Now that's more like it. It's hard to put a finger on it exactly, as the made threes, assists, offensive rebounds, fast break points and points in the paint all look pretty similar for the Spurs between Game 1 and Game 2, but just by my layman's eye test the offense just looked more like the one we've become accustomed to.
Was the difference Tony Parker's second half explosion? Not really, he only made one more field goal than Game 1. Really, it was mostly the front court. Splitter had four easy field goals in this one compared to a bagel in the first game, Duncan got a couple more jumpers to go in and Leonard was the real difference maker, with five more field goals, which came in all manner of ways.
Basically, the half court offense just looked smoother and was more efficient with their shot attempts, regardless of whether it was off a pass or in isolation. When guys got offensive rebounds, they didn't waste those second chances.
The defense wasn't quite as good, however, but that was to be expected. The Lakers exploited their size advantage inside and doubled up their offensive rebound total from six to 12, they hit five more threes, sinking 8-of-22 this time, which is average, and they lowered their turnovers from 18 to 13. Basically the Spurs played just an average defensive game in this one, perhaps a bit below average, considering that Kobe was out and the rest of LA's backcourt was all gimpy.
Still, I'm not too upset by this, because, as with any situation, you have to consider the context. The injuries the Lakers had to their guards forced Mike D'Antoni to shift their attack to their bigs, which are not only their biggest strength anyway, but the Spurs' main weakness, especially in light of how thin (literally) they are up front without Boris Diaw. By necessity Pop is having to rely on Matt Bonner to play 25-30 minutes a night against the most skilled pair of bigs in the league, so yeah, you'd expect the rest of the defense to be stretched somewhat in doubling and helping him out.
I know this sounds a bit nutty, considering what an asshat Dwight Howard is, but I think the Spurs would probably have an easier time blowing out the Lakers if it was he, and not Kobe that was out. Can you IMAGINE how poor they'd be defensively? The kind of shots they'd settle for? The transition defense? It makes me drool a bit just thinking about it.
So anyway, here's some positives and negatives as we go into Game 3...
1. Say, has anyone noticed how well Manu Ginobili has played so far?
He's fourth in PER so far this postseason, at a mere 39.21, and the three fellas ahead of him have all played even fewer minutes (though not much fewer). He's also +38, in 38 minutes. He has systematically destroyed the Lakers in the last two minutes of each quarter with his backbreaking marksmanship from deep and savvy play-making. His numbers in game 2, where he put up 13-5-7-1-1 in 19 minutes are LeBron-like stats, if LeBron only played 19 minutes and was way more sex-ay.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but nobody, not even me, the biggest Manu homer on the planet, saw this coming, given how he's played since returning from his left hamstring injury he initially suffered on Jan. 13 against the T-Pups. It's not that I didn't think he had the ability to do it, but that he didn't have the time to find his rhythm. Obviously he's not gonna keep up this ridiculous PER pace, nobody can, but if he maintains something close to it, while boosting his minutes to the 25-28 range, then yeah, this team's ceiling goes way higher.
2. Matt Bonner doesn't suck.
Whoa! Here's my theory: Right before the playoffs Pop had Aron Baynes put the Red Mamba in a sleeper hold so that Bonner passed out. He then set all the calenders in the facility to January. Nobody is allowed to tell him it's the postseason.
Will Bonner eventually figure it out, given that the Spurs will keep playing somewhere between four and seven games against the same teams, over and over? Well, he is smarter than the average athlete, so yeah, probably by late May it'll click in for him, but then Diaw will be back by then, anyway.
Yeah, Bonner is making his threes, which is big, but the more impressive aspect of that to me is that he's shooting them without hesitation. He's not passing up shots. He's making quick decisions.
And the shooting/scoring hasn't even been the best part of his game. The toughness he's shown in scrapping with Howard, the awareness he's had in back-tapping offensive boards and collecting wild caroms off DeJuan Blair's face -- Pop's a brilliant play-caller -- it's the kind of stuff, "the small things that don't show up in the box score" that we've seen Bonner do successfully in regular seasons for years, before frustratingly, maddeningly, hiding in a corner in the fetal position in the playoffs.
If Bonner can play like a legitimate NBA player for even 10 minutes, it gives the team a real four-man rotation of bigs in the playoffs once Diaw returns, which eases the load for Duncan going forward and lessens the need for small-ball, probably a good thing given Cap'n Jack's banishment.
