We're back with part two of our season review. Part one is here.
Part one ended with the Spurs having just beaten the Memphis Grizzlies for the second time in the season which improved their record to 28-7. Unfortunately, Tiago Splitter suffered a shoulder injury against the Clippers and would miss the next twelve games. This was the beginning of the Variety of Maladies that would plague the Spurs through the beginning of 2014, nearly the entire months of January and February.
Manu Ginobili tweaked his hamstring against the Grizzlies and was unable to go against the division rival Mavericks on a SEGABABA. The Spurs did well without him, easily winning at home, 112-90. Tim Duncan played a solid game, posting a 16-13 line in his 29 minutes, but Big Fun didn't want to talk about himself during the postgame press conference. Instead he only wanted to chat about Boris Diaw, who started in Tiago Splitter's absence and put up quite the Bobo-esque line of 6-5-6. Tim called him the MVP of the Spurs, and here is the interview in all of its glory.
J. Gomez, in a bit of foreshadowing of the first two rounds of the playoffs, noted after the Mavericks game that the Spurs were getting better at defending shooting bigs. And this was without Tiago Splitter, who was still recuperating.
I had quite a bit of fun writing "What's gotten into Boris Diaw?" I fell in love with watching him post up:
When I watch Bobo go to work in the post, with all of those spin-moves, pivots, fakes, up-and-unders, bankers, finger-rolls, floaters, and even those rare Dirkish fade-aways I get the feeling that he is highly effective...And it's a joy to watch.
And here's a little video of Boris doing his thing to some old school funk.
The Spurs followed the Mavs game up with an easy win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, but along the way Danny Green broke his finger and was ruled out for four weeks. I said we were going through the variety of maladies section of the season.
That game also provided one of my favorite plays
of the season ever. Tony and the Red Mamba run a devastating two-man game on the Minnesota defense. In total there is one screen set, five passes made, 10 dribbles dribbled, three pumps faked, and at least 20 feet of court slid on by the Wolves defenders before Tony finds Matty wide open just below the break. Bonner of course knocks down the triple, and then gives a little Sammy Sosa home-run hop before realizing he was just involved in perhaps the most exciting play of his career; he can hardly contain himself as he grins and wonders if that was really as cool as it felt.
During the Spurs' win over the New Orleans Pelicans, Anthony Davis, showed everyone why many consider him the next Tim Duncan -- with his play, and by doing best Tim Duncan impression after being called for a foul.
Travis Hale gave us this great feature on the rules of interviewing Gregg Popovich. It's good, you should check it out.
The Spurs lost to the Trail Blazers after winning six straight, dropping them to 31-9 almost at the midpoint of the season. The Spurs were really struggling with the top tier teams in the league to that point. Travis Hale gave us a nice rehash of the Portland loss that just happened to coincide with the peak of the horrible "cedar fever" that tormented many thousands in central Texas.
Now, the Spurs beat the Bucks in the next game, which wasn't remarkable, but if you were like me you missed that particular Spurs contest in favor of watching the excellent NFC Championship game. I'd encourage you to read Caleb Saenz' recap of the game where, in response to the Spurs' lack of a signature win, he called the victory over the Bucks exactly that:
At no point in the game was the outcome ever in doubt. The Spurs were simply in control. And when the buzzer sounded, I smiled and nodded. There it is. A signature win.
The Spurs did what they had done 31 other times this season: they showed up prepared, and they executed as predicted.
In and of itself, that's unremarkable -- boring even. But it shouldn't be. The level of consistency the Spurs are showing is rare. That it's happening in a short period where the roster has been slammed by injuries is something to admire.
J. Gomez wrote a great piece in a series called More of this Please, complete with GIFs, on the team running the 4/5 pick-and-roll. If you missed it the first time around and would like to be a smarter fan, I highly encourage you to read it. On a roll, he then did this fine piece on how the Spurs' lack of athleticism hurts their defense.
2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs Season Review Pt. 1
The best of PtR from the first 35 games of the season.
