Spurs Defense Prevails Over Bulls in Chicago

Season 51, Game 02
San Antonio 87, Chicago 77
2-0

There’s a reason Pop preaches defense above all else.

While both ends of the court require tremendous skill, athleticism, and intelligence, offense still comes down to “luck”: shooting.

Of course, shooting is more than just luck. But even the best shooters in the world hover around 50%, which is about the same as a coin-flip. All the skill, athleticism, intelligence, and system in the world will still lead to a simple proposition: will the shot go in or not.

Defense, on the other hand, mostly comes down to effort. Sure, you need a certain amount of skill, athleticism, and intelligence; and you need a system to organize the foundational principles. But what makes it hum is effort.

Effort is controllable; luck is not.

And every few weeks or so, you’ll get a game like the one the Spurs played in Chicago, when offense is hard to come by and luck seems to be turning against you. But the one thing the team can still control is effort. Defense.

So even in today’s offense-heavy NBA, there’s still a role for defense. Particularly when most teams are loading up on the offensive side of the ball, defense can be the zag while others zig.

The Bulls might be the most talent-depleted team in the NBA; on any given night, they shouldn’t be competitive with the Spurs. When the Spurs shoot 40% overall, and only make one 3-pointer all game, though, any team will have a chance. Field a good defense, though, and you’ll stick in just about any game.

Put another way, if you’re only going to score 87 points, you damn well better be able to hold the other team to 77.

A few other thoughts from Saturday night’s win over the Bulls:

• One of the fun things about the beginning of the season is seeing what skills players have added to their game. On the Spurs, nothing is more obvious than Danny Green’s sudden ability to dribble, drive, and dish. Through two games, he looks like a point guard out there at times.

After historic seasons shooting the 3, it was only a matter of time before the league caught up to him. So he added the dribble-pull up to his game after defenders ran him off the line. But watching him dribble was always torturous.

This season, though, he looks great dribbling. Not only that, he is making passes ranging from moderately difficult to Manu-esque difficult. He is penetrating to the rim (thus breaking down defenses) and both finishing and finding open players. He is shooing off the dribble with defenders in his face.

All while still playing great defense.

Green has always had value with his defense and offensive gravity, even when he wasn’t making shots. If he can become a versatile offensive player to boot, his contract really is one of the best values in the NBA.

• Aldridge had another great game, the kind of performance you need from a star when nothing else seems to be working. Again, it will take a few weeks to see if this really is a “new and improved” LaMarcus, but the signs are there.

And then we’ll see how he looks playing with Kawhi.

• Gasol and Aldridge are showing great chemistry this season, particularly playing the high-low game on offense. Pau has always been a wonderful passer, and is very comfortable in the high post. The two have built a nice rapport playing off of each other.

• The NBA eliminated the automatic under 9-minute timeout in the 2nd and 4th quarters this season in a hope of speeding up the game. I love it. It allows for almost 6 minutes of continuous action if neither coach calls a timeout.

But it can also lead to players getting tired and play getting a bit ragged near the end of some of those stretches. It will be interesting to see how coaches adjust their rotations to this, or if they start calling timeouts differently.

Either way, the fan experience is improved not getting a timeout so quickly after a quarter starts.

The Spurs return home to face the Raptors on Monday.

Go Spurs Go.

Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

Round the Horn

Spurs Open Season With Home Win Against Timberwolves

Season 51, Game 01
San Antonio 107, Minnesota 99
1-0

After an active and tumultuous NBA offseason, the beginning of the regular season (aka, actual basketball) seems almost anti-climactic. You mean we have to actually play basketball?

The Spurs seemingly had the most disappointing season of any contender, real or supposed. In many ways, this season might be the truest referendum on the Spurs’ culture, as pretty much every team in the West continued to load up to take down the Warriors, while the Spurs did (almost) nothing.

Factor in the mysterious Kawhi Leonard injury, and the Spurs are right back where they want to be: under the radar and completely dismissed.

True, taking down Golden State seems almost Sisyphean at this point. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.

Setting aside Kawhi, the story of the offseason was LaMarcus Aldridge. Will he stay or will he go? Is he happy or not? Did he really perpetrate these acts of Durant/Westbrook-level pettiness?

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Go Spurs Going Forward

The 2016-17 season was the first in decades that the Spurs had to play without Tim Duncan. The Silver and Black attack exceeded all expectations by putting together perhaps the best rebuilding season by any team in history.

The 2017-18 season will be one of continued rebuilding, laying a foundation for now and the future, one as solid as we spoiled fans of San Antonio can hope for.

The post season had our franchise attached to big names and rumors of this generation’s best point guard wanting to join our squad. Chris Paul was serious about wanting to come to San Antonio, despite the realities of his contract needs and the inability of the Spurs to bring him with the team’s cap restrictions.

What’s important is that he, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade, and many others have now been actively and publicly linked to playing in San Antonio. Longtime fans know that San Antonio was not a destination for elite free agent NBA stars in the past. That’s changed. The significance of this cannot be overlooked.

We have many, many, many reasons to be optimistic about this year and beyond. And I believe this may be the deepest roster San Antonio has ever fielded.

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Inevitable

2017 Western Conference Finals
San Antonio 115, Golden State 129
Warriors win series 4-0

I still have nothing new to say about this game or this series.

With one twist on an ankle, every ounce of drama and suspense was drained from the series. I maintain that the Spurs were not winning this series, despite what the first 29 minutes of Game 1 told me. But my great hope was that there was data to be mined, things to be learned, weaknesses to be probed.

Instead, we got this shitburger of a series. No competition, no drama, nothing learned, nothing gained. You could argue that we learned LaMarcus is not a big moment player and not a #1 option. But we already kind of knew that. The Warriors completely erased him from this series, as they should have done once Kawhi went down. Slot him into a #2 option (or, more importantly, a #3 option), and things look very different for him. Remember, he was tremendous in the first half of Game 1 when everything was in its right place.

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Another One Bites The Dust

2017 Western Conference Finals
San Antonio 108, Golden State 120
Warriors lead series 3-0

The Spurs played better. They played harder. They competed to the best of their abilities. They still got their butts kicked.

There’s just not enough there. Without Kawhi, without Tony (how quickly we forget about him, and how useful he might be in this series), the rest of the roster falls into disarray, and the usual collective synchronicity becomes merely an accumulation of pieces.

I honestly don’t know what else to say. You can only watch the same movie over and over again so many times and find fresh takes. This Warriors squad versus what is left of this Spurs squad is simply not a fair fight.

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