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Morning Rehash: Popovich conducts a Wizards beatdown

Despite a career-worst shooting night from Tim Duncan, the Spurs blow out the Wizards, thanks to a huge run from the second unit.

"Pop, we're up by 20. Just let him play." "I hear you, Tony. But who's 'Nando'?"
"Pop, we're up by 20. Just let him play." "I hear you, Tony. But who's 'Nando'?"
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

"San Antonio runs offense perfectly. It was like listening to Mozart. It's just ridiculous how they play."

- Wizards center Marcin Gortat

I'm sure the analogy has been made before, but Marcin Gortat's postgame comments reminded me of just how much Gregg Popovich's approach to coaching resembles the art of conducting.

It's easy to think that conducting is something anyone can do. You grab your baton, put on a tailed tuxedo, wave your arms in rhythm, and watch as the musicians follow their sheet music. But people who see only the conductor's performance on a random night in November miss out on the subtle details behind each movement and the great amount of work required to put the conductor and his orchestra on the same page.

There's a difference between what Gregg Popovich and, say, Randy Wittman are doing. Both men are trying to conduct their own orchestras, but it was obvious to anyone that watched this game that mere hand waving does not a conductor make.

This Wizards team is probably better than their record would suggest, but it seems like we say that about them every year. John Wall has improved considerably. Bradley Beal is a baller. Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario form a quality front line. These parts should work.

Occasionally they do. Last night, after getting trounced 25-17 in the first quarter, the Wizards fought back to pull it within three in the middle of the third. Then, in Randy Wittman's words, it all went down the toilet.

Bad passes. Bad rotations. Bad shots. In the blink of an eye, the Spurs' second unit made a one-possession game a twenty-point deficit. The Wizards (who, it should be said, lost John Wall for a key stretch and Trevor Ariza for the second half) looked dumbfounded. Wittman called for energy, for a response. His team couldn't get on the same page.

Popovich continues to orchestrate his team at a master level, each player finding the role that best suits his talents. That second unit is something to behold. (Perhaps we should call them "The Brass Section." The unit has to be deployed with purpose and a sense of dynamics. And there isn't a player in that group that has an ounce of fear.) With Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Patty Mills, and Boris Diaw sharing the floor, the offense is capable of exploding at any moment. And it's scary to imagine that incorporating a healthy Matt Bonner into that group could actually improve its offensive attack.

Popovich's "plug-and-chug" approach to lineup shuffling is devious in that it implies the presence of chaos where there is in fact cold, calculated order. He's waving his hands like any other conductor, but his deep commitment to strategy doesn't allow for any throwaway movements. He coaxes the building energy from the strings as his arms reach for the ceiling. He calls for the music to stop as he holds up his hands. He draws up a sudden offensive attack as he waves in the drums.

Popovich is an artist. No player averaging more than 31 minutes. No locker room held captive by wanton egotism. No game out of reach until he decides to let it go. He's working with the same tools as his predecessors, using motions and changes to conduct, but every year he gets unprecedented results. Other coaches just watch and admire, baffled by what they see.

Maybe it's all in the wrist.

Be sure to read Fred Silva's recap of the game if you haven't already.

Standard Game Quote

"People go through slumps where they miss shots. Trust me, I know."

- Danny Green on Tim Duncan's bad night

Game MVP



















On a night where the second unit blew open the game, you could give the game ball to several players. Boris Diaw had a great night, leading the team in points without even playing 20 minutes. And really, the starters weren't too bad, either. Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter had great nights, too. But Marco Belinelli left his mark on the game, shooting an efficient 4/6 from the field, hitting both of his threes, grabbing five boards, and dishing out a team-high eight assists without posting a single turnover. It's clear that he's finding his place in the offense, and hopefully as his confidence grows, we'll see more performances like this.

Game LVP



















Tim Duncan played the most minutes of any Spur tonight and posted two points. I'm not sure that will ever happen again. It was a career-worst night for The Big Fundamental, and though his rebounding and blocks were solid, his shooting stroke was Rudy Gay bad. He's clearly in a slump right now, but his energy and awareness would indicate that his issues have to do mainly with rhythm. Still, it was not a pretty site. Maybe he just needs to hug the ball a little more tenderly before the next game. (More on Duncan's shooting woes later.)

By The Numbers

  • 11: Number of shots Tim Duncan missed -- more shots than any other Spurs player attempted.
  • 88,000: Number of American flags passed out to fans for Military Appreciation night.
  • 55.3%: Boris Diaw's field goal percentage, which would be the highest in his career. This number is probably going to drop, but even then, there's no denying "Scorin' Boris" is actually a thing now. This is happening.
  • 36.3%: The Wizards' field goal percentage for the night, a Spurs opponent season low.
  • 263: Number of "can't see the Spurs" camouflage uniform jokes tweeted by halftime.
  • 36: Points scored by former Spurs James Anderson in an overtime win against the Rockets.

Bird Is The Word

Odds And Ends

  • While Tim Duncan is still looking for his shot, hopefully Manu Ginobili has found his. He's 4/7 from three-point range his last two games.
  • After two fantastic games, Danny Green came back to earth, missing all three of his shots and grabbing only one rebound. He's not going to drop fifteen points every night, but it would be nice to get some consistency. The Spurs didn't need a lift from him tonight, but there will be games this season where they do.
  • Jeff Ayres dunked. Like three times. And the ball went in the hoop each time. I saw it with my own eyes.
  • The box score doesn't quite reflect it, but Splitter had a great game. He had a monster block on John Wall, played excellent defense, and even got Nene to bite on a pump fake at the free throw line. Even weirder? He converted the floater right after it.
  • I managed to get through this whole thing without mentioning the camouflage uniforms, so here you go: they weren't that bad. I still don't like them, but they looked better on the court than I thought they would. And after the game, they auctioned off the game-worn jerseys. Tim Duncan's sold for $67,000, which I guess makes sense in that it was a historical night for him (in the worst way possible).

Going forward, the Spurs need to...

Tell Duncan to keep shooting. If you're looking for an area of concern for the Spurs this season, you've no doubt noticed that Tim Duncan's jumpshot has gone milk carton. This game appears to have been rock bottom, as Duncan left the game with the worst shooting night of his career, posting an abysmal 1-12.

Duncan's .44 True Shooting percentage (a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account free throws, as well) on the season would be the worst in his career by far, making his previous worst shooting season - 2006, where he posted a .52 TS% - look like an MVP campaign by comparison. Another telling statistic: Tim Duncan has never finished a season with a player offensive rating below the 106 he posted in his sophomore season. This year, he's at 93.

The weird thing about Duncan's offensive struggles is that they haven't come with a noticeable physical breakdown. Duncan still looks energetic and very aware (granted, that's something you'd say about someone in an old folks' home), and it would seem that his struggles have less to do with physical ability than they do with rhythm and timing. Tony Parker said as much after the game. "I don't worry about Tim," he shrugged, downplaying a reporter's mention of Duncan's woeful shooting night. "He'll be fine. It happens."

Here's the thing, though: Duncan's offensive struggles have been so noticeable because this kind of thing doesn't happen. But Parker is right to stay calm. Duncan is getting great looks, and while he is without question in the middle of an unprecedented slump, he didn't suddenly forget how to shoot.

Mired in the worst shooting streak of his career, Duncan walked off the court on a night to honor military men and women, as the Spurs DJ cranked out Hulk Hogan's classic theme. The inspiration was there if Duncan was looking for it, and the prescription for what ails him is probably a simple one. Ignore your percentages. Keep taking the smart shots. Stay the course.

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