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A Tale of Two Cities

By Jeff Koch on November 6, 2009.

As in San Antonio, and every other city in the Association.

Granted, it’s a very small sample size, but at the moment, we look unbeatable at home, and like complete horse manure on the road. I know we’re the Spurs, and we’re not supposed to get worked up about early season games, and we’re building towards something bigger. Plus, we’re adding in a bunch of new pieces, and it’s going to take much longer to gel as a cohesive unit this year. I get all of that. But what is so disturbing about these first 2 early road games is how uninspired and uninterested we look. We’re playing with no intensity and no passion. We’re playing lazy, making haphazard defensive rotations (if we’re making them at all), and not working to get the best shots on offense. We’re playing too much one-on-one, not trusting our passing and execution. I can handle a loss on the road, especially in SLC, where the Jazz are historically good. But it’s the manner in which we lost, playing meekly and without fight.

I know all the talking points, and I know not to get so worked up about an early season loss. There were plenty of factors working against us: the long layoff after only 3 games, the Jazz coming out strong at home, needing something to prove, the daunting prospect of two tough road games on back to back nights. I guess what I want is to feel like the team is playing as hard as I am rooting. Is that too much to ask?

What I Liked (this will probably be a short list):

–DeJuan Blair. He showed his usual game, nabbing offensive boards for some cheap putback points. But he also flashed some signs of a more refined post game, finishing off some drives at the rim. If he can be a reliable post player as well as our garbage man, he will definitely earn plenty of minutes playing behind and with Duncan.

–Parker’s aggressiveness. He tore it up in the second quarter, attacking the rim at will, drawing And-1s or free throws. He kept us modestly close in the first half, allowing at least a glimmer of hope at halftime.

–Hill’s offense. He had two great drives to the rim that he just couldn’t convert. The ball simply rolled off the rim. I remember this happening to him a bunch last year, as well. When those start dropping for him, he’ll be an even deadlier player.

What I Didn’t Like:

–Our energy. I touched on this in the opening. But we didn’t seem all that interested in competing hard.

–Our defense. It actually looked decent in the first 6 minutes. We had active hands, and we’re getting lots of deflections and contested passes and shots. But we gave up 32, 28, and 33 points in consecutive quarters. We made poor rotations. We didn’t help at the rim (on several occasions, our wings got beat to the rim and then looked back in disgust after the basket went in as if to say “where the hell was my help?”). We played reactive defense, allowing them to dictate the tempo and control of the game, only trying to stop them once they were exactly where they wanted to be.

Jefferson, in particular, seemed a bit helpless out there. If he’s our new stopper, we could be in trouble. I believe he has it in him, but he’s not showing it yet. What made Bowen so great was that he did his work before his opponent got the ball. He never allowed his player to their comfort spots, and always made them make plays out of their comfort zone. Jefferson needs to work at this.

–Manu. He had a stinker game. He turned it over, forced the issue, and just didn’t look good. Obviously, we’re giving him some time to find his legs and his game. He’s going to have good games and bad games. But I’m still going to point out the bad ones, especially when he turns the ball over with 26 seconds left in each of the first 3 quarters. Just bad. With Hill emerging, I’d like to see him handling the ball a bit more with the second unit, and allow Ginobili to play off the ball a bit more. Our second unit offense can be a bit predictable with Ginobili at the top of the key.

–14 assists. Our assists seem to be way down from years past. Some of this can be attributed to more driving and attacking the rim, rather than taking as many jump shots (which is good). But this low number also indicates that we’re not playing as fluid of offense as we have in the past, and that we’re not trusting each other and making the extra pass. I expect this to change as the season progresses.

–Important baskets. 3 times in the 4th quarter we had chances to cut the lead to under 10. Single digit deficits are huge mental barriers; if you can get it under 10, that gives you the belief that you can come all the way back. 3 times we had it at 11, with possession. Each time we didn’t convert, and then Utah came back and scored, pushing the lead back to 13 or 14. Those are backbreaking moments.

–Offensive rebounding. Although we ended up posting more offensive boards than they did, it certainly didn’t feel like it. We’re giving teams way too many second opportunities, and they seem to be converting on all of them. There is nothing more disheartening then playing good defense, getting a stop, and just not finishing the possession with a rebound. It’s a total momentum builder for the other team and spirit killer for us.

Game Ball:

I was planning on starting a new section where I give out a game ball to the most deserving Spur, but after tonight’s game I’m not sure anybody on our team deserves it. So I’m going to give it to Carlos Boozer, who looked like late 80s/early 90s Karl Malone out there, tearing through our defense, and even playing some good defense of his own (something he is not known for).

Looking Forward:

Tonight we play The Blazers in Portland. They are off to a slow start, and some people here are starting to worry. They have all the talent in the world, but some of the pieces just aren’t fitting together right. It should be a good game of two teams with early results not matching lofty expectations who both really want a statement win.

After last nights game, I think the most important things to keep an eye on are our defense on Brandon Roy and the battle of the paint. Jefferson will undoubtedly start on Roy. Roy is a tremendously talented player, an elite wing player, and someone we might have to stop in the playoffs. In the past, we always had Bowen to handle the elite wings of the world. How will Jefferson fare? Will we see any of Bogans, our defensive free agent pick up? Will we see Hill playing important D on Roy?

Watch the paint carefully. They have 2 big centers capable of controlling the paint and hauling in offensive and defensive boards (Pryzbilla and Oden). Can we keep them off the boards? Can we outscore them in the paint? Will we protect the rim against driving guards? I’m surprised we didn’t see any Ratliff last need for an injection of rim protection. If things unfold tonight similar to last night, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him. (Ratliff played a few years in Portland, and was a fan favorite. At least he was one of my favorites at the time.)

Also, if the game is close in the waning minutes, pay attention to everything: who is on the floor, who is running the offense, what we’re doing on offense, what we’re doing on defense. We have yet to play a close game, so we haven’t been tested in crunch time. It’s about time that we are.

The game is on ESPN, but I’ll be at the game, about 15 rows up just off the Blazer’s bench side basket, in the corner opposite the Spurs bench. I’ll be wearing my road Ginobili jersey, which so far, has brought very little luck on the road this year. Hopefully that will change tonight.

Go Spurs Go.

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