Well, so much for earning home-court advantage. I suppose the silver lining is that the team hasn't been worth a damn at home anyway, and that they have the best road record in the league. Still, I'm sure that'll be in jeopardy soon enough.
The way the Spurs are dropping like flies, with Manu Ginobili the latest casualty – again – after re-tweaking his left hammy following a hammer dunk in the third quarter, you wonder what the point is for the remaining guys to even try. Tony Parker is already nursing a bad shin. Tim Duncan has a bad knee he's dragging up and down the floor. The extra load is bound to wear on Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli at some point, since they're not used to heavy minutes (no pun intended in Diaw's case). Maybe they'd be better off to tank the next dozen games, treat the Rodeo Road Trip as one extended preseason, and try to come back fresh in March, standings be damned.
Who knows, they might even win two or three of the games.
At a bar following the game, watching the Warriors and biding our time before Dallas Buyers Club, a friend and I were having a passionate discussion about the fate of the Spurs. His thesis was that they had their shot last year and this is the "Murphy's Law" season that usually plagues Finals losers. "They just don't look like they have it this year," he argued and claimed that even if the whole squad got miraculously healthy for the playoffs, that they wouldn't stand a chance against a healthy Thunder team. He pointed to the Spurs' terrible record against the good teams.
My rebuttal was the Spurs haven't been healthy since Jan. 2 and in that game they blew out the Clippers; that even when they lost to the Pacers they were without Tiago Splitter; that they missed Kawhi Leonard for all or most of two of the Thunder games; and that the Spurs dealt with injuries most of last season too, before finally getting healthy in the playoffs and rolling through the first three rounds.
He gave them a five-percent chance of winning it all, and that was being kind.
It's probably a fair assessment.
It's very difficult these days to be optimistic about the Spurs putting together another magical postseason run without anyone getting hurt again when you see things like Ginobili hurting himself on a play where he didn't really get touched. They're way too dependent on Belinelli and Diaw down the stretch of games, players who have categorically proven that they can't make the defensive play or grab the rebound. They're fine and dandy for the most part when the Spurs have the ball, but I don't want them on the floor if and when the team has to get stops, and far too often we're getting one or both.
Belinelli had more to do with the loss than anyone, but what is Pop to do? There are literally no other wings available.
Jeff Ayres is likelier than Diaw to grab a defensive board, but Pop can't play him because he has oven mitts for hands and is a foul magnet.
I'd like to think that down the stretch in the playoffs Pop will stick to lineups that feature neither Diaw nor Belinelli, or at least just one of the two, but we know better. Dance with the ones that brung ya, and all that.
I'd be lying if I said I trust Pop's decision-making down the stretch, and even moreso without assistant coaches of any repute. Far too often he resorts to guys who are small and offensive specialists to close out games. The Pop of 2003 wouldn't even recognize this guy coaching the team.
Okay, I'm rambling. I'm incoherent and rambling.
Can we just fast-forward to when the roster is healthy again? Hopefully that will be before the Hall-of-Fame ceremonies for Duncan and Ginobili.
I don't care about the plight of the Atlanta Hawks anymore.
Standard Duncan Quote:
"That hurt us bad obviously, especially some big ones down the stretch. I thought, defensively, we did a pretty decent job of controlling the game for a long time, and then it just got away from us. ... We just have to get everybody sort of swarming toward the ball when it gets up there."
(Pretty much as close as Duncan will ever get to calling out teammates in the press, and it's a 0.1 on the controversy Richter scale.)
By the Numbers:
18,314: The attendance at the Toyota Center, probably a third of which were Spurs fans.
0: Rebounds by Marco Belinelli in 38:24.
1: Rebounds by Manu Ginobil in 14:23. These gentlemen represented the Spurs small-forward position for the evening. Your small forward can't grab but one rebound in 53 minutes. That's not good.
1-of-10: It's even worse when the gentlemen in question combine to shoot 1-of-10 from three. If you can't rebound and you can't shoot, then what are you contributing, exactly?
0-of-3: Ginobili's line from downtown, which had a direct cause-and-effect with his injury. He couldn't shoot from outside, so he decided to take it hard to the basket and got hurt. If he's knocking down his shots, maybe he doesn't take that risk. Ugh.
21: How many free throws the Rockets missed. They won, by the way.
21: How many free throws the Spurs attempted. I'm not complaining about the free throw disparity. Obviously the Hack-a-Howard played a huge role in that. But attempting as many as the other guys miss is never a good sign.
