I'm Not One to Jump to Conclusions, But Clearly Duncan and Parker are Holding Us Back
Ah. Last night’s game was like catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time. And you don’t even realize how long it’s been until you’re finally sitting down face to face, rehashing the old stories, laughing at the same silly inside jokes that cracked you up years ago. And you’re so overjoyed to be with this person that you know so well; and yet you’re happiness is tinged with sadness, because you realize that life has kept moving on, and you don’t see this friend as much, and maybe this friend will never be a consistent part of your life again, and the best times are all behind you.
Whoa. That metaphor went a lot farther than I planned.
Last night’s game was fun. Even more fun than the Raptors game. This is probably how one can test his or her true bona fides as a Spurs fan: do you prefer ugly, defensive struggles that have almost no style points and leave you physically and emotionally drained when they’re over? Yes. Then you’re a Spurs fan. Come on in, sit down.
That was easily our best defensive effort in a long time. We bodied up, we contested shots, we grabbed rebounds, and we played with a fierceness and an urgency I haven’t seen from the team yet this season. Let’s hope this portends good things, and isn’t fleeting glimpse of a long forgotten past.
What I Liked:
–Keith Bogans…who knew? This may just be a 3 game aberration. But if not, this guy can play. I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed with his defense. He is strong and quick, and can guard smaller guards (Jason Terry, JJ Barea) and bigger forwards (Dirk, Josh Howard). He even had a sweet block. But the real surprise has been his offense. His 3-point stroke is sweet, and fits in with our game plan perfectly. But his handle isn’t half bad, and he seems to have a good feel of what to do in any certain situation: make the extra pass, drive and dish, take the shot. And he has the athleticism to actually be a threat in the open court.
–Antonio McDyess, welcome to the season. Finally, a breakout game of sorts for McDyess. I was never worried about a slow start from him; we all know why he’s here. But last night he set the tone defensively with his superlative work on Nowitzki. That may be the best defense I’ve seen a Spurs player play on Dirk, and that’s saying something. And he was pesky, getting steals and deflections, along with rebounds. We also finally got a look at that gorgeous jump shot, as he stuck enough 15 footers to keep the defense honest.
–Richard Jefferson. He carried the offense last night, accounting directly for almost 1/3rd of our points. He did more than just score, though, dishing out assists, grabbing rebounds, breaking down the defense, and playing almost the entire game (41 minutes). RJ has indirectly benefited greatly from Bogans increase in playing time, as he now doesn’t have to worry about guarding the best wing on defense. His defense is getting better, but he’s also being asked to do less, which may be for the best. Bogans isn’t a liability on offense, so it doesn’t hurt us to have him out there. And Jefferson has shown that he can be special on offense.
–Matt Bonner, 6th man of the year. I like Bonner coming off the bench. It suits him. It allows him to play the role of game changer. He can come in, hit a couple of big 3s, get the crowd and team fired up, and not worry about being the starter and guarding the other teams post player. I think he feels more confident in that role, as well. He also serves as a good change of pace, defensively. Bonner has some physical limitations, but he doesn’t lack for effort. I’m always impressed with how he competes defensively. I thought he did a very good job on him limited time guarding Dirk.
–Ending quarters. At the end of each quarter, we made great plays. Mason, Jr. drove and dished to a wide open Bogans in the corner for a game-tying 3 at the end of the 1st; Manu hit a sick deep 3 at half to really open up the lead; and we played some great D to end the 3rd quarter, allowing us to go into the 4th up by 15. The final margin was 9, and those 3 plays can account for an 8 point swing (netting 6 and saving 2). Sometimes, that’s where games are won and lost.
–Defense. We played it last night…finally.
What I Didn’t Like:
–Free throw shooting. We missed a bunch of free throws, especially Jefferson. We need to convert free points. Obviously.
–Beating the zone. Dallas switched to a zone D near the end of the 3rd, and stuck with it for most of the 4th. In the first 9 minutes of the 4th quarter, I believe we scored only 4 points, letting them crawl back into the game. Luckily, we continued our great D, and only gave up 15, so we still clung to a 4 pt lead. But we were clearly struggling against the zone. There are 3 things needed to beat a zone: patience, attacking, and shooting. We actually were patient, making the extra pass, and finding the wide open players. However, we were much too passive against the zone, settling on perimeter passing and rarely putting any pressure on the heart of the zone. When we did attack, we got good looks. It just didn’t happen enough. And our shooting went ice cold, making it impossible to convert any possessions. The shooting will come, but we definitely need to be more aggressive attacking zones when we see them.
–George Hill is a player. He took a critical offensive board away from Dirk, who easily has 8 inches on him. He stuck a huge jump shot in the end game, when Dallas was making their final push. He has a swagger about him this year, and he looks unafraid on the court.
–Despite the bad numbers, I continue to be encouraged by Roger Mason, Jr.’s play. He is in a bit of shooting slump. But his handle looks so much better, as does his quickness and comfort in the system. The play at the end of the 1st quarter is pretty emblematic: last year, he would have dribbled to a spot about 3 feet behind the 3-pt line and put up the shot; this year, he drove towards the basket, collapsed the defense, and dished perfectly to Bogans so he had an easy, wide open, catch and shoot.
Lots of candidates, but I’m giving it to Antonio McDyess. He helped us out huge on both ends, made a ton of plays that don’t show up in stats, and anchored our defense. He played great D on Dirk, a phenomenal offensive talent. He can be a great help to Duncan in the interior, especially if we go up against the Lakers, where we’ll need to counter Odom, Gasol, and Bynum.
We get a couple of days off, and then we play OKC at home on Saturday. Don’t sleep on the Thunder. They gave us fits last year, and they’re only getting better. They have a tough, dynamic, scoring PG, and a prolific scorer in Durant.
Obviously keep an eye on the starting line-up, as it changes every night. Continue to monitor playing time, and see who keeps earning it (Bogans) and losing it (Finley). Keep an eye on who guards Durant. With his size and speed, he is a tough cover. I’d expect Jefferson or Bogans to have first crack at him, but don’t be surprised to see Hill on him. In the Blazers game, Pop had Hill guarding the much taller Outlaw at the end of the game. With his wingspan, he has the ability to guard much taller.
Finally, keep an eye if Tony or Tim comes back, and how the team readjusts to having one or two stars back. Often, when star players come back from time off, the team suffers, because the players that had stepped up in their stead now relax and expect the returning star to carry the team to victory.
It is vital that we continue to get the inspired play from Bogans and Jefferson and Manu that we’ve been getting, while incorporating Tim and Tony back into the flow.
And if Tim and Tony can’t fit in, who needs them?
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