Just another ho-hum laugher
Game 4 San Antonio @ Denver: Spurs 96, Nuggets 89 (3-1)
Just another Picasso for your San Antonio Spurs. God does this team make everything tense. It is tempting to think that the Nuggets couldn’t have possibly given us this much of a battle in 2005, but then you look at the box scores and see that we only won Game 3 by 8 and game 4 went to overtime. So it’s never easy. It only feels like the game you’re playing that day is the hardest game ever to win. Somehow we found a way.
Actually, there is no somehow to it. I’ve been a Spurs fan for 17 years and have come to understand what constitutes winning team basketball pretty well over the years. While fans of other teams might have seen a 50-42 scoreline at half time and been screaming at their televisions and clacking away on their message boards about the need for offense and “let’s get some guys who can make a shot in there” and the like, that wasn’t my line of thinking at all.
The 42 points didn’t bother me at all. We were missing wide open shots. I knew the offense would come. I was pissed about the defense and rebounding. We allowed some ridiculous number like 34 points in the paint in the first half and were at one time being outrebounded by 14. Timmy was playing soft and Elson was his usual clueless self. Horry was having an uncharacteristically hard time making his proper rotations and Finley was flat out atrocious against Anthony. It wasn’t a question of “how are we down eight?” as much as it was “how are we down just eight?”
In the second half however, we got our shit together and held Denver to just 39 points on 15 of 37 shooting (41%). Basically we let AI be AI and shoot the Nuggets out of the game. There are no mysteries about either team after four games and I can assure you, we have no answers for Carmelo one-on-one. Bruce can’t handle him, Manu can’t, and Finley has no chance. We haven’t quite reached Amare Stoudemire in 2005 territory with ‘Melo yet, but he’s awfully close. Without a double team he’s damn near automatic.
Thankfully, Anthony committed four offensive fouls, so he was on the floor just 38 minutes today instead of his usual 45, but even more importantly, Iverson’s insistence on asserting himself as the alpha dog helped us hold Anthony down in the fourth. He played right into our hands, as we all figured he would, and the Nugs scored just 16 points in the final stanza.
Afterward, Iverson predictably insisted that the shots he missed weren’t difficult, saying, “I wasn’t in my game. I had so many good looks and so many easy baskets that I missed, it just was frustrating tonight and it’s something I have to work through. If I knew how to adjust to it, I would.”
Is that the biggest “no shit” quote of all time or what? He knows no other way to play and it’s extremely doubtful that at 31 years old he’ll ever learn. For a career 42% shooter, there is no such thing as an easy two point jumper. Defenses will give you anything you want over 15 feet all day Allen. Just don’t get to the line and don’t pass it to Carmelo or Nené. It’s all you baby. God, if I could roll my eyes any higher I’d be staring at my own useless brain.
It should surprise nobody that classy George Karl danced all over J.R. Smith’s grave today during his media session. “He’s done,” Karl told The Denver Post, meaning he doesn’t intend to play Smith anymore this series. Taking issue with Smith’s poor three point try late in the game Karl added, “And then, of course the one with eight seconds to go, from 50 feet,” Karl said. “I just love the dignity of the game being insulted right in front of me.”
Apparently throwing one of your own players under the bus after a close loss isn’t an affront to the dignity of the game. It looks like Karl is gunning for Avery Johnson’s title as the biggest dickhead coach in the Association.
And this was before his coach railroaded him. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
The funny thing is, that as badly as Smith has played, Eduardo Najera, their other bench guy, has been just as worse. Sure he hustles and gets offensive boards, and his defense on Timmy is respectable, but the man simply isn’t a threat to score. All we do when he’s in the game is double off him and make life a living hell for ‘Melo. It’s not exactly a coincidence that we go on nice little runs practically every time Najera is in the game. It’s kind of like the hidden little secret to the whole series – anytime the Nuggets aren’t playing with Camby-Nené-Anthony-Iverson-Blake/Kleiza quintet, they get outscored, and at a fairly shocking rate.
And unfortunately for them, they’ve reached a no-win situation at this point. The heavy minutes are starting to take their toll on their guys and the fatigue that wasn’t showing in the fourth quarter of Game 1 has reared its ugly head by Game 4. They play their crappy players, they lose early. They play their good players, they’ll lose late. C’est la vie.
Ironically, we didn’t even play well offensively. Barry bricked three wide open threes, Fin was a disaster and Manu can’t smell the basket against these guys. Karl’s main point of emphasis in the defensive game plan is to not let Gino get to the cup, at all costs. Consequently, we’re getting the kind of 3 point looks that would get Mike D’Antoni noticeably erect. We managed to cobble together 96 points thanks to eight threes (in 25 attempts) and just enough lay-ups from Tim and Tony.
It’s somewhat easier to get to the rim when Mr. Kleiza is prominently involved. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Speaking of The Wee Rapping Frenchman, let me just say now, after watching Iverson for four games, I have even more fondness for Parker than I did before. I know I get on the guy at times, but I’ve reached the “there but for the grace of God…” level of frustration with The Answer, who I was a huge fan of until he became a Nugget. At least our guy plays defense. When you get down to it, that’s why our team contends every year and most teams don’t. Our big three aren’t any better offensively than the stars of most other decent teams. But our guys play both ends. If you want to play just half the game then you should go join the NFL.
Iverson (and ‘Melo, to a lesser extent) uses defense an opportunity to rest, like a modern Pete Maravich. Instead of playing 45 minutes a night for 47 feet, he’d be a much better player giving his team 37 minutes of effort at 94 feet. Tony didn’t have the greatest day scoring the ball, but he was all over Iverson in the fourth and his defense was a bigger factor for us than some lucky three by Big Shot Bob.
The other key was Manu. Even though he didn’t shoot well, his fingerprints were all over the game. He finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals and seemed to always be around the ball. He had by far his best defensive game, giving up two scores the whole night and even managed to hold his own against Iverson a few times, successfully forcing him to go left and take awkward fadeaways. Once he figured out that there was no way he could get to the rim, he lobbed three straight passes to Timmy for easy lay-ins in one sequence. His biggest shot was a three to give the Spurs their first second half lead at 74-73, the big 7-0 spurt coming ironically from a smallball lineup with Oberto as the only big.
Yes, Horry hit another huge shot, perhaps saving Manu from another killer late game turnover in the process, but we won this one with defense, and don’t let one highlight obscure your memory of an entire game. Up 3-1 now and coming home for game 5, I’m smelling a 2005ish aroma very much indeed.
Your 3 Stars
3. Marcus Camby – 10 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks. He did all he could.
2. Manu Ginobili – Game by game total of his points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks:
Game 1: 18 Game 2: 25 Game 3: 32 Game 4: 34.
1. Tim Duncan – 22-11-6, shook off a poor first half and dominated the second as we’ve all grown to expect. The real MVP.
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