonner, comes to the free throw line, Hinrich is still at the top of the key, and I believe Horford was still on the near block. If you’re counting, that’s 4 Hawks players, and the Spurs are already rotating with a half double on Joe Johnson. The fifth Hawk? Jamaal Crawford going to the far corner, way out of reach of the Spurs defense. Johnson makes the difficult cross court pass out of the post, and Crawford drains the corner three. That, my friends, is beautiful basketball.
Following that play, the teams went back and forth and the Spurs ended the quarter up by 1.
Dominique, if you mention Blair’s ACLs ONE MORE TIME, I’m going to drive to Atlanta tonight and surgically remove yours. Mk?
Speaking of Blair, he and Bonner once again successfully held down the fort together. Both of them showed aggression on both sides of the court. Blair missed a couple bunnies and Bonner missed everything except the rim, but I liked their activity.
I just saw us attempt to run the Richard Jefferson lob play. One thing I’ve noticed is that if teams have it covered, and the lob isn’t there, then there isn’t much of a secondary option on the play (except for Tony Parker making something happen, which isn’t bad as far as second options go). This might be why we don’t see it run more often. Most of Pop’s plays, especially in more crunch time situations, have lots of off ball action that gives the person with the ball at least a primary option and a secondary option within the play. Most of the time, defenses can only take one option away. I’d need to see a replay, because there might have been a Spur on the other side with an opportunity for a 3, but that only works if the defense collapses on the lob. You don’t have to collapse on it to defend it well - you just have to be able to either get around the screens or bump RJ as he’s coming off them. So I know it looks pretty, but don’t expect to see it more than a couple of times per series in the playoffs.
Remember how I wrote at the half we needed a tag partner for Duncan? Well, we got 3. Parker and Hill dominated the third quarter, then Hill and Manu dominated the fourth. The game was close in the first half, but the way we came out in the third quarter didn’t leave much doubt in my mind that we were going to pull out the win.
This is what yall really read this for, right? I’m supposed to say something smart or controversial, is that it? Well I'm going to keep it short and sweet, because bloggers have to rest up before the playoffs too. Let’s talk about the defense tonight. We allowed them to shoot a god-awful horribly atrocious (for us) 52.7%. Excuse me while I go throw up. But wait - we held them to 5-15 shooting in the fourth. That’s 33.33 (repeating, of course)%. That ain’t half bad. Most of the shots they did make were either contested or circus shots. In the third quarter, our shooting defense wasn’t great but we forced three or four turnovers. If we execute on offense, which we did tonight, causing turnovers is an effective way to defend, and so is playing good positional defense and just contesting shots. As long as we’re doing one or the other in any given quarter, I like our odds, especially in a slow pace game like tonight.
Third Star: Manu Ginobili. A respectable 6-12 shooting (even if he missed all his 3’s), 6-6 from the line, 4 assists, a steal, and a block. Would be higher on my list, but he had 3 turnovers, and 2 of them were him getting straight up outplayed by his defender, and one of those came in the last couple minutes of the game as we were trying to close them out.
Second Star: Tony Parker. Lead the team in scoring on 10-16 shooting, had 5 rebounds, had 4 assists, a steal, and only two turnovers.
First Star: Tim Duncan. Carried us in the first half, and showed why he’s one of the most efficient players in the game. Finished 6-8 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 0 turnovers.