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I'll Take Tony Parker, Thank You Very Much

By Jeff Koch on April 21, 2009.

I said that this game was a referendum on our team and our season as a whole, and we responded in resounding fashion. Tony Parker continued his ascent to rarefied air. He has been unbelievable this season. His play should give all of us hope that as Duncan and Ginobili slowly decline in advancing years, we can still compete for a championship by relying on Parker to be our main offensive impetus. Dingo already touched on this in an earlier post, so I won’t say too much about Parker’s game. But I did write that Parker’s “improvement in subsequent games is more important than any adjustment that Pop can make. As Tony goes, so do the Spurs go.” I think Game 2 was validation of that statement.

But let’s take a look at some of the key elements of Game 1, and how we adjusted in Game 2.

“Bonner puts out effort, but if he’s not hitting his 3s, he serves very little purpose to us in this series.”

I wrote that in the Game 1 recap. Luckily, Bonner hit 3 of his 4 3-point attempts. Nabbing 7 rebounds was nice, too. Getting production out of our starting “center” is critical.

“Keep an eye on Bowen, and who he guards, and if we use him to slow down somebody else at the expense of leaving Terry open.”

As I thought might happen, Bowen was used as our cooler. I’ve had this theory about Bowen all year. He clearly can’t compete for 35 minutes a night guarding the other team’s elite scorer any more. Age has finally beaten him. But he still has the ability and the knowledge to work great defense in spurts. And part of Bowen’s defensive brilliance is that he can guard just about every position effectively. We’ve seen him give Steve Nash fits. We’ve seen him take Okur out of games. I think Pop’s use of him this year has been brilliant. He’s our cooler. Someone on the other team gets hot, here comes Bowen to cool him off.

Bowen guarded Barea last night, and pretty much took him out of the game. Barea was trying to recapture the glory from Game 1, and really forced the issue. Bowen gave him no room and forced him into some bad decisions and turnovers. Sure, he hit a few shots. But he tried to do too much and Bowen shut him down.

But we also saw Bowen on Nowitzki, on Terry, and even a little on Howard. He can guard whoever is currently our biggest threat. That’s a very versatile weapon to have.

“Keep an eye on our bench, and if we can get any more output from them.”

Obviously, we got another great game from Bowen. But we also got a solid game from Udoka (7 boards, 1 stl, and plenty of disruption) and Gooden. Gooden especially played with a lot of energy and passion. It was great to see him own the Mavs on the low block and be our go to scorer with the second unit, especially when Mason, Jr. was running the point. In fact, in the first half, we were a +5 when Parker was out of the game. If we can extend or hold our lead when Parker goes to the bench in the first half, then we can afford to rest him longer and keep him fresher for the closing kick.

“Keep an eye on our defensive rebounding, and if we can limit the Mavs and their second chance point opportunities.”

We crushed the Mavs on the boards, 44-28. We only allowed 5 offensive boards for a total of 8 second chance points. That is fantastic. Consequently, we got 9 offensive boards of our own, a category in which we usually suffer mightily. It was clear that rebounds were a primary focus of our team going into the game; let’s hope we keep up the intensity.

“Keep an eye on if we change our overall Defensive schemes, especially on Dirk.”

There was an overwhelming feeling after Game 1 that we didn’t have bad schemes, just that we didn’t execute them well enough. I didn’t see too many changes defensively; just more effort, both mentally and physically. We finally looked like the Spurs of playoff runs past. The numbers speak for themselves.

I want to touch on one more thought about this game. By the numbers, Duncan had a more impressive night on Saturday. But I think last night’s game was a much stronger performance from Duncan, and the Duncan we need going forward. Parker has proven time and again that he can carry the offense, most off of pick-and-roll and penetration. This means much less of Duncan in the low block. Which means two things: less physical pounding on Duncan’s body; and more energy and effort from Duncan on the defensive end.

And the defensive end is where we need him the most, and probably for the rest of his career. We all know Duncan is the immovable object at the heart (literally) of our stifling D. He is probably the most clutch shot blocker of the last 15-20 years. He always seems to come up with a big block in the last 2 minutes of close games. But he can’t afford to carry both the offensive load (like he did Saturday) and the defensive load. When we rely on him too much offensively, we suffer defensively, as in the opening game. But when Parker can run the offense, Tim can run the defense. And when that happens, we are an efficient, scary team, deadly on both ends of the court. Like last night.

And we need both. Defense wins championships. But to win championships, you need to win games along the way; and Parker’s offense can win us games, just as a Duncan-anchored defense can win us championships.

Looking Ahead:

In the playoffs, too much can often be made of one game. After the first game, the Spurs were too old and too injured and our 12 year playoff run was at an end. Now we’re the tested playoff veterans that know how to win in the postseason. We needed Game 2, and Dallas didn’t. They wanted to win, sure; but in the face of our effort and energy, they more or less ceded the game to us.

Now we head to Dallas, where, much like the Mavs, we need to win at least one. I’m very confident that we can return to San Antonio for game 5 with a 2-2 tie in the series (though I would be ok with a 3-1 lead). Let’s see what adjustments the Mavs make and how they feed off the home crowd. The Spurs aren’t intimidated playing on the road, but the Mavs were a superlative home team this year.

I won’t make a list of things to watch for. The key match-ups and questions still stand. But there’s one thought I keep going back to that I’ll leave you with: Dallas has proven that they can score on us; but we’ve also proven that we can stop Dallas when our defense is right. However, Dallas has not shown that it can stop our offense at all. Even in the first game, we put up nearly 100 points. If we keep our defense keyed in the rest of the series, can Dallas match our defensive intensity and slow down Parker and our effecient offense? We’ve proven our offense; it’s time for Dallas to prove their defense.

Go Spurs Go.

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Comments

  1. bryan April 22, 2009

    I just want to add one comment about Dallas, I thought in game 2 and in post game interviews we saw another chink in the Dallas armor. Mental toughness. I just don’t think the Mavs have the mental toughness to push through those quarters when they aren’t getting calls, shots aren’t falling, etc. I think that they fall into chippy play, flagrant fouls, pushing, holding. I think that is one area where San Antonio has a huge advantage.
    Oh yeah, let’s see some George Hill on Jason Terry and Barea!

  2. secretchord53 April 23, 2009

    Agreed. That’s been a knock on Dallas for quite some time, hasn’t it? I think Game 3 can expose this. If we get a lead, will they stay in the game? If we win Game 3, will they be able to regroup for Game 4? I think Game 3 becomes critical for asserting our mental edge in the series.

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