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Tony Stole My Razor and Won't Give It Back

By Michael Erler on April 27, 2008.

First Round Game 3 @ Phoenix: Spurs 115, Suns 99

Believe it or not, I’m not completely thrilled we won last night. No, this has nothing to do with Antoine’s overwhelming dominance. Well, maybe a little. No, that’s not it.

What’s got me bothered is my face.

It’s hairy. Very hairy. And itchy. And it feels like I’ve got food all over my mouth and it just feels gross. I can’t stand this and it’s driving me insane.

You see, the Spurs won Game 1 last Saturday; an epic, miraculous game they nevertheless had no real business winning. If you think I’m shaving after such a victory, then clearly you don’t know me very well. You’re talking to the same guy who didn’t shave after the Red Sox won Game 4 against the Yankees in the ’04 ALCS and kept it going ’til the last out against the Cardinals in the World Series some two weeks later.

Anyway, yes, cute, Duncan hits a huge shot, Manu wins it and the Spurs win Game 1. Let’s see ’em do it again in Game 2 before we all pop boners. It was a fluke win after all and didn’t prove anything.

Except we won Game 2, somewhat convincingly. At this point I was near certain that we’d win the series, perhaps in five games. Still, the inevitable “Pussy Game” loomed. Surely the Suns would get a home blowout, or at least a solid win to make things respectable before Pop and his charges would regroup and put together a more earnest effort in Game 4, right? No way they win this one, right?

Jesus Christ I’m going to end up looking like Osama Bin Laden by the time the Spurs are holding that trophy. Watch, they’re gonna go 16-0, just so God and Manolis can take turns making fun of me. The sacrifices I make. Good thing I’m not flying anywhere soon, because you know I’d be one of the “random” people security would check on.

I hate this beard. And I hate you, Tony.

(Not really. I recognize the beard and my lame superstitions are my own choice and I could shave it at anytime. I’m not crazy.)

Anyway, this game will not get the full blown 5,000 analytical treatment. For one, I’m too busy. For two, there is nothing to analyze. We played a damn near perfect game offensively. No matter what the Suns threw at us, it didn’t work, and they tried everything. Traps, zones, different guys on Tony, going over screens, under screens. All of it was as useless as an asshole on an elbow. I actually started to feel sorry for Mike “C’mon Guys” D’Antoni. His players are turning on him and taking thinly veiled shots against his coaching to the press. Stoudemire questioned the “seven seconds or less” offensive philosophy and preached the need to hold the ball longer and wait for the perfect shot instead of the first available good shot. Nash questioned whether the coach(es) stayed with a strategy that obviously wasn’t working (letting Tony shoot) too long without making adjustments. The team is coming apart at the seams.

The thing is, there isn’t much D’Antoni could have done, given the personnel he has at his disposal. I can think of a few lhuman beings less suited to play pick-and-roll defense than Shaq and Stevie Nash, but not many. In the NBA maybe Yao (with his broken foot) and Mike Bibby. Outside of the NBA, maybe Jared the “Subway” guy and Estelle Getty.

The Spurs ran pick-and-rolls with Tony time after time after time. They literally never got bored of it. It was just cruel, really. When they got close to Spaceball he passed it, and it seemed as if every one of his dishes led to a swish. When they gave 36 space, he buried his shots. It was damn near clinical.

Look at this chart I made. It shows all the types of shots the Spurs took and their success with them. Lay-ups, “Paint shots,” (Tony’s floater, Manu’s one hand runners, etc.) PJ’s which stands for “Perimeter Jumpshots” and Threes.

