My favorite play of Friday night's game occurred midway through the second quarter, and while it didn't seem so special or important in the grand scheme of things -- just a standard two-point mid-range jumper in the play-by-play sheet -- it effectively told the story of the Spurs' 102-92 triumph over the spunky Warriors at Oracle Arena, where San Antonio took a 2-1 lead in their second-round series.
Tony Parker, once again relegated to the role of the other point guard in a playoff match-up as he's been countless times in his Hall-of-Fame career, having previously taken a backseat to contemporaries such as Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd, was already well on his way to a big night in Game 3, having sunk a number of open J's as well as a circus no-look layup while stumbling to the ground to complete an and-1.
Here he was though, dribbling without any apparent urgency on the left side of the floor, guarded closely by the man -- Klay Thompson -- who pundits across the country credited for "shutting him down" (Parker totaled 48 points on 43 shots in the first two games). Thompson's combination of size, length, defensive acumen and youthful energy was supposedly too much for the Spurs' graybeard 30-year-old floor-leader to deal with.
So there was Parker, carefree as you please, dribbling just past the three-point arc with Thompson two feet in front of him, in a classic defensive stance. Then, a crossover dribble, quicker than a blink. Like a magic trick Parker was suddenly six feet to the left of the space he'd been an instant before and Thompson completely disappeared from the television screen, with about as much chance to recover on the play as the popcorn vendor. Of course, Parker's jumper hit nothing but net.
It's old hat by now for so-called experts to pick apart Parker's game, to focus on the things that he supposedly can't do. He doesn't put up the gaudy assist totals of Paul or Nash. He's not a marksman from downtown like Curry or Kidd. He's not as scrappy defensively as Rondo and he can't rock the rim like a Westbrook or a Derrick Rose (well, like they used to, anyway).
Put a bigger guy on Parker, the theory goes, rough him up a little, take away his penetration and his trademark teardrop, and you pretty much shut him down. People completely dismiss his mid-range jumper, despite the stats baring out that for the past several years he's been as accurate with it as any shooter in the league. For critics who watch maybe a handful of Spurs games all year (if that many), he'll always be the guy from 2003-04 who couldn't hit the side of a barn against the Lakers.
It's easy to ignore Parker's jump shot, his un-sexy, measly, only-worth-two-points flick of the wrist (with his tongue flayed out to the left like a beagle's through the window of a moving car), but in a way it's a microcosm of the Spurs team as it's been perceived through these last waning years of the Duncan Era. The Spurs rack up 55-60 wins every season like clockwork, despite an ever-crowded injury list and severe minutes restrictions placed upon their stars, and people assume they do it with smoke and mirrors, a by-product of flops, Duncan bankers, and scores of easy wins against the dregs of the league. It just doesn't dawn on people that it'd be impossible for Parker to have averaged darn near 20 points a game year in and year out just solely on a diet of teardrops and lay-ups.
No, in fact, Parker has canned a lot of jumpers in his career, more than any lay-person could dare imagine, and I'm betting he sinks a few more before he's done. He's also shooting 47 percent in the series -- and 60 percent from downtown in a small sample -- compared to Curry's 42 percent (and 38 percent from deep). Throw in Thompson's 46 percent (albeit 61 percent from three) and I guess what I'm trying to say is I'm calling Mark Jackson's bluff.
Also, Tony Parker is very good at basketball.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Game 3 was the most important road win for the Spurs in seven years, since they captured Game 6 at Dallas 91-86 (in what was the best road playoff performance of Manu's career) to come back from a 3-1 series deficit and send it back to San Antonio for Game 7. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "Yep, there's no sweeter feeling as a fan than this, it's all downhill from here," after that game, so I didn't watch the rest of the playoffs. I'm just assuming everything went fine, yes?
This is as good a time as any to clear up a potential misunderstanding. When I wrote the other day that the Spurs have only a 35 percent chance to win the series, I didn't mean that I think the Warriors are the other team. The statement actually had very little to do with the Warriors. Rather it was about the Spurs, and how poorly they've responded to playoff adversity (especially on the road) since 2008. I think these two paragraphs sum my feelings up pretty well.
