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The Spurs stare into the abyss, and come out swinging

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As every game represents the potential end of the season, the Spurs continue to improve.

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs-Game Four Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

What a twist. The Spurs hit the ground running on Sunday and never looked back. As a result, the Spurs sent the 7-game series back to Oakland for Game 5. Once again, Ettore Messina will be holding down the fort as interim head coach.

This week Pounding the Rock Contributors Mark Barrington, Bruno Passos, Jesus Gomez, Marilyn Dubinski, and editor-in-chief J. R. Wilco discuss how Game 4 looked, how Game 5 should look, and how the Spurs will look next season after the music stops at the NBA’s annual coaching rendition of musical chairs.

Keep cheering on your Spurs tonight as they look to send the Warriors back to San Antonio.

Spurs Assistant Coach Ettore Messina has filled in for Pop as head coach since last Thursday’s Game 3. Have you noticed any difference in the way the team plays under him? What about any adjustments he’s made in his time in charge?

Mark Barrington: He changed the defensive rotations so that Patty Mills wasn’t matched up on Klay Thompson so much. It seems that Danny Green with his 6 or 7 inches of additional height can do a better job of harassing his shot, go figure. Of course, that means that Patty is often on Andre Iguodala or even Draymond Green on a switch. Patty did an admirable job defending them, as those guys had really limited impact on Sunday.

Bruno Passos: He’s matching up with Klay Thompson with more size, and it looks like he’s not hedging on the Bryn Forbes-Davis Bertans coin flip — it’ll probably be all Davis if at all, but the rotation should be tighter either way. Both appear to be the right moves, even if they may still be just marginal improvements in the grand scheme against a superior opponent. Other than that, I haven’t seen too much — he’s another great basketball mind that seems to have the buy-in of a group of pros that will give it their all for as long as they can.

Jesus Gomez: Aside from shelving Bryn Forbes and going with bigger lineups, I’ve noticed that the Spurs are sending at least one guy to crash the offensive glass. The idea doesn’t seem to be to actually get offensive boards (although I’m sure they be happy if they got them) but to slow down the Warriors’ transition offense. If the rebound is contested, the Spurs have a chance to run back and set their defense. So far, it’s worked well, even if occasionally it has the opposite effect and leaves San Antonio 4-on-5 on defense.

Marilyn Dubinski: He’s ditching the two-guard line-up (unless one of those guards is Dejounte Murray), particularly when Durant is on the floor, and that results in fewer situations where KD is being guarded by a little guy -- Patty or Tony or Forbes. Even if a small has to guard Draymond Green, you live with that more than you do the alternative. So far the increase in length hasn’t fixed their rebounding issues, but overall the Spurs are adjusting well to what the Warriors are throwing at them.

J. R. Wilco: What do you mean have I noticed a difference? Under Pop the Spurs couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Under Messina, they drained 15 of 28 three-pointers! Is that a big enough difference for you! Seriously though, seeing Bertans more often, and fewer midgets tasked with guarding Durant has been a breath of fresh air.

Manu Ginobili looked amazing on Sunday and as a result he and Tony Parker became the winningest playoff duo in NBA history with Sunday’s victory. Is there any current NBA pair who might reach that feat someday?

Barrington: It could be Steph Curry and Klay Thompson eventually, but I worry about Curry’s long term durability. There are a few other duos around the league with tons of talent, but they aren’t on teams that win a lot of playoff games.

Passos: Mark’s answer is probably the best one. Maybe Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum? This question makes my head hurt.

Gomez: Joel Embidd and Ben Simmons already have a couple of playoff victories and are 24 and 21 years old, respectively. The Sixers are in the running to be the dominant Eastern power throughout their career. With some luck in the health department, they could get there.

Dubinski: Curry may have been too late to the playoff game to match them; he was 24 when he went to his first postseason, which was a year younger than Manu but it’s hard to see him lasting until the age of 40 (or older) with the ever-lasting injury issues. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (or maybe Markelle Fultz) presents a young duo with a promising future, but again injury proneness comes to mind with all of them. Plus, in an era where stars are moving around so much in hunt of rings, it’s hard to imagine two teammates sticking together that long and being that successful for so long. It will be a tall task for anyone who wants to try.

Wilco: This record is all about consistent excellence, starting young, and staying great. I don’t think anyone of this generation has a very good chance to pass MG and TP.

In a poll asking Pounders which young Spur might serve as an x-factor in Game 4. 41% chose Dejounte Murray and he did not disappoint. Who is your choice to step up in Game 5?

Barrington: I’m going to stick with Dejounte. Number 5 is alive for Game 5.