19: Offensive rebounds for the Rockets, which would be the main reason to break things this morning if not for Ginobili's injury.
2: Consecutive losses for the Spurs, for the first time all season. Can you name the last time they lost two meaningful games in a row? (Yes, I'm feeling morbid.)
10: How many road games the Spurs will have to win in the playoffs to win a championship. (Approx.)
Sequence of the Game:
Either the play where Ginobili dunked the ball really hard and broke himself or the one where Howard grabbed an offensive rebound over four Spurs to effectively end the game. Both were so much fun that I can't decide which I enjoyed more.
Tweets of the Night:
I heard Howard get slapped from 50 feet away.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) January 29, 2014
Was it from one of his 19 baby-mommas?
WALRUS WITH RANGE. 9-0. Well, that’s unsustainable.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 29, 2014
Tim Duncan’s first quarter defense on Dwight Howard summed up: http://t.co/McKQADmGGA— Andrew A. McNeill (@drew_48moh) January 29, 2014
Those were fun times, filled with so much promise.
Ayres’ biggest weakness is as an interior defender. Zero shot-blocking whatsoever.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) January 29, 2014
I'd say his biggest weakness is that he was born without opposable thumbs, but that's just me.
This is not our elite rebounding unit.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 29, 2014
Funny, I recall thinking the same thing at a certain point last June.
OH MY SWEET LORD AIR MANU OH NO HE’S HURT— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 29, 2014
All you need is two more lines like "OMG THAT PASS" and "WHY MANU WHY?" and you'd describe his whole career.
GUHHHHH RT @projectspurs: Spurs healthy guards: 1. Parker 2. Belinelli 3. Mills 4. De Colo 5. Uhhh 6. uhhhh 7. SHFJDJDNDJSNA— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 29, 2014
I don't know who 5-7 are, but they sound like more foreigners.
For the record, with the addition of Ginobli, the injured list from this game could now be the 3 seed in the east.— Dime Update (@DimeUpdate) January 29, 2014
It could challenge Miami for the second seed, honestly.
If I had a dollar every time someone mentioned Josh Howard, I could buy my own NBA franchise— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 29, 2014
Do we really have that many dumb followers? Well, that's depressing.
Nearly halfway through the fourth quarter of a close-ish game and the Spurs have three point guards on the floor.— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) January 29, 2014
But the story is that they can't beat the elite teams, you guys.
PtR contributor Caleb Saenz tweeted birthday wishes to Pop by using a couple of actors who vaguely resemble him in Bruce Dern and Clint Eastwood. Another Pounder, David McGinnis, nominated Christopher Lee. C'mon guys... if they ever make a movie of Pop's life (don't hold your breath), the OBVIOUS choice is James Cromwell. It's not even close. They even have similar dismissive sneers. I can't watch Cromwell in "Star Trek: First Contact" or "Boardwalk Empire," without thinking of how much he resembles Pop. They even almost have the same birthday. Cromwell's was on Monday (he turned 74).
Your Three Stars:
3) Cory Joseph (5 pts): There was literally no one else I could put here. Joseph did have five dimes -- one being a very pretty feed to Duncan -- which tied his season-high.
2) Tim Duncan (86 pts): Started brilliantly, kicking Dwight Howard's butt up and down the court, but he couldn't sustain it. I think Pop sat him for too long after the first shift and Duncan never found his rhythm again afterward, and couldn't get many shots up either. Maybe fatigue was an issue, as Diaw initiated the offense down the stretch, but more likely Pop just liked the match-up better of Diaw against Jones than Duncan against Howard. All that hack-a-Howard didn't help either team.
1. Boris Diaw (39 pts): Set a new career-high as a Spur for the second time in three games with 22 points and had 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks to boot, while hoisting an unfathomable 20 shots. The four offensive boards were big, but down the stretch he neither boxed out Howard nor out-leaped him, and that proved costly. Again.
Up Next: Vs. Chicago Bulls (22-22): Wednesday, Jan. 29: A home SEGABABA for the Spurs, who get to face another beat up red-clad squad in the Bulls, who've missed Derrick Rose for most of the season of course, and had to trade away Luol Deng when it became apparent that he wasn't going to re-sign as a free agent after the team messed up his medical situation so badly last spring. They still stubbornly refuse to tank, and are treading water in the Eastern Conference, making do with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer and playing Jimmy Butler 53 minutes a night. Noah did miss the last game with an illness, so we'll see if he's available for this one. It should be an ugly game, but the Spurs have been great in BABAs all year.