San Antonio then lost another game to their I-35 rivals in Oklahoma. Some parts of the fan base was seriously starting to doubt that the Spurs were going to be able to beat the elite teams in the league. Worse than just losing to the Thunder, the Spurs also lost Kawhi Leonard, who broke his hand and was expected to miss 3-4 weeks. With the good guys in the middle of their worst slide of the season and having lost both Danny and Kawhi to hand injuries, Caleb Saenz gave us the excellent rehash, "Them Metacarpal Blues."
Michael Erler provided his Spurs mid-season report card (Part 2 here. and Part 3 here) No one was awarded an "A" for their effort, but Tim Duncan, Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills and Tony Parker each received a "B+" for their efforts over the first 41 games of the season.
If you missed J.R. Wilco's great interview with Doris Burke, you need to go read it. It's a fantastic read, and I assure you that it will be worth your time. Here's a snippet, you'll have to read the rest for yourself:
Doris Burke: Off-air I think [Gregg Popovich is] ... smart and funny, and that he's knowledgeable about a range of subjects, and that he's a giving human being. It's completely evident to me, within minutes of talking to him, but also from watching him with his guys. In the most simple interactions, you can see the respect that he has of his players. Ultimately you should be judged by those working closely with you day-in and day-out. It seems to me that those men, whether they've had their ups and downs with Pop, ultimately they seem to genuinely care, and I would say love the guy. That's a far more important barometer than [anything] I would have to say about him after disrupting his coaching job between quarters.
Ever wondered about Pop's sideline interviews, punk rock, and selling out? Well, here's your chance to see what J. Gomez has to say about those subjects.
If losing Tiago, Danny, and Kawhi to injuries wasn't enough to make even the most optimistic of fans consider that this just may not be the Spurs' year, then a hamstring injury to Manu Ginobili against the Rockets must have helped doubt creep in, if only momentarily. Manu's was estimated to miss 3-4 weeks, because why change it up?
As January came to a close, the Spurs had then lost three starters and Ginobili had to that point been a leading candidate to win his second sixth-man-of-the-year award. The days were dark, and during the grueling middle of the season the Spurs lost on January 29th to the Bulls. This was the fifth loss for the Spurs in just seven games. Despite the great start and the injuries, the lack of a "signature win" put ideas of a championship on the back burner, and a just-tread-water mentality emerged among the fans. It seemed as though the Spurs could not finish with the top seed, and that it would be tough just to hold on to a top-4 seed.
Then, Timothy Theodore Duncan happened. The legend, the hero of the Alamo City for almost two decades, the man who developed a counter to everything father time has thrown at him -- Big Fun, was unwilling to just tread water and put the team on his back when it needed him the most. During February the big man put up a truly outstanding line, averaging 19 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists while chipping in almost two blocks a game as well. The Timmy-led Spurs didn't just stay afloat, they won 75% of their games despite having to play nine of those games on the road during the Rodeo Road Trip. When February was over, the Spurs had a 42-16 record.
Just before February, Michael Erler composed an ode to David Stern, who stepped down on Feb 1st. What he wrote might surprise you.
With the Spurs struggling, many fans were calling for the Spurs to pull off a trade. J. Gomez produced a piece where he said that all the Spurs needed was health and that the worst part of the Spurs' struggles was probably in the past:
A magical trade that would give the Spurs the upper hand against the rest of the league would be fantastic. But with the assets the Spurs have it is just not very realistic. It's much more likely that the Spurs simply fine tune a couple of things and go into the postseason with a real shot at a championship. Being the favorites would be better, but I'll settle for being a true contender.
Remember when the Spurs signed Shannon Brown? He did a couple of 10-day stints, but didn't stick with the team once everyone got healthy. The thing I remember most is that 17-year vet Tim Duncan took time out to explain the intricacies of some part of the offense or a play to a guy on a 10-day.
Here's Timmy and Tony running a little two-man game to perfection. The timing, the ease...man, they really make it look simple.