It's not that I think the Warriors are a better team than the Spurs. Not at all. A 106 minute sample size does not compare to an 82-game regular season. But the Warriors have a rabid, hellacious fan base and their arena will be a very tough place to capture a game now that these young sharks are smelling our blood. It's one thing to go into a tough building with a 2-0 series lead. The fans are still excited, but it's somewhat muted, since they know the best scenario is a 2-2 split after four games and that their squad still has to capture a road game. However, in a 1-1 series the fans know their guys have the home court advantage and a chance to really put a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.
I imagine anyone who's watched these two games has been quite impressed by this Warriors team so far, but I'm telling you, these Warriors aren't nearly as good as the squad we're gonna have to beat at least once in the "Roaracle." They're going to have much more energy up there, they'll play with even more intensity and emotion, and they'll be that much more resilient in chasing after loose balls and crashing the glass. Our only hope is that all that extra adrenaline will lead to some wonky shooting and perhaps a few fouls.
Anytime the Spurs have given the opposition the series momentum going into their building the past few years, it hasn't gone well for them, and the Warriors have a well-deserved reputation for being very tough to beat at home. As it turned out, the Dubs did come out a bit too pumped, they shot poorly, the Spurs played their best quarter of the series in the opening 12 minutes of Game 3 and held on from there. I thought all along that if our guys were going to recapture home court, that Game 3 was going to be their best shot at it, with the short turn around to Game 4 making that one too tough for them physically and the chance for the Warriors to potentially close out a series in Game 6 making that game virtually impossible.
So I was wrong. Pleasantly wrong. But not that wrong.
Speaking of being wrong, we've come to the part of the program where I gripe about Bill Simmons: Spurs hater. I hope by now you've come to the realization that he is openly rooting against us. (Watch, it's gonna happen next round against Memphis too.)
The media bias against the Spurs going into Game 3 was kind of ridiculous. ESPN had a fancy graphic pointing out how broken their defense was because they allowed "113.5 points in two games to the Warriors." Uh, Game 1 went to double overtime, dummies. Sure, a 106-106 scoreline after 48 minutes in the opening game is nothing to be proud of, but it wasn't obscenely bad. And they gave up a so-so 100 in the Game 2 loss. It's just a misleading stat, and one that doesn't explain that a Tim Duncan was moving around like a flu-ridden zombie in game 1 and playing at 50 percent at best.
Notice you didn't see "what's wrong with the Warriors defense?" graphics. C'mon guys, the Spurs were scoring 110 points through the first two games. That's awful defense, right?
Here was Simmons' sidebar in his latest column, explaining his prediction...
Look at San Antonio right now — it doesn't know what to do with Parker defensively now that G-State is riding these small-ball lineups. (Thank you, David Lee's hip flexor!) Parker can't cover Curry or Thompson, obviously. You can't hide him on Draymond Green (who'd take him to the hole) or Harrison Barnes (who can shoot over him). So unless Jarrett Jack is playing, how can you semi-hide Parker defensively? You can't. And that's before we get into San Antonio's other issues: wasting too much of Duncan's energy having him chase Curry off high-screen switches, figuring out what to do with Tiago Splitter (too slow for these small-ball games), and not having the offensive personnel to stop Curry from being a "hider" (copyright: Zach Lowe) on defense. You might see San Antonio play Parker, Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard and T-Mac at the same time just to make Curry guard someone. That's right, T-Mac!!!!!! I think we're getting a Golden State–Memphis conference finals. I really do.
All well and good, except for the part where he missed that the Warriors really haven't had much success posting up Parker with Barnes (at least not any more so than when Parker's guarded Jack or Curry). Neither Barnes nor Draymond Green have a polished enough of a post game to take advantage of it, and they haven't gone to that well much at all.
Also, this "analysis" seriously discounts how easily Splitter and Diaw score against the Warriors when they play small. Splitter was +8 in 4:09 against such lineups in Game 3. Diaw was +2 in 1:06 when paired with Duncan against a small lineup in Game 1 and -6 in 5:54 in Game 2, while Splitter was -1 in 1:19 (and never got in with Duncan). In game 3, Diaw was +4 in 10:42 when paired with Duncan or Splitter against the smalls. Overall, that works out to +7 for them in about 23 minutes of court time. Basically, criticizing the Spurs "big" lineup against the Warriors smalls is criticizing Matt Bonner. In any permutation of the main three bigs, they've been doing fine and are likely to keep doing so.
