I'm sure most people were expecting a barn burner, since these two teams were amazing on offense last season. But the Suns are still trying to figure out how to make up for the spacing Channing Frye provided and the Spurs are still trying to get everyone in the same page after injuries derailed their preseason preparation. So instead of a aesthetically pleasing, high-scoring affair we got an ugly mess that was only appealing due to how chaotic it felt at times. And while a win would have make it worth it, the Spurs simply couldn't hold on to this one.
With Tiago Splitter out, Matt Bonner got the start against the Mavericks. But Pop surprised everyone by going with Austin Daye this time around next to Kawhi Leonard (back after an eye infection kept him out of the debut) to match up with the Morris twins. It all seemed to be working out perfectly to start the game. After trading baskets for the first couple of minutes the Spurs went on a 18-5 run the rest of the quarter.
The Suns started out looking to attack Daye, as many teams do when they see a weak link. But as Matt Bonner has taught us, that's not always a winning strategy. The Suns were not playing their game, settling for mid-range looks instead of getting to the rim. And with the Spurs having the advantage on the free throw department along with perfect floor balance to prevent fast breaks, the easy points just weren't there for Phoenix.
Unfortunately the Suns have enough versatile talent to adjust to any situation. Once the second unit checked in, they upped their defensive intensity and exploited the Spurs' spacing issues to limit their offense without fouling. Just as the Spurs were starting to have a hard time getting to the middle of the floor to cause the defense to scramble, the Suns figured out how to do just that. Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe probed until the angles were there and either scored or found teammates. Meanwhile, Alex Len provided a surprising and sorely lacking inside presence for Phoenix on both ends.
Over the first six minutes of the second the Suns went on a 19-5 run and erased the Spurs' lead. But they had done their damage against the bench. Once the starters checked back in the offense started humming again. Parker and Duncan scored 12 of the Spurs' final 15 points of the half as the Suns' offense sputtered. After two, the Spurs led by nine, 45-36.
There was little in the way of structure to start the third quarter. Both teams were struggling to score early but Phoenix started to chip away at the deficit thanks to the play of Markieff Morris. As the minutes passed the game became and up-and-down, helter-skelter affair that seemed better suited for the Suns' talents than the Spurs'. But the Spurs hanged with the quick, springy Suns for a while.
That initial resistance was temporary, unfortunately, because the Spurs shot creators were not getting it done in the half court while Isaiah Thomas was carving up a defense that had no rim protectors when Duncan sat. After giving up 31 points, the Spurs' lead was cut to four at the end of the third. And without timely contributions by Diaw and Duncan, it could have evaporated completely
The problems only intensified in the fourth. The Spurs survived early on because Marco Belinelli caught fire for a couple of minutes and score eight quick points. But the Suns' three point guard lineup was causing all kinds of trouble on defense, despite relying on simple plays that often had one screen and one or two passes. And on the other end the Spurs run out of gas. Duncan missed an open 14 footer off a broken play and then bricked two free throws. Ginobili was a non-factor throughout. And Parker faded away as the minutes passed.
The Suns saw blood in the water and went for it. They were the aggressor, as shown by their supremacy on the hustle stats. Throw in some untimely turnovers by the Spurs and the continued heady play of Thomas and it's easy to see how this one slipped away.
- While it was frustrating to see the Spurs collapse in the end, it's important to remember that this is just the second game of the season, the Spurs are still missing a starter, they were on the road and, more importantly, the Suns are good. That's a team that won 48 games last season. Sure, they were also missing a starter but their style is built around versatility and athleticism. So they could fill the void left by P.J. Tucker better than the Spurs could mask the absence of Splitter. There's no shame at all in this loss.
- Speaking of Splitter, he's sorely missed. Not only were the Spurs forced to start Daye (who played a surprisingly solid game, by the way), but they also lack any semblance of rim protection and smart team defense when Duncan rests. Neither Diaw nor Baynes can provide the interior defense the team needs and Bangers is prone to some mental lapses. It would be foolish to rush Tiago back. But the team is going to suffer while he's out.
- Kawhi Leonard, who didn't sign an extension and will become a restricted free agent next off-season, was unsurprisingly rusty after not being able to play or even train with his teammates during preseason. He finished with six points and eight rebounds but was 0-5 from the field. There's time for him to get into game shape. And it will be interesting to see how Pop comes up with ways to give him more touches. I'm going out on a limb and saying that going into straight ISO/post ups like he did today is not the way to go.
- You know how we all thought Manu was going to struggle to start the season only for him to have a great game against Dallas? He was saving the stinker for the second outing. Two points, two rebounds and two assists in 25 minutes. Again, I'm not worried. There's time. But against good defensive teams the Spurs will need him. Hopefully he gets in rhythm soon.
- Marco Belinelli was the only Spur wing that could score today, at least for a stretch in the fourth. His defense was bad and he was a ghost for three quarters but at least he hit some timely shots. I already covered Manu and Kawhi but Danny Green also struggled. He finished 1-5 from the field and wasn't much of a factor. Those two blocks he had were cool, though.
- Cory Joseph attacked the basket a couple of times and as always pitched in on defense and on the boards. But he cannot break down a defense. The Suns were playing off of him at times and didn't send help when he drove. As a result, the Spurs had to reset with little time left in the clock a few times. Don't get me wrong, he played well. But I think expecting him to become a shot creator or a shooter might not be realistic. He's just a good caretaker PG. There's nothing wrong with that, except it might not be what the Spurs need.
- Boris Diaw had good numbers (13 points, six rebounds, two assists) but they fail to illustrate how important he was for the Spurs' offense. He was the escape valve for every failed drive and at times was the only guy getting into the teeth of the defense. Good game by Bobo.
The Spurs are now a .500 team after two games. Fortunately they will have four days off to tweak things before facing the Hawks at home on Wednesday.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Bright Side Of The Sun