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Singin’ the Old Man Blues in Reno

By Michael Erler on November 10, 2007.

Hello there, my pretties. As you’re no doubt aware, I’ve missed recapping the past two games because of my Reno sojourn, so in order to fulfill my contractual obligations to both PtR and Spurs Dynasty (which means I can’t post the same stuff, in it’s original format, in both places) I’m just going to write one long blog and break it up in two. Part I will be the Rockets game, on Spurs Dynasty, and Part II, the Heat game, will be on PtR. So, um…enjoy, I guess.

Game 4: Rockets 89, Spurs 81

I think I’m getting old. And timid. And either my age is making me timid, or my timidity is making me feel older. Manolis and I went to Reno from Tuesday morning through Thursday morning, and on the trip I set personal gambling trip lows for earliest I ever went to bed, least money I’ve ever wagered for my “highest wager of the trip,” least alcohol I’ve ever drank, least I’ve sworn at dealers, and definitely least breasts I’ve ever seen.

Don’t get me wrong, I needed a mini vacation. We both did. Reno “Come For Our Crystal Meth, Stay For the $9.99 Steak & Lobster” was the logical choice because we wanted to gamble but didn’t have the time or finances to pull off a last minute getaway to Vegas. The white trash Vegas would have to do, and in truth, we really did have a relaxing good time, but that was like literally the most pointless, least eventful trip I’ve ever taken. We literally did nothing but gamble, eat, and watch movies and basketball. Manolis and I didn’t even get into one nasty fight the whole time, and don’t think that’s ever happened before on one of these outings. We’re fucking ancient, I’m telling you.

Speaking of which, “fucking ancient” seemed like an adequate way to sum up our beloved Spurs after the Rockets game, no? Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you. They’re an AWFUL match-up for us, even worse than the Mavs. We don’t have anyone who can remotely guard Yao on the roster. Rasho used to do a decent job of it, but he hasn’t been here in two years and since then the proud owner of the Biggest Chinese Wang has gotten a lot better and ‘Sho has declined. T-Mac usually trashes us, but Bowen actually did a pretty good job on him this time around. And now they’re actually playing another notorious, Spurs-killer, Moleface Wells.

I’ve always despised Bonzi. He just looks like such a hoodlum. Like he does that thing with his mouth where he looks like he’s always chewing on an invisible toothpick. I’m not the only one who’s noticed that, right? It’s like basketball has always been a thinly-veiled cover for him to steal a lot of money and beat the crap out of people without going to prison. The guy almost single-handedly led the Kings to a stunning first round upset over us in 2006 and we were lucky he went AWOL on the Rockets last year, not seeing eye-to-eye with Dr. Jeff Van Katz.

Dr. Katz, in his office last season, devising the perfect game plan that will enable Yao and McGrady take every single shot against the Jazz.

This year, so far, he’s on board. I don’t know if it’s because he likes Rick Adelman or it’s the contract year thing, (actually scratch that, I do know why it is) but Bonzi was like a crazed rabid dog Tuesday night, and he feasted on his favorite snack, roast penguin.

Actually, wait, that came out wrong. Let me start at the beginning. We checked into our hotel, the Eldorado, and despite my initial reservations about staying at a place named after Terrell Owens’ middle name, at no time did our hotel ever call me gay or demand for more money. Although, now that I think about it, those room movie charges were damned expensive. So around 4:50 Tuesday afternoon we made our way into the sports book (very nice, spacious, lots of big HD televisions) and I asked the guy if the Spurs-Rockets game was at 5 or 5:30.
“Nope, it’s at 6:30. Look at the board.”

I checked the gambling line board. Sure enough, it said 6:30 p.m. “Is that pacific time, sir?”

“Yup, all our games have to be listed by our time zone, it’s the law.”


So, having time to kill, Manolis and I went to the tables, as you’d expect. He went to his natural environment, Pai Gow, and I went to mine, Blackjack. I think we both floated around neutral until 6:15 and I was getting antsy, so I bugged him to get up from his table and get to the sports book early. I told him I wanted to get a bet down before the game starts. Of course, as soon as we got there I look up at the TV and saw that the game was already three minutes into the 2nd quarter.