Simmons keeps talking about the Warriors not giving Parker anyone to guard when they play without Jack on the floor, but one lineup I'd be curious to see the Spurs use more is one with Parker, Ginobili and Leonard, along with two bigs, so that a hobbled Curry can get a taste of his own medicine and not have Green, Neal or Joseph to hide on.
Wouldn't you know, the Spurs were +2 in 1:06 in that spot in Game 1, -1 in 2:56 in Game 2 and +2 in 4:38 in Game 3, just +3 in 8:40 over three games overall, a tiny sample size, but I like the trend of the Spurs looking to exploit that match-up more and more as the games go by. I know that Danny Green has done a fantastic job of guarding Curry, but I'm willing to bet that we can hurt them more by forcing him to guard Parker or Ginobili than he can hurt us with Parker on him (or forcing Parker on the small forward there).
I don't understand the GSW strategy tonight. Smallball was the biggest advantage they had and they've basically given it up. So confused.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 11, 2013
SA small vs GS big 0:57, 4-1 SA (+3)
SA small vs GS small 30:53, 68-63 SA (+5)
SA big vs GS small 18:23, 45-42 GS (-3)
SA big vs GS big 7:47,18-15 GS (-3)
SA smalls against any lineup 31:50, 72-64 (+8)
SA bigs against any lineup 26:10, 47-53 (-6)
Of note: The Spurs made their comeback from 16 down late with their small-ball lineup, Splitter was injured and didn't play in this game and Duncan was very limited.
SA big vs GS small 18:29, GS 48-31 (-17)
SA small vs GS small 19:42, 36-35 SA (+1)
SA big vs GS big 4:25, 14-11 SA (+3)
SA small vs GS big 5:23, 10-6 SA (+4)
SA smalls against any lineup 25:05, 46-41 (+5)
SA bigs against any lineup 22:55, 45-59 (-14)
Of note: 9 of that -14 was with Bonner in there. The Spurs lost 100-91. Do the math.
SA big vs GS big: 23:58, 48-52 (-4)
SA big vs GS small: 11:40, 25-21 (+4)
SA small vs GS small:12:22, 29-19 (+10)
SA bigs against any lineup 35:38, 73-73
SA smalls against any lineup 12:22, 29-19
Of note: The Spurs played it straight up for 35:38 of the first 37:38 of the game before finishing with their small lineup.
SA small vs GS big 14-7 (+7) in 6:20
SA small vs GS small 133-117 (+16) in 62:57
SA big vs GS big 77-81 (-4) in 36:10
SA big vs GS small 98-114 (-16) in 48:32
SA smalls against any lineup: 147-124 (+23) in 69:17
SA bigs against any lineup: 175-195 (-20) in 84:42
GS smalls vs any lineup: 231-231 (even) in 111:29
GS bigs vs any lineup: 88-91 (-3) in 42:30
The Spurs smalls have not been outscored, in any situation, in any of the three games, and are +23 in 69:17 on the court. The Warriors' smalls haven't had that kind of of success. We're mainly a big team, and have played that way all year, and while we can survive against the Warriors playing big against their smalls, it has to be with Duncan, Splitter and Diaw. Throwing Bonner in there throws a wrench into the operation and makes things too easy for them. He probably shouldn't play in this series.
Before Game 3, I wrote that if the Spurs were fortunate enough to win, that Pop would probably punt Game 4 because of the quick turnaround so that the Big Three could rest up for the critical Game 5. However, with Curry so banged up, now I'm not so sure. I expect our guys to be on regular season-level minute restrictions, so about 30-32 for Parker and Duncan and 24-26 for Ginobili, but if the Spurs are ahead or close at halftime, I really think Pop will push it in the third quarter for the chance to put our collective foot on their throats.
In fact, I'd love to start with that Duncan-Splitter-Leonard-Ginobili-Parker lineup in each half, just to surprise them and find out quickly how Curry's feeling. Obviously Parker's health is a big story too, but all of a sudden I'm feeling way more confident about Sunday's game than I was 48 hours ago.
I'm fickle that way.