The Rip City Ripping
I love watching NBA games live. It gives you such a unique perspective and feel for the game. You can better understand the flow of the action and how certain players impact the game positively and negatively. When you remove yourself from the constant stat updates and the announcers dictating the narrative of the game, you can start to see things that you maybe haven’t noticed before. Spacing. Rotations. Passing lanes and angles. The pure athleticism and artistry of the players.
Last night’s game started much as the previous night’s game in Utah. We played even for about 6 minutes, then let the other team go on a run to close out the first quarter. The first quarter ended with us down by 15; the game ended with us down by 12. We were +3 over the rest of the game (and really, much more than that, as the Blazers inflated their lead in the last minute with free throws). Doug Collins likes to say that basketball is a first quarter game. Sure, the excitement and the highlights happen in the 4th, and that’s when games are won. But games can be lost in the 1st. In Utah we were down 10 in the first, and lost the game by 14, meaning they outplayed us by just over a point a quarter the rest of the way. In both games, the difference was the first quarter.
Does that tell us anything of significance? Are we coming out flat? Is it the starting line-up? Are we sacrificing too much by not starting our best players? There has definitely been much debate amongst Spurs fans about who should be starting. I’m okay with Bonner starting for now. He spreads the floor and can give us points in bunches if his shot is falling (which is wasn’t last night). McDyess has been a proven quantity off the bench in his career and can excel there. Blair is a rookie, and despite his prodigious talents, still has a lot to learn about the Spurs’ system. Bonner knows the system and plays his butt off. He doesn’t always have the athletic abilities needed, but he never lacks in effort.
Michael Finley is another story. I argued at the beginning of the season that I felt Roger Mason, Jr. should be starting. I feel he gives us the same shooting that Finley does, but also gives us better ball handling, better defense, and better athleticism. Plus, Mason, Jr. is a rhythm and a confidence player, and excels in a starting role.
Last night, however, Popovich started Keith Bogans. I was happy to see Finley removed from the starting line-up, but a bit puzzled to see Bogans in there.
What I liked:
–Bogans in the starting line-up. I thought he played really well. We’ve talked about Jefferson having to fill Bowen’s role, but maybe Bogans is our next Bowen. Far and away, he played the best D of the night, stifling Brandon Roy and taking him out of the game for long stretches. And he did it in much the same way Bowen used to, by playing ball denial defense and preventing players from getting to their favorite spots on the floor. On top of that, he showed some offensive punch, hitting a 3 and running a fast break. It’s not clear how much offensive game he has, but it certainly appears to be more than Bowen ever did.
–Jefferson’s O. 6 games in, he is showing increased comfort in the offense. And he’s doing what we’ve needed for years: he’s driving into the lane, and either finishing at the rim, drawing the foul, or both. He had a wicked slam dunk in the fourth quarter last night (and I was about 20 rows up from it). And he led the team with 8 free throw attempts. Plus he showed a little nastiness last night, and we always like to see that.
–McDyess starting to wake up. In a recent chat, Hollinger said that McDyess is a notorious second half player. I’m not really worried about his slow start. I have every confidence in the world that he’ll be there when we need him. But last night was promising, seeing him hit a bunch of midrange jumpers on the pick and pop. He was definitely part of the team that helped spur the comeback, and was one of the few players whose shot actually looked good last night.
–Roger Mason, Jr. He looks different this year. He is handling the ball with a marked increase in skill and confidence. He is playing active. I think he is earning himself more minutes, and I hope we see it. Plus he led the team (tied with Ginobili) in assists.
–Second half defense. It actually started to look like something resembling the defense similar to what we’ve played in years past. We forced a few shot clock violations and desperation shots, had some turnovers, and just made life difficult for them. Halfway through the 4th, they had 75 points, meaning we held them to 24 points in about 18 minutes. Not bad. However…
What I Didn’t Like:
–Offense. We were careless with the ball. We put up some ill-advised shots. We were ice cold from outside. And we’re just not fluid yet. We had several opportunities to make game changing baskets in the fourth, and we were just never able to. Our most reliable endgame player is still shaking off rust, and looks very scattered and inconsistent.
–Two way Ginobili. Down the stretch, Ginobili was in charge of running the offense and guarding Brandon Roy. That’s just too much for him right now. He was unable to do anything with Roy, and Roy was able to put the nails in the coffin in the last few minutes, ruining our comeback attempt. I would have rather seen Bogans or Hill on Roy. (Though I thought having Hill guard Outlaw was quite the interesting choice. And it worked. With his long arms, Hill is able to guard players much taller than him and still do very well.)
–Jefferson’s D. As good as his offense is looking, his defense is looking equally as bad. He’s not playing denial defense. He’s letting players beat him around the corners and to the hoop and then hoping for bailout help from one of the big men. And he doesn’t seem to be playing D with energy or passion. I imagine this is why Pop gave him the early hook last night and seemed to light a small fire under his ass. On offense. I’m sure if this keeps up, Pop will be ripping him a new one. But we need Jefferson to play good D. Perhaps Bogans and Hill can be our real perimeter stoppers, but Jefferson has to be on the floor for his offense, so his defense better be valuable as well.
–Offensive boards. Is this going to make it here every game? I sure hope not.
(I’m starting a new section for things that are neither good nor bad, but still need voice.)
–I like the slimmed down Duncan, and feel that the long term benefits are immeasurable. But he was getting pushed around by Oden and Pryzbilla last night, and seems to be unable to hold his ground against bigger opponents.
–One bad thing about seeing a game live: you miss out on injuries. Parker left the game with an ankle injury, but I had to have a friend from San Antonio text me with the official diagnosis. Luckily, it’s not too bad, and I think a week off will do both Parker and Hill some good. Parker looks sluggish, and Hill could use the reps.
I’m giving it to Bogans. He finished +4, played outstanding D, played within himself on offense, and showed that maybe he could be another free agent signing coup.
We have a very home-heavy schedule coming up. In fact, we don’t leave the state of Texas again until Dec 7th (we have two road games, one against Dallas and one against Houston). Hopefully we can use these games to get our act together and get some wins on the board. Toronto comes to town Monday and Dallas on Wednesday. Both teams are playing well and should give us good games.
Pay attention to the starting line-up and if Bogans stays th
ere. Pay attention to the rotation. Pay attention to Hill, and how he plays as the starter and who backs him up. Pay attention to how many offensive boards we give up, and if there are any answers to shore up our rebounding. Pay attention to our energy when we start the game.
We now sit at 2-3, undefeated at home, and completely defeated on the road. To be honest, I’m most interested to see how we do on the road, so the games against Dallas and Houston will be the most intriguing to me.
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