I asked the bet guy what happened.

“Yeah, we got the time wrong.”


So already I started watching the game in an agitated state, outraged at having to live like Matthew and missing the Spurs play live. Even worse, I didn’t have a chance to put any bets down as practically every game had already started except Cavs @ Warriors and Hornets @ Lakers. I really wanted to take the Hornets, I swear, but I just didn’t have the balls to do it. The other game on the other hand, Warriors -3, really appealed to me. I guess it’s my inherent bias against LeBrick, or I just had too many flashbacks about how wretched the Cavs were in the Finals against us last year, but I just thought it was an easy spot for the W’s to get their first win of the season at home. $20 on Golden State, I declared to the idiot bet guy, confidently.

Like I imagine all of you, I was incensed at the Spurs game. I expected us to lose a close competitive affair, with maybe Yao or McGrady going nuts, but not that. Houston was a terrible offensive rebounding club last year, were they not? Was that just a product of Van Gundy drilling them to collectively get back as quick as possible to not give up anything in transition, like Pop does? Was it Yao’s leg and foot problems limiting him? Or was it all Bonzi?

My guess? None of the above. At least not as far as the Rockets becoming a consistent, dominant rebounding force like the Jazz. Look at their rebounding numbers for their first four games before us:

……..Off Rebs……….Tot Rebs……Differential

So yes, for a team that came into the g
ame -5 on the season in total rebounds, the 25/55/+27 rebounding line they put up against us does appear to be somewhat a statistical anomaly, you might say. And when you throw in the fact that they were the team coming off a tough grinder at Dallas and we had been off since last Friday, what we witnessed out there just didn’t make any sense.

Granted, to get an offensive rebound, a team has to miss a first shot, and when you figure that the Rockets shot only 40% for the game, even factoring all those easier second chance shots, the Spurs initial defense was quite outstanding indeed. What do you think Houston was at on their first shot attempts? 20%? 25%? For the most part our rotations were outstanding, and as I mentioned before, Bruce shut down T-Mac pretty good. While it seemed like Yao made every shot he took, he was actually a pedestrian (for him) 12 of 24, 50%, with six turnovers to boot.

Funnel Bruce, funnel!
(Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

The problem was that the guys, the bigs in particular, sold out so much in trying to slow Yao down, that they left themselves wide open to being exploited on the rebounds. Oberto had a miserable night, as he usually does against huge centers, and he managed a single pitiful rebound in 13 weak minutes. Elson was a bit better against Yao, but again, at the expense of completely selling out on blocks. Tim managed to procure nine defensive caroms, but that’s really not an impressive number considering how many minutes he played (37) and how many shots the Rockets missed (51). Timmy grabbing less than 20% of the available defensive rebounds? Good lord.

It should come as no shock to anyone that on a night when we got slaughtered on the boards so badly, that Pop played Tinyball for 15 minutes, including the entire 4th quarter. We had played a grand total of 3 tiny minutes in our first three games coming in. Granted, the Tim-Fin-Bones-Gino-Tony line-up Pop went to at the end was his desperate bid to make a comeback, and yes, we did get slaughtered on the glass in the first half 35-15 playing with bigs, but tactically, I think we need to make several changes to beat these guys.

1.) Don’t get suckered into playing small. The Rockets only played their two power forwards, Chuck Hayes and Luis Scola, a combined 28 minutes, and none in the 4th. Pop used that as license to go small himself. It’s a trap and we fell for it. Bonzi is basically a power forward himself. Keep the regular line-up in there, sag back against Bonzi and make him beat you with his jumper.

2.) Don’t double Yao. It opens up his passing game and it screws up our rebounding. Let Fab or Francisco guard him as best they can and take your chances against everyone else. This leads me right into…

3.) Don’t guard Yao with Tim. Keep him in the middle at all times for rebounding and penetration defense.

4.) Don’t ever guard Bonzi with Opus. The Hustlemaker, bless his heart, tried as hard as he could against Wells. He tried boxing out, he tried outright flopping a few times, nothing worked. Wells kept shooing him away like a gnat. Frankly, a couple times I thought he could’ve been whistled for a foul, but whatever. The point is Gonzo cannot handle Moleface inside and cannot stop him from rebounding. All the more reason to put a big on him.