3. Tony Parker looking vaguely more Tony Parkerish.
After three halves of basketball that made you want to weep into a pillow, Parker was able to rev up, if not to fifth gear then at least third, against the Lakers in the third quarter on Wednesday. Perhaps he had finally said to himself, "Enough is enough, I'm being punked by Dewey from Malcolm in the Middle."
He still isn't getting enough lift on his tear drop, but it's looking better and more importantly Parker is rediscovering his fearlessness and bullishness in driving to the basket. He's the one guy we have who can constantly suck in the defense and get to the line, so it's critical that he gets as close to his peak as he can.
Does he really have an injury that it's impossible to recover from without an off-season of rest, or is it the kind of thing that will, in Parker's words, "slowly and surely" get better from day to day? We have to hope it's the latter. If this is Parker's version of Ginobili's 2008 playoffs, we're sunk. Hopefully the Spurs finish off the sweep against LA while the Grizzles and Clips go seven, so that he gets some rest.
4. Kawhi Leonard breaks out.
Leonard had a decent enough game in the series opener, in a tough physical match-up with Ron Artest, and while he didn't light it up on the scoreboard, he skied for boards, was solid on defense and helped make a couple of game-turning plays.
On Wednesday, however, Leonard showcased a bit more of his all-around scoring talents, working with Parker on a monstrous alley-oop, getting another slam in transition off a wondrous full-court pass from Manu (that had the kind of weight and spin one would normally associate with Xavi or Zinedine Zidane), a couple more hoops off offensive boards, one on a nice back cut where Ginobili found him, and a couple more on free throw jumpers off the curl.
Ironically, the one thing missing from Leonard's game right now is the three pointer, as he shot just 32% from downtown after the All-Star break and has been cold through two playoff games as well. For much of his rookie season the corner three was the mightiest (only?) arrow in Leonard's quiver, but now his aim is off.
The Spurs will need him to find that accuracy, while sustaining the aggressiveness and rhythm of the rest of his game too, for the Spurs to have any chance in the latter rounds. Leonard has to be a 16-8 type of player, while playing excellent defense and shooting at a high efficiency. Basically, he has to play like an All-Star, regardless of whether he's ready or not.
5. Russell Westbrook suffers a boo-boo.
Look... I didn't wish for this. Westbrook might be my least favorite player in the whole league and he's a grade-A punk, but I don't like seeing anyone hurt. Anybody that does is not someone I care to know. But at the same time I'd be lying if I said I'm upset by it.
I'm not about to feel sorry for the Thunder or the Lakers or anyone else, really. Nobody feels sorry for the Spurs, ever, no matter what injuries Tim, Manu or Tony suffer, so why should we have any sympathy for anyone else? Besides, karma owes us one after Game 6 last year. I'm never forgetting that game.
It's not even a given that the Thunder are done now. Nobody knows how long Westbrook will be out or how OKC will play without him. He's the ultimate boom-or-bust player, a guy who gives them an unguardable weapon in transition and a match-up nightmare, but also one that takes scores of bad shots and hampers a lot of their half court offense.
We've always been curious what a non-Westbrook Thunder would look like, what that would mean for Kevin Durant's game, but those hypothetical scenarios were with James Harden still aboard. This is a whole other animal.
I'm taking my lead from the Spurs coaches and players and not trumpeting anything or making any kind of declaration with this news. For all we know Westbrook is still an alien and he'll recover in 24 hours after surgery and be back running faster, jumping higher and playing angrier than ever. Or maybe Derek Fisher will play 30 minutes a night against us and shoot 89 percent.
I guess what I'm trying to say is...
well, you know.
1. Danny Green bravely voyages to the deepest, darkest, undiscovered depths of suck.
Holy hell has he been a gasoline fire.
It's one thing to miss threes, but Green has been off-kilter in his shot selection on offense and gotten roasted on defense, giving up and-1s to Steves Nash and Blake, who have two healthy legs between them. I don't know what's going on in the dude's personal life, but he just doesn't seem to be into it, mentally. Anyone notice how at the end of Game 2, when he pulled down a rebound with 10 seconds to go and was just dribbling in place in his own end looking at the ref blankly? The zebra reminded him, "Uh, fella, you're gonna have to get past half court or I'm gonna blow the whistle," and Green was like, "Durr, why?"
Green started out brightly in the last playoffs but was a sinkhole by the end against the Thunder, and it's fair to wonder if he's been unnerved by the return of Ginobili, since he's the guy whose minutes most get affected by Manu. Credit the Lakers for making it a priority to not give Green many open looks -- he's one of the best catch-and-shoot guys in the league -- but Green is not at his best when he tries to force offense and has no excuse, regardless, to be so out of it on the other end of the floor.