………Lay-Up….. Paint Shot….. PJ…… 3

Tim….. 5/6…. ………. 0/2…….. 4/7

Manu ………………2/2………. 1/2….. 4/7

Tony …..2/2…………. 4/8………..10/13… 1/3

Bruce …………………………………2/3

Fab ……..1/2………… 0/1……… 2/2

Kurt …… 1/2…………………….. 3/7

Fin ……….1/1…………………………… 1/4….. 0/2

Brent …………………..0/1………………… 1/1

JV ……………………………………….0/1

Ime …………………………………….1/1…….. 0/2

Total: ….9/12……….. 7/15……….. 24/40…. 6/15

The first number that jumps out at you, or should anyway, is the “lay-ups” column. The Spurs, who lived in the paint the first two games, attempted a total of 12 whopping lay-ups/dunks the whole game. That’s not made, folks, that’s attempted. One lay-up attempt every four minutes. The Suns could play a WNBA team and give up more than that in an average night. The Suns accomplished their defense goal and shut down the paint and closed off penetration. It should hardly be a surprise given the lay-up number that we managed only two fast break points.

Now look
at the third column, the regular, routine two point perimeter jumpshots. All those baskets between eight and 22 feet that never show up in the highlights and have been our Achilles heel for months and months. We hit 24 of them. One every two minutes. In 40 attempts. That’s 60%. Maybe those old Celtics teams with Bird and Ainge could do that. Or that 1970 Knicks team Big Chief Triangle is so fond of. But something like that just doesn’t happen very often in the NBA these days people. Nowadays, if teams can shoot jumpers that well, they take them from behind the line. (And mathematically, that is the smart play).

I don’t know when’s the last time this season the Spurs hit 24 two point jumpers or hit them at a 60% rate, but if I had to guess, I’d venture that neither has happened all year. Consider that Tony, who had a very strong Game 2 overall, didn’t hit his first jumper until midway through the fourth quarter last Tuesday. He made ten of them last night, plus a three. When Tony can shoot like that, say good night Aunt Gracie, because the Spurs are indefensible.

The Suns certainly don’t have the people do it anyway. Hill is too old and hobbled. Barbosa is hopeless and Diaw is too slow laterally. One thing I would try if I were the Suns would be to put Bell on Tony full time and take my chances with Hill, Barbosa or Diaw on Manu. It won’t work, but at this point what do you have to lose? Bell is your best defender and right now Tony is the one killing the Suns the most. Manu is hobbled, gimpy with a bad ankle, and after trying to go into the paint once and getting clobbered by The Big Elbow for his trouble, The Exception said “Fuck that” and decided to just shoot threes. 20 points on 11 shots is hardly a bad night, after all.

The most enjoyable part of the series has been the way we’ve mercifully exposed O’Neal. For a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, he sure does have few basketball skills, huh? Basically, he’s gotten by being a freakish athlete, but it’s scary how little he understands the nuts and bolts of the game. All these years in the league and The Big Joke is still mystified as to what constitutes an offensive and defensive foul, what a lane violation is on a free throw, and the basic principles of pick-and-roll defense. He’s never been able to shoot the rock so he just assumes that no other big can either. Is it arrogance, laziness or stupidity with him? I could never figure it out.

Now compare him to Duncan. Actually, don’t, because there is no comparison. In addition to being ten times more intelligent, a hundred times classier and a thousand times more the leader than Shaq could ever hope to be, Timmy is first and foremost a basketball player. Not an athlete, but a basketball player. He has moves, in the post and facing the basket. He can play individual and team defense and offense. He can shoot the ball and shoot free throws. He actually works on his game in the off-season. Tim Duncan could be 6’2″ and he’d be in the NBA, because he’d figure out how to do the things a 6’2″ guy would have to do to be successful.

