Game 6 Vs. Charlotte: Spurs 114, Hornets 94 Rec: 4-2 1st in Southwest, 4th in West
Gregg Popovich was asked before Saturday night's game at the AT&T Center against the Charlotte Hornets if he was concerned about the team's meager three-point totals through the first five games.
The Spurs ranked 28th in the league in both attempts (18.2) and makes (6) per game and the latter number puts them in a dead heat with Stephen Curry.
"Not necessarily," replied Popovich. "We take what's given."
Generally, that sounds like the smart approach. But surely you've noticed which way the league's going this past decade, unless you're a heretic like Charles Barkley or Byron Scott. It's not a coincidence that the best teams are the ones who make the most threes. Last season's conference finalists all ranked in the top five in made threes during the regular season, and the one "outsider" in the group was the Los Angeles Clippers, who lost to the Rockets in seven games in the semi-finals. They were, literally, the fifth-best team in terms of postseason wins.
The year before, the Spurs weren't quite as prolific in their attempts from downtown as the chucking-est teams, but they were the most accurate, leading the league at 39.7 percent in the regular season and then boosting it to 40.9 percent in the playoffs. *Spoiler Alert:* They won the 'chip.
By hook or by crook the best teams find ways to take and make threes, regardless of what defenses are or aren't looking to take away. I'm pretty sure Curry is on everybody's scouting report by now, but he still finds a way to launch.
If you required further proof that shooting three-pointers is a treat that's both nutritious and delicious, then consider tonight's game, in which the home side prevailed 114-94, Exhibit 8,592. San Antonio shot 55.6 percent in the first half and displayed typical Spursian ball movement, racking up 17 assists on their 20 field goals. They had a decent number of free throw attempts (15) and a manageable amount of giveaways (8), yet they found themselves up just 51-47 at half.
It's hard to make that scoreboard ping when you're only 1-of-7 with the money ball.
Contrast that to the second half, in which the Spurs shot the identical 55.6 percent, but this time made 8-of-14 threes. Even with a blah fourth quarter marred by scrubs, the Spurs scored 63, including 42 in the third period, where they blew open the game and left the Hornets in their arrears. An 18-0 run during which they hit threes on four consecutive trips in 1:35 (three by Manu Ginobili and the other by Patty Mills) turned what was a four-point lead into a Spurs cover in the blink of an eye. They finished with 35 assists, a mark they topped just twice all last season. They had 38 in a blowout win over Minnesota on Mar. 15. Finally, they looked like the Spurs we remember, instead of strangers in garish camo uniforms.
"That stretch was incredible," Ginobili admitted after. "I don't know what type of run it was, but it was fun to be out there. We moved the ball very well, we ran all over the place, hit some open shots and played good 'D' at the same time, because sometimes you make some shots but they make them too so it doesn't create momentum."
The Spurs won the game by and large with their bench. Mills scored a season-high 15, hit 3-of-6 from deep and finished a game-high +39. Ginobili had 13 and was +34. Boris Diaw had four helpers and was 31 to the good. David West played a sizable chunk with them and had by far his best outing as a Spur, with 9 points and 6 assists in 28:43.
"We know he's a good passer," explained Ginobili. "Even from open gym I started observing him and realized that he was better than I thought. And he's a willing passer too. He's looking to pass, looking for cutters, and that's what we need, guys who can take a jumper but are willing to pass."
For what it's worth, West has surpassed six assists just 17 times in 820 career games, so let's hold off on comparing him to Larry Bird just yet, but he was effective playing with the foreign legion and neither he nor Diaw had to be worried about the other end of the floor once Hornets coach Steve Clifford subbed out his team's best interior scorer in Al Jefferson and best penetrator in Kemba Walker.
The more interesting facet of the game was the fact that West got so much run in the first place due to LaMarcus Aldridge being in foul trouble all night. The Spurs had 8 points in the first 4:26 when Aldridge picked up his second foul and scored 21 over the final 7:34 of the first quarter. They scored just 22 in the second period, during which he played 6:40 before he got whistled for his third foul. Then came the 42-point explosion in the third quarter, in which he was a non-participant for all but the first 33 seconds.
This isn't an indictment of Aldridge.
The newcomer was highly productive when he played, scoring 16 on 6-of-10 shooting in 17:19. He "stopped thinking" and roasted whoever was on him, mostly Marvin Williams but also Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky, and made shots from all over the floor. He's not the problem or a problem.
But the starting lineup as a unit is not working. Tony Parker was -15 in 25:25, which sounds really hard to do in a 20-point win. He got torched by Walker for two-and-a-half quarters, with his counterpart finishing 11-of-15 for 27 points. What little room Danny Green found on the floor came when he played with the bench guys in the third quarter. Kawhi Leonard is finding his shots in the offense --his mid-range game is the only consistent thing the starters have going for them-- but everything is congested and clunky when both Aldridge and Tim Duncan occupying the paint and there's no Diaw to space the floor, no Mills as a threat to shoot from anywhere or Ginobili as a guy who can create offense in a multitude of ways.
All the Spurs' best lineups so far have those guys as a constant, with Leonard or Green usually as the other wing and then a big. Pop is gonna have to figure out a way to get Parker and his two star big-men to be efficient together, and somehow that's gotta involve getting more looks from outside and spacing the floor.
Aldridge came to the Spurs to replace Tim Duncan, but as long as Timmeh is on the roster, he really needs to think about impersonating Dirk Nowitzki instead.
Your Three Stars:
1) Manu Ginobili
2) Patty Mills
3) David West