If you watched the game, this play certainly stood out. First there's the Tim pass to Patty that is just low enough that Mills is able to grab it and pass to Parker while he's falling out of bounds. Then Parker makes an aggressive move to the basket, but with nothing there he is forced to pass to Bonner. It's a pretty tough pass - mid-air and around Derek Williams, but it finds it's way to Matt's hands. Matty quickly passes to Boris, who sends the ball to Patty in the corner. Patty drives and finds Timmy in a high-percentage location.
The Spurs started the Rodeo Road Trip with a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on February 1st. Best part of the night? We got this video of the team coming out of the locker room and through the tunnel. If you were wondering, that was Tim Duncan's 605th regular season road game.
The coaches didn't choose Tim Duncan to be one of the all-star reserves in 2014. The New York Times took notice and published a great piece calling out the coaches for not honoring the legendary big man:
Doesn't playing and behaving selflessly and professionally for 17 years promote the league in a way that cannot be quantified in numbers like jersey sales?
Doesn't seamlessly executing scores of high screen-and-rolls and setting the example in making the Spurs a basketball purist's dream team speak to those who might otherwise be inclined to dismiss the N.B.A. as a rapacious dunk-and-pony show?
In a telephone interview, [R.C.] Buford agreed that the Duncan snub reflected a general attitude about the Spurs organization, which has long recognized the league and shoe company agenda for selling "Allen Iverson and hip-hop."
The Spurs pulled out a win over the Wizards in double overtime on the back of Tim Duncan's monster line of 31-11-5-3-2 and Michael Erler wrote a nice rehash that showed just how remarkable it is that Tim is still doing what he's doing at his age. You should read it.
Tim Duncan is not of this world.
You have to understand that what we're watching right now, it's just not normal.
Hakeem Olajuwon, generally regarded as the best, most athletic big-man of the past generation, had his last good season at age 36. He hung on for three more seasons after that, all of them injury-marred, and never averaged more than 11.9 points or 7.4 rebounds.
And Olajuwon aged the most gracefully of his Hall-of-Fame peers.
The Spurs dropped one to the Nets when they didn't play most of their starters for rest or because of injury before they beat the Bobcats with Patty Mills chipping in a whopping 32 points on just 13 shots.
Here's a nice little score from the Aussie and Timmy giving his appreciation after the Spurs picked up the win.
J. Gomez gave us another of his fantastic articles, this one on why A player's success in the league doesn't just come down to talent.
I'm using de Colo as an example because he has been by far the most maligned of the deep bench guys, but I could have used other names. A lot of people were ready to give up on Jeff Ayres after a few games. I've been guilty myself of wondering out loud why Cory Joseph is still in the Spurs' future plans and why they had bothered to sign Baynes. I think it's fair to say that those guys simply never appeared to be anything special, but it also does not remove the possibility that they just haven't been given the right break.
The Spurs finished up their east coast portion of their Rodeo Road Trip with a win over the Boston Celtics.
Tim Duncan decided in the second half that the Spurs were to win this game and that was that. Facing a rebuilding team with a recovering star and with his own team missing very important cogs, Duncan was clearly the best player on the floor. And he played like it. I only have fading memories of watching Maradona on the pitch and I could only watch Michael Jordan play on the TV a few times a year here in Argentina. So I'm so glad I'm getting to witness Tim Duncan be this amazing at age 37.
The win gave the Spurs a 38-15 record, putting them four games back of the Thunder and in second, going into the all-star break.
Tony Parker played in the all-star game, but the biggest story for Spurs fans during All Star Weekend was Marco Belinelli winning the Three-Point Shootout. He became the first Italian and the first Spur (Matt Bonner almost won it the year before) to win the competition. Perhaps my favorite part of the event was when Nick Cannon asked Marco what his strategy was going to be going in to the final:
I love everything about this response. Especially his facial expression after he says "I'm just going to try to do my best."
We've made it through the all-star break and the Spurs held a record of 38-15, but the boys would soon become healthy and tear through the league on a heck of a winning streak. We'll get to that in part 3, but that's it for part 2.