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Oberto, Duncan Define OT Win Over Suns

By Daniel Strickland on November 9, 2006.

“He’s the ugliest productive player I’ve ever been around.
He looks like a bull in a china shop out there.”

Coach Gregg Popovich on Fabricio Oberto

Game 5 vs. Phoenix: Spurs 111, Suns 106
Record: 4-1   Streak: W-3

I came home last night and turned on the Spurs-Suns game to find San Antonio down by seven, 88-81, with just over 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter. I was surprised, but not too worried about the prospect of the Spurs making it two Ls in a row at home, after dropping their home opener against LeBron’s Cavaliers. (That man is younger than most of the league’s rookies and already one of the all-time greats, as far as I’m concerned. Can you believe that shit?)

But things changed pretty quickly. I could only scratch my head at the announcement that Oberto was 10-of-10 from the field with 20 points. (So much for Michael’s prediction that Oberto would “never be able to see more than 18 minutes on the floor with us.”)

Most fans will remember two things about this game: 1) the Spurs came back from being 9 down in the 4th quarter to win decisively in OT, and 2) Oberto finished the game with 22 points, shooting 11-for-11.

What I’ll remember is that Tim Duncan utterly and absolutely choked when the game was on the line.

Tim committed an offensive foul against Kurt Thomas with 6:32 left in the fourth and the Spurs trailing 88-81. He then slammed the ball down and gestured wildly to the refs. NBA coaching legend and commentator Hubie Brown said:

BROWN: Wow. Watch out here, Timmy. You don’t need a T right here. You don’t need that.

What got into Tim’s head? He’s been in this league long enough to know not to act out like that.

The Spurs would go on a 19-9 run in the last five minutes to finally take a one point lead with just seconds left. And then guess what?

Tim Duncan blew it at the free throw line.

With the Spurs up 101-100, Shawn Marion fouled Duncan. Duncan then proceeded to miss, not one, but BOTH free throws. Oberto came in for Finley and fouled Raja Bell. With one second left and the Suns down by just a point, Bell had a chance to win it. Thankfully, he missed his second free throw, and the game went into overtime.

This wasn’t the kind of game that anyone expected from Oberto, let alone our resident Oberto lover. But I expect better leadership and free throw shooting from Tim Duncan if the Spurs are going to win another championship, and I didn’t see much of either last night.

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  1. Bramlet Abercrombie November 13, 2006

    I don’t think Timmy has ever been particularly clutch from the free-throw line. Statistically speaking, how big a surprise is it when a guy who (over the last three years) is essentially a 60-something percent free throw shooter misses two? It’s a weakness in his game, but the Spurs have managed to win three titles in spite of it, and despite perennially being one of the worst free throw-shooting teams in the league. TD is clutch in every other respect, so I’m not worried about him. Nor does Pop’s decision to keep him on the court in that situation bother me. As a short-term decision it’s indefensible, but in the long term we have to have faith in our MVP and stick with him in those situations. Come playoff time, we can’t just take him off the floor down the stretch of every tight game. That’s the sort of big-picture thinking behind Pop’s decisions that his most vociferous critics tend to overlook.

    I like the take Johnny Ludden gave in his answer to a fan today:

    Why did you think Coach Pop kept Duncan on the floor with seconds remaining and Spurs leading by one (on Wednesday)? It’s obvious the Suns would foul him? Why not the Spurs best free-throw shooters? — Arnold Pineda, Hong Kong

    Great question. (And trust me, those two words aren’t in heavy circulation here at the Mailbag.)

    Getting Tim off the court in an obvious foul situation seems like the logical move to me and, I assume, just about everyone else populating our fine planet. In fact, I’d want him so far away from the free-throw line, I’d tell him to go wait in the locker room.

    But here’s the rub: Pop rarely pulls Tim in those situations. And I love him for it.

    For one thing, it only adds to the drama of the moment. Have you ever heard 18,000 people gasp at once? That’s what happens at the AT&T Center when Tim steps to the foul line. Good times.

    Here’s what I also like: By leaving Tim out there, Pop is essentially saying, “If we’re going down, we’re going down with our best player on the court, free throws be damned.” He’s letting Tim know that he’s The Guy, and The Guy, sooner or later, better be able to come through at the line.

    There are only a few times I remember Tim getting yanked. One was a game against Orlando midway the 2000-01 season. The Magic were up two with 6.4 seconds left in overtime. Orlando coach Doc Rivers had already intentionally fouled Tim earlier in the game, and made it clear he would do so again if the ball touched his hands on the next possession.

    So Pop sat Tim. But I got the impression after the game he felt sick doing it.

    Pop’s not dumb. A lot of times when Tim’s on the court in those situations, he makes him the inbounder, which essentially removes him from the play.

    On Wednesday, Michael Finley inbounded with Tim setting a screen to free either Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker, the play’s first two options. When Finley didn’t think he had a good passing lane to either of the Spurs’ guards, he inbounded to Tim, who was fouled before he could get rid of the ball.

    At that point, Tim was 6 of 7 from the line. Which, of course, didn’t mean much when he missed both. Had Raja Bell not bailed out the Spurs by clanging his own free throw, they would have lost.

    Call me delusional, but as bad as Tim has looked at the line, I think he’ll improve over the course of the season. He’s working with Chip Engelland, the team’s shooting guru, more than he did last year, and everyone knows what Chip has done with Tony. Tony also started slow last season, but ended up making 80 percent of free throws in the playoffs.

    If Tim’s going to make a similar improvement, he’s going to need to be in pressure situations like Wednesday. Even if it means the Spurs lose a game or two along the way.

    Tim also has this going for him: He owns the franchise records for free-throw accuracy in a regular-season game (17 of 17) and a playoff game (15 of 15). He can’t be that bad, can he?

    (NOTE: The preceding Q&A was written before Saturday’s game against New York. Tim went 4 of 12 from the line. Please disregard everything you just read.)

    What worries me a lot more than TD’s choke is our vulnerability to perimeter scorers. We’re not looking good in that all-important defensive department. Of course, few teams are, with the way the league has changed these past few years.

  2. Bramlet Abercrombie November 13, 2006

    I got so caught up in the free throw issue that I forgot to address your criticism of TD’s technical-tempting behavior. Yeah, that wasn’t too smart. Tim’s been a complainer for a long time, and that’s one quality of his that I don’t particularly care for. In fact, I think his chronic bitching has undermined his ability to work the refs. (Ironically, maybe chronic is exactly what he needs to help him stop bitching so much.) I’m sure Timmy would argue that working the refs is exactly what he was doing, with six and a half minutes still left in the game, but I think the NBA’s crackdown on bitching is going to force him to change. And I hope it does, because I’m sick of the whining that’s become endemic to the NBA.

  3. Bramlet Abercrombie November 13, 2006

    I just remembered that Buck Harvey had a good take on this issue a while back.


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