There's no Stephen Jackson around this time, so it will be almost impossible for Green to play his way out of the rotation, but it sure would be nice if he pulled his head out of his butt between now and round 2, where he will be sorely needed.
2. Manu is not anywhere near 100 percent, yet.
Forget the stats and the blathering of idiots who don't really watch him play. We know Manu. When he's feeling right he can attack the basket and finish, perhaps even with a flourish. The guy we've seen, who's shot 6-of-9 from downtown in a ridiculously small sample size, is nice, but unless he can wreak havoc for 25-30 minutes, be a threat to score from anywhere on the floor and attack the rim with reckless abandon, he's not really Manu.
The hot start shooting the ball is a tease and not sustainable. He's not gonna suddenly be Stephen Curry. Like Tony, he needs this series to be over quickly in the worst way.
3. What's happened to the starters?
If you recall, in last season's playoffs the starters -- with Diaw instead of Splitter -- were downright dominant while the bench was god awful. It's been much the same in the regular season, with Splitter supplanting Diaw. The Spurs starters are right there on a per-minute basis with Miami and Indiana for the league's best quintet.
However, against the Lakers it's been the four man bench of Ginobili, Bonner, Gary Neal (whuck?) and Cory Joseph (huh?) that have largely made the difference against an LA team that has zero depth with all their injuries. To put it another way, Ginobili is +38 in 38 minutes, meaning that during the 58 minutes he's been on the bench, this injured, broken shell of a Lakers team has outscored the Spurs, on the road, by 15 points. Some of that is Danny Green's doing, but not all of it.
This kind of play going forward simply won't do. Duncan, Parker and Splitter all have to improve, to various degrees, as well.
We've mentioned Parker's problems already, but Duncan, to my eye, isn't running as smoothly as he was a month ago -- his gait looks a little limpy to me -- and not jumping as well either. His rebounding numbers are troublesome. Has he run out of gas at the worst time? We'll see.
Splitter, meanwhile, is playing soft, flopping too much and conforming to stereotype, embarrassingly. He's got to be harder, on both ends, with or without the ball. We can't be doing this Freaky Friday stuff with him and Bonner.
Is it so much to ask that the top ten guys on the team all get completely healthy and play at their individual peak performance, in perfect concert and harmony, for a two month stretch? If possible, I'd also like LeBron James to abruptly retire to pursue his true calling of being a cashier at a Pottery Barn in Scottsdale, AZ.
4. It's only two games, at home, against an injured seven seed.
They've proven nothing. Repeat, nothing. Don't you dare start dreaming, that's only gonna make it hurt worse when they inevitably break your heart. Be happy with the four rings, pounders.
5. You know how this is gonna end.
LeBron will suffer some freak injury, the Spurs will go 16-0 throughout the playoffs, and then we'll be treated to months of asterisk talk and "what was more impressive, the Spurs 16-0 playoff run or the Heat's 27-game regular season winning streak" debate. It will be enough for you to look into a mirror and ask yourself, "My god, what have I been doing with my life? Why am I wasting it on this mindless drivel?"
And you'll hate sports and yourself and question every decision you ever made and grow to resent your jobs and friends and families and loved ones and oh god it's all so bad. Why, LeBron, why?
Your 3 stars... (with apologies to Leonard)
3. Tony Parker
2. Manu Ginobili
1. Matt Bonner (pretty much the only Spur who was good in both halves).
Your Game 2 MVPs...
Miami-Milwaukee: Ersan Ilyasova. Too bad for him neither Monta Ellis nor Brandon Jennings showed up in a game where LeBron was kinda meh.
New York-Boston: Raymond Felton. By default, the best point guard left in the East. Ugh.
Indiana-Atlanta: George Hill. Gotta punish Paul George a bit for getting to do his work against Kyle Korver.
Brooklyn-Chicago: Kirk Hinrich. Shut down Deron Williams one-on-one, in a match-up the Nets have to dominate to have a chance.
Oklahoma City-Houston: Patrick Beverley. What? He had good numbers, look it up. Hey, stop it, that's not nice. My mother is a respectable lady.
Denver-Golden State: Harrison Barnes. Maybe the best game he's ever played. Kinda stuffed the stat sheet, for him.
LA Clippers-Memphis: Mike Conley. I don't care that Paul hit the game-winner. Conley was the better player that game. Also, I hate Chris Paul.