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And Like That *POOF* The Beard Is Gone

By Jeff Koch on October 29, 2009.

Oh, boy, that was a fun game. After a slow start in which the offense looked totally discombobulated, we rattled off back to back 30+ point quarters en route to a 113-96 victory over the Hornets that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated. There were 2 surprises to start out the game: Michael Finley and Matt Bonner. I had theorized in an earlier post that Bonner might get the start over McDyess, though I was skeptical. But there he was. I understand the Bonner start in terms of the frontcourt rotation. Bonner is a good big to play with Duncan because he stretches the floor, and Duncan can negate some of his defensive deficiencies. Also, starting with Bonner allows Blair to get more playing time with McDyess, thus giving us one veteran, defensive big on the floor at all times.

But Finley starting is a bit of a shock. I didn’t think Manu would get the start, but I was sure it would be Mason, Jr. Apparently Finley won the starting job with an awesome training camp. Good for him. Finley is a proud player, and having him start is a boon to his confidence and, in turn his shooting. As long as Mason, Jr. is effective coming off the bench, I’m okay with Finley starting. I think Mason, Jr.’s issues are more related to what we ask him to do than his spot in the rotation.

I do feel that as we move into the postseason, we will not be able to start both Bonner and Finley. But that is a ways down the line.

There’s a lot to like about this game, so let’s get into it.

What I liked:

–GINOBILI!!! He had a great Ginobili game. Some scoring (16 points), some playmaking (4 assists), a steal that led to a fastbreak, some herky jerky acrobatic drives, some outside shooting, and a team high +17.

–Balanced offense. Of the 10 players that played more than 5 minutes, 6 scored in double digits (though none over 20). 3 more scored 9. That’s 9 of 10 players right around double digit scoring. The one player who didn’t get close: Richard Jefferson, due mostly to cold shooting. We never had stat lines like that last year. Everyone on the floor is a threat to score. And our offense looked fantastic. Great spacing, great passing, making the extra pass, tremendous shooting, playing inside-out, getting offensive boards and second chance points. We were getting wide open 3 point shots, and that is usually a function of a smooth running offense. It was fun watching us play tonight.

–The rotation. 10 players cracked 18+ minutes. Nobody went over 30. Hill backed up Parker, Ginobili backed up Finley, Mason, Jr. backed up Jefferson, McDyess backed up Bonner, and Blair backed up Duncan. At times it was almost like a first team/second team thing. Rotations rarely go ten players deep, but in an effort to curtail the minutes of the “Big 3″, I think we’ll see a lot of this, especially early in the season.

–The young guys. Blair was as good as advertised. He could be our garbage man, getting all the loose balls and cheap putbacks he wants. He is a tremendous rebounder. Part of it is will and determination, which he has in spades. But a big part of being a great rebounder is understanding spacing and where to be, and Blair has that ability innately. This also translates well to his offensive game, as he worked himself into wide open position for easy layups on a couple of plays just by being in the right place at the right time.

And Hill was just great. He finished with 9 points, 4 assists, and 0 turnovers. But he ran the offense smoothly and confidently. Two plays stand out to me. First, in the 2nd quarter he was bringing the ball up the court and saw Mason, Jr. on the left wing behind the 3 point line. He drilled the ball to him, and Mason, Jr. immediately stepped into a rhythm 3 point and nailed it. I believe these were Roger’s first points of the night, and allowed him to ease into the game. That’s what a PG is supposed to do. Second, in the 3rd quarter, the Spurs were waiting to inbound the ball. One of the bigs was supposed to inbound to Hill, but nobody was back with Hill to get him the ball. The cameras caught him yelling, getting the attention of McDyess, and directing where he was supposed to be. Again, a very little thing, but this demonstrates his blossoming confidence and command of the team.

–The Bench. Our bench seems like it will have it’s own identity this year. It can push the tempo a bit, and it has excellent athleticism with Hill, Blair, and Ginobili, not to mention great shooting with McDyess and Mason, Jr. Our bench actually extended the lead tonight, and our best +/- numbers came for the reserve players.

What I Didn’t Like:

–The defense. It’s hard to nitpick too much in such a great opening game. But after allowing only 13 points in the opening quarter, we surrendered quarters of 26, 29, and 28. That’s too many points. Granted, we can score better now. But I’d still like to see us shoot for the goal of 22 points a quarter, 88 points a game. Our defense didn’t look particularly horrible, it just didn’t clamp down like I wanted. That’s as much a function of incorporating new players as anything else, and I expect it to improve as the season goes along.

–Popovich’s clean shaven face. His beard was bad ass, and now it’s gone.

Looking Forward:

Thursday night we play the Bulls in Chicago, meaning we start the season with a back-to-back. The second nights of back-to-backs haven’t always been kind to our old teams, but let’s see how we handle it. No one played more than 30 minutes, so most players should be fresh. And we’re no longer the AARP team, so hopefully the quick turnaround won’t hurt us like it has in the past.

For the Bulls, it is their opening night, at home, on National TV, so look for them to be very energetic. They are a young team with an emerging star at PG that gave the injured Celtics all they could handle in last year’s playoffs. They lost their best scorer off that team (Ben Gordon), so it’ll be interesting to see where the points come from and how Rose steps up in his second season.

On the Spurs end, pay attention to the rotation, and if we go 10-deep again in an a first team/second team style. Watch to see if the D improves. Keep watching the young guys and the new guys as they continue their integration into the team. And see if our bench can be the catalyst for another win, either taking or extending leads.

The game is the first game of a doubleheader on TNT.

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