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Hey, I Wonder What This Shiny Red Button Labeled "Panic" Does

By Jeff Koch on November 20, 2009.

Kelly Dwyer astutely points out what is very obvious to most fans: we are missing our 2nd and 3rd best players. That will wreak havoc with any team, but especially a team that relies on 3 very unique and gifted players. This is what makes games like last week’s win over Dallas a mirage of sorts: yes, we can win (and play beautiful basketball) shorthanded; but in the end, you need your stars and best play makers down the stretch of close games to win those games.

This isn’t to take anything away from Richard Jefferson or George Hill. They are both great players and will play vital roles for us this year. But when you ask players better suited as tertiary stars or stud role players to step into the role of superstar, it can get dicey. George Hill is coming into his own as a great player, and is a better-than-adequate back up PG. But it’s too much to ask him (right now) to run the offense in the last 5 minutes of a close game, create his own shots and shots for other players, and guard the other teams best player. His best moments are usually born from the spectacular plays of Ginobili and Parker.

It all creates a domino effect, where everybody has to play a level or two higher than they are best suited for. Parker goes down, and Hill steps in as starting PG. Where this hurts us most is not in the drop off from Parker to Hill, but from Hill to our next PG (in the case of last night’s game, Mason, Jr.). I’ve been really impressed with Roger’s improved floor game this year, but I still don’t think he is suited to be a PG of any sort. This hurts him and it hurts the team. He is a deadly shooter (and the expansion of his ball handling abilities will only help this, much like they have for Matt Bonner this year), but when he’s asked to run the point, it removes the best part of his game from the team. So now we have a below average point guard (where we used to have a good PG in Hill), and we’re without one of our best shooting guards. Double whammy. This is what allows Finley to play 24 minutes. (That, and Pop’s apparent undying love for him, which can only be matched by Bella’s love for Edward. What, Twilight references are no good?)

This all played out in the last five minutes of the game. Utah had their best players on the floor, and their two studs running their money play over and over again, and we could not stop it. We had our best play makers in street clothes, forcing Duncan to shoulder the offensive load, and players unaccustomed to these moments trying to win us a ball game. And we didn’t.

Look, we’re playing hard, we’re playing tough, and we’re growing as a team, slowly figuring each other out. If you watch the games, you know that we’re getting better, even if the results of our efforts aren’t shown in the standings. This doesn’t take the sting out of losing, or our of our 4-6 start. But it might keep us off the ledge. At least for another week or two.

What I Liked:

–Tim Duncan. Another Herculean effort in a loss. He led the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and +/-. He played 39 minutes and he left it all on the floor.

–Keith Bogans. He continues to impress me. His individual D is the best on the team. He guarded Deron Williams better than George Hill. And his offensive game is good. Not great, but not bad. It’s good. I don’t cringe when he shoots (I’m looking at you, Theo Ratliff), and I don’t cringe when he puts it on the floor (I’m looking at you, Finley and Bowen).

–Defense. We are definitely improving on the defensive end of the floor. We held the Jazz to 90 points, and contested everything. It certainly didn’t help that the game was being called tight, and every little foul was putting players on the line. There’s still some things to fix (cough*rebounding*cough), but we’re headed in the right direction.

–Theo Ratliff’s block party. That’s why we brought him here. His block on Boozer in the 3rd was particularly nice.

–Roger Mason, Jr.’s shooting. Nice to see it return. Think of how good he could be with his shooting form back and not being asked to run the point for the team.

What I Didn’t Like:

–Offense. Not heading in the right direction. We’re running into each other. We’re playing too much one-on-one. We’re not moving the ball, we’re not moving players, we’re not attacking the rim, we’re not being patient. We have players RUNNING INTO EACH OTHER! Did I mention that already? All this added firepower and we’re still struggling to put points on the board.

–George Hill, foul machine. Yes, things we’re being called tight. Yes, young players rarely get the benefit of calls. But he has to play smarter, and know when to back off a bit. Especially when he’s starting for Parker, we need him on the floor. He got two really quick fouls in the first and had to come out of the game much earlier than we would have liked.

–Rebounding. I should just copy and paste this for every game, huh?

–Start of the fourth quarter. We had fought tooth and nail to be tied going into the fourth. Then we started the quarter with a few really bad possessions (though we were aided by some good Mason, Jr. shooting), and dug ourselves into a hole that we were never able to get out of.

–3-pt shooting. 4-20 = bad.

–Free throw shooting. We’ve never been known for outstanding free throw shooting, but we shot only 15 for 23 last night. That’s a lot of points to leave off the board in a tight game. It’s scary when Duncan is your most reliable free throw shooter.

Game Ball:

It’d be criminal to give it to anybody other than Tim Duncan.

Looking Forward:

We have Washington at home on Saturday night. They are off to a struggling start, as well, but they are coming off a big win against Cleveland, and are also boosted by the return of Antawn Jamison (who had a huge night against Cleveland). This should be a good game, and if recent history is any indication, a tough one. At this point, what game isn’t tough for us?

It appears that Manu will be out for at least a week. Parker is listed as day-to-day, so maybe we’ll have him back. It’s tough to get a feel for what the rotation will be like with star players missing, but we should keep an eye on the minutes of some of the fringe players, like Hairston. He’s gotten real minutes in the last two games, and I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen, if not blown away. Also keep an eye on Blair’s minutes, as they seem to be dropping, probably because of his inability to fully grasp the defense at this point. We know that Pop will always sacrifice offense for defense.

Finally, let’s keep an eye on who guards whom. The Wizards have 3 tough match-ups in Arenas, Jamison, and Caron Butler. By position, the defense against them would be Hill, Duncan, and Jefferson (Jamison is their PF, Butler their SF). Obviously, I don’t think we’ll see that. I’d like to see Bogans guarding Arenas, Jefferson guarding Butler, and Hill guarding Jamison. Jamison is only 6’9″, and has a similar build to Durant. And we all know how well Hill did against him.

And most importantly, stay away from that panic button…for now.

Update: Check out this really great article on Pop at si.com. I love articles like this, and they make me love Pop even more. He is the rarest of breeds: a great coach who is probably an even better person. As those who know
like to say, he gets it.

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