Tim and Pop didn’t fall for the Shaq bait, the stupid post machismo and one-on-one crap. Instead Timmy just about abandoned the post and lured O’Neal to the paint with him, where we exploited him all night long with Tony or Manu. As a result, Duncan got more easy lay-ups than he had before the old fashioned way, plus he embarrassed Shaq, hitting all these jumpers that The Big Lane Violation never would or could. The Hack-a-Shaq was the perfect cherry on top, completely flustering O’Neal and grinding his teammates to a halt. You can see Nash practically tear his hair out, the way this tactic takes the ball out of his hands. I bet he wishes he tossed a few more lobs to Shawn Marion and kept him happier now. Maybe some bullshit platitudes like “Shawn has always been our best player, our MVP, it’s not even close” would have kept him in town. In the end having Marion around wouldn’t have changed the result of this series, but at least he never embarrassed them. Shaq looks like Willie Mays on the ’73 Mets, stumbling around on fly balls out there.

Taking into account the frustration of having to watch O’Neal at the stripe, the feelings of inadequacy that must come from being abused so badly by Tony defensively and the stifling (and at times grabby) defense of Bowen siphoning every last ounce of energy out of his body like some alien zombie vampire, you could slowly see Nash’s passion and will fade as the game went along. By the end, he was a ghost, not to mention the Suns worst player on Saturday. He had nothing left in him. He knows his prime was wasted on inadequate teams that never could withstand his defensive shortcomings or his coaches’ defensive deficiencies. This is it, it’s over for him. As long as O’Neal’s massive contract is on the books, there is nothing they can do, unless by some act of God Alando Tucker and D.J. Strawberry develop into the second coming of MJ and Pip in the offseason.

For now though, enough about Nash and enough about the Suns. Their eulogy will come another night. Right now the Spurs have to get greedy. They have to suck all the life out of their opponent’s arena. Manu’s not close to 100% right now with that groin and ankle and needs some rest. Tony is banged up and bruised and I’m guessing that Tim and all the other vets aren’t feeling too hot either. What this team needs is to close out Phoenix, do it in a definitive fashion that will serve notice to the rest of the league that the defending champions are very intent indeed on keeping what’s theirs, and then rest up for a much tougher series with the spry and youthful Hornets. I want to play Dallas, but that’s the stuff of fantasy.

As for adjustments, I don’t know what more we can do. Everything we try is working. The big three are pouring in 84 a game. Again, trying to get Barry more involved would be nice. Keep attacking O’Neal until D’Antoni has no choice but to make him sit. Go to the hole hard when Diaw is their only big. Keep the Suns off the boards and away from the three point line. What will Phoenix do? Trap to get the ball out of Tony’s hands I’m guessing, so Manu will need to have a big night making the decisions. The shooters have to be there for him like they were there for Tony. Also, it wouldn’t shock me to see D’Antoni, in complete desperation, go to Hack-a-Bruce, Hack-a-Fab, or Hack-a-Tim, just to see how we like it. Should be a contentious game and I’m looking forward to these Suns setting for good.

And if not I’ll at least get evict the family of squirrels living on my cheeks.

Three Stars...

3. Manu Ginobili – Quietly making every big play, always at the right time. Every three he made was a dagger.

2. Tim Duncan – Controlled the game at both ends, made Shaq look silly with his all-around skills.

1. Tony Parker – 41 and 12. Quite possibly the finest game of his career.

P.S. A tip of the cap to Jeff Van Gundy who worked as the TV analyst for the game. He called the Suns fans on all their bullshit. He explained that it’s not the Spurs fault O’Neal can’t make free throws, it’s his fault. He mocked them for cheering Manu being fouled hard and noted that such tactics don’t bother Ginobili and he’ll happily make the free throws. Basically, he questioned the fans’ basketball intelligence at every turn. It was awesome and a welcome respite from the usual ESPN bullshit about the Spurs. Hopefully we’ll see more of it.

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  1. Dingo April 27, 2008

    I guess today was the “Pussy Game.” Oh well, I never thought the Spurs would sweep anyway.

    The big takeaway from game four is that, at least against the Suns, the Spurs can’t win without big numbers from the big three. Tony, Tim and Manu scored just 42 in this game, compared to a combined 90, 79 and 84 in the first three games. No wonder the Spurs were down by as many as 32 in the fourth quarter and lost by 19.


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