5.) Go right at Wells on offense. Fouling him out might be our only shot.

6.) Take advantage of Tim’s quickness on Yao. If the Rockets are going to sell out against our shooters on the three point line (we only had 8 attempts, that’s usually like a quarter and a half for us) and guard Timmy with Yao, then Duncan can’t wuss out taking jumpers and fadeaway hooks. He’s got to use his lateral quickness and drive by Yao and hopefully get him into foul trouble in the process. The Spurs cannot simply outrun Yao to the bench, they’re not the Warriors or Suns. Dude played 43 minutes last night and going small against him only made him stronger.

Basically we need to turn them into a two man team again, because we’ve seen repeatedly that over the long run, that formula doesn’t work for them. Also, we simply need Duncan to play a whole lot better if he’s singled up all night. They need to pay for not leaving shooters any room. Finally, if the Rox are going to be up in our grill on the perimeter, then everyone needs to drive more, not just Tony and Manu. Brent and Fin need to throw up the occasional pump fake and go to the hole.

Anyway, by the time the game ended, the Warriors were already down to the Cavs 29-21 and I did not have a good feeling on my bet at all, so I set off to the tables, hoping to make back the $20 I was going to lose real quick and get back to the sports book. First I tried my luck at this Texas Hold ‘Em table game, which is different than the poker people usually play against each other. In this game, you’re just playing vs. the dealer, you put your ante bet in (usually $5) and then after you get your two cards you have the option of folding and giving up the ante bet or matching it to see the flop. After the flop you have the option to check or bet on the turn and the river cards as well, so for every hand you wager somewhere between 2x and 4x your original ante bet. Unlike real poker, players pretty much stay in for at least the flop in this game and don’t fold. What kept happening to me was I’d keep making a pair of kings and the dealer would inevitably make aces or trips or whatever and beat me. Not fun.

So I chased that $100 by going to the blackjack table and playing for quarters ($25 a hand). That also did not work out as the fellow in the vest had the annoying habit of getting 20s and 21s repeatedly. Another $100, kaput. Finally, I took my last shot of the night and went to the roulette table. My strategy there was to play ten lucky numbers for a dollar each and see how it worked out. The ten numbers were the first nine guys in the Spurs rotation (4, 7, 9, 12, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21) plus Alexei Kovalev’s 27. It um… didn’t work out, and I lost another $100. I skunked back to the sports book in shame, watched the Warriors lose meekly to the LeBrons, had surprisingly good Chinese food at this place named Tavoli to celebrate Yao’s whipping our tails, ordered “The Bourne Identity” at the room and promptly fell asleep 15 minutes into it. Just a fantastic day.

Not lucky.

Your 3 Stars…

3. Bruce Bowen – Not many candidates for this spot, so I’ll give Bruce some rare love for his work against McGrady. He held T-Mac to 12 points on 14 shots but was forced off the floor in favor of a more offensive line-up. The problem is that he isn’t the guy killing the offense, Findog is.

2. Tony Parker – The only offensive performer besides Manu who was remotely competent. Plus, Stabby McGee only had two points for the Rockets, so the wee Frenchman must have had a decent defensive night as well.

1. Manu Ginobili – I do not have the words nor the skill to compose the proper sonnet needed to put the steal and throw down on Yao’s mug into some historical context, so I won’t try. Let’s just put it this way – I am very, very pleased with El Gimpo’s play and he’s exceeded even my wildly inflated expectations of him thus far. If only he had some help, we could’ve won the game.

Found this on Spurs Talk. So much for the talk of Yao not even trying to block it, huh? The Youtube of it is better though, because you can see the reaction of the Rockets’ bench.

Record: 3-1
Up Next: Vs. Miami Heat
Our second segababa of the young season, this time against the depleted, Flashless, Hasbeens and Neverwases. Shaq is openly stealing money at this point (all of it going to the former Mrs. Shaq) and is moving around at the speed of your basic bowel movement, and with similar leaping skills. I don’t see how Miami can crack 75 points on us.

Click here for the Miami game and part II of the Reno story.

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