Passos: The ‘young’ qualifier narrows this down somewhat. Give me the spindly guard who will either a) get more open looks from the corner three, or b) have his shot respected and be able to wreak a little havoc off the dribble when the close-out comes.

Gomez: I’m going to go with Davis, because I can’t stop being optimistic about him even when I try. He was bad in a short stint last game and Messina benched him. I’m assuming he’ll get another shot in Game 5. He just needs to hit a three early. If he does and his confidence returns, he could become a problem for a Warriors’ defense that can lack in discipline at times.

Dubinski: If I had to pick someone different I’d say Green and Bertans are due for breakouts, but I think Murray’s newfound confidence after Game 4 is most likely to carry over.

Wilco: If it’s a competitive game, my money is on DJ. If it’s not, then Derrick White is my choice.

Knowing that the Warriors will be back home and out for blood in Game 5, what further adjustments can the Spurs make to push the series back to San Antonio?

Barrington: Other that certain voodoo incantations and auguries, I don’t think there’s much to do. Try to find that home court intensity and focus and also hit some shots. Play with intensity and also control your emotions. The Warriors will make runs, and you have to come back at them. Most of all, be proud and enjoy the journey.

Passos: Defensively, not much. On the other end, the passing rotations can still get better, especially when Aldridge gets trapped. Anticipating that and getting the ball to the open man faster can help. Everyone else will need to remain aggressive and either attack the rim or take (and hopefully make) those open looks once again.

Gomez: The Spurs have already made their adjustments. Now it’s all about execution as a team and production at the individual level. They’ll need to forget they are on the road and bring the energy they had at the AT&T Center, especially on defense. Someone has to step up and get buckets away from home, which has been a problem all year long. If they do that, they’ll have a shot, thanks to the tweaks they have already done.

Dubinski: They just need everyone to play their best on both ends of the court, rebound better (while hoping they don’t get called for loose ball fouls every time), and hope their newly-found three-point shooting gets on the plane to Oakland. Also, remain glued to Thompson and make them beat you some other way.

Wilco: I’d like to see more of Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge pick and roll. And I’d love to see the team tweak where they place their three-point threats when they feed the ball to LMA for his posts possessions — that way the Dubs would have to think twice about who they bring to double. I’m tired of watching Golden State double the post, and recover before the Spurs can get the ball to someone they don’t mind shooting from deep.

Assistant Coaches Ettore Messina, Ime Udoka and James Borrego are all set to interview for head coaching positions this summer. How different might the Spurs sideline look next year?

Barrington: Very different. I don’t begrudge anyone finding success, but I hope they don’t all leave at once. After seeing Messina coach this year, I really like him as Pop’s successor, but he may not want to wait that long to be an NBA head coach when he’s ready now. One name that’s not in that list is Becky Hammon, and she might be experienced enough to be a head coach in a couple of years when Pop finally does step down. After watching her in Summer League, I think she’s a great leader and strategist, and I’m really excited about watching an NBA team with her at the helm.

Passos: There are enough splashy names out there vying for head-coaching jobs to make things fairly competitive. I don’t think they all get nabbed, unless it’s maybe for a lead assistant role like Chad Forcier took a few years back. Either way, as things have been since time immemorial, I trust that whoever leaves will find success and that the team will be just as successful in poaching the next group of budding talent. (My DMs are always open, R.C.)

Gomez: There’s a chance all of them return. Most teams seem to be doing their due diligence. Ime and Borrego, in particular, would have to really impress in their interviews to make up for their lack with experience, compared to other candidates. I think the Messina has a real shot at landing the Hornets job, since he knows Mitch Kupchak from his days as a Mike Brown assistant in Los Angeles. I wouldn’t blame him if he leaves. In fact, all of those guys have paid their dues and appear ready to lead. Hopefully, they will not all leave at once, forcing the Spurs to rebuild their coaching staff on a summer in which rebuilding the roster should be the priority.

Dubinski: I could see one or two of them getting positions elsewhere, Messina most of all, but I don’t think it will be too different, especially with a large contingent of more experienced head coaches out with good track records waiting to be plucked up. I’ll just be happy if someone will hire Mark Jackson and get him off the air. (Jeff Van Gundy has turned down many options already in year’s past, so I think he’s happy announcing.)

Wilco: Everything could look different next year. On the court and on the bench. I’d prefer that the team would be able to retain everybody, but it’s just going to be a series of coin flips at this point. Hopefully some of the bigger pieces (like Pop and KL) will declare their intentions early so that the rest of the pieces can fall smoothly into place.


Do you have a question for the Roundtable? Please post in the comments section.