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Bench Reminds Starters that There Is Indeed A Game Scheduled Tonight

By Jeff Koch on December 16, 2009.

With about 8 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and trailing by 20, Pop called a timeout. I’d like to think he was as fed up as I was by the lack of energy, execution, and urgency from his starters. He subbed in Ginobili, Bonner, Mason, Jr., and Hill for Parker, Bogans, Jefferson, and McDyess. Only Tim Duncan stayed on the court. Over the next 8 minutes, the Spurs’ bench plus Tim Duncan methodically cut that 20 point lead down to 1, playing swarming, stingy defense, and efficient offense.

Unfortunately, we were unable to sustain the effort, and in the fourth quarter the Suns pulled away yet again. It is so hard to come back from 20 down, get over the hump, and then get the win. It takes so much energy just to get all the way back, that once you do, you sort of congratulate yourself and let up for just a moment. And when you do, the other team can easily regroup and push back.

There’s a lot to dissect from this game, but there are 3 main points I’d like to focus on.

1. Inability to win the big game. I’ve talked about this a little in the past few weeks, and this game only helps make the point. It’s not so much that we didn’t win tonight, but more so how we started the game, playing without any fire or overwhelming will to win. We just can’t beat the good teams. We’re 9-1 against teams below .500, and 3-9 against teams .500 or better. And those 3 wins are Dallas, Houston, and Milwaukee. Only the Dallas win stands as a truly impressive win. We win the games we should, and lose the ones we should. That is not championship basketball.

2. Rebounding. I know we’ve talked a lot about this in the past, but I’m specifically referring to Tim Duncan. Although his rebounding numbers are pretty steady this year and consistent with his career, it just seems that he has trouble securing contested rebounds. Amar’e Stoudemire got the best of him several times tonight, leading to a lot of 2nd chance points. I don’t exactly know what to make of this, nor do I really know what the problem is. I know he finished with 14 rebounds tonight. But when watching the games, there’s just something not quite right.

Obviously Duncan is having another amazing year, and it’s hard to fault him for much when he’s more or less carrying the team. But right now I don’t have confidence that he is going to snag the critical rebound late in games, and that’s a feeling I want back.

3. The Bench Conundrum. The bench clearly and unequivocally outplayed all starters not named Tim Duncan tonight. It wasn’t even close. Look at the +/- of the other 4 starters: -22, -19, -28, -12. Compare that to the bench: +3, +13, +1, +1, +15, -6. The bench scored 49 to the starters 55 (34 of which belonged to Duncan). But you don’t need numbers; you just need eyes. The game turned when Pop benched the starters, and turned back when most of the starters re-entered the game.

This poses a lot of difficult to answer questions: is our bench actually better than our starters? Are our starters really not that good? Should we make some changes to our starting line-up to get better players on the court sooner and for longer periods?

It’s great to have a good bench. But ultimately, your best players and best line-ups need to be on the court the most. And right now, it appears as if we’re starting games with inferior line-ups, which gets us into early deficits, and giving the majority of minutes to our least productive players. That is not championships basketball.

Game Ball:

Ducan deserves it. He had a monster game and willed us back from the dead. But I’m giving it to Roger Mason, Jr. He finally got some playing time, and capitalized with 19, 5 rebounds, and a gaudy 5 of 8 from downtown. Without his shooting, we probably would have been down by 30 instead of 20 when we made our push. Nice to see our big shot back.

Looking Forward:

A quick turnaround puts us up in Oakland tomorrow night facing the Warriors. Playing the Warriors is unlike any other experience in basketball. It’s hard to really prepare for anything, because the Warriors probably don’t even know what they’re going to do most of the time. They don’t play with any semblance of control, plan, or care.

They’re also ripe for a trap game. Anybody on that team can go off for 40 points on any given night and single-handedly will them to victory. After tonight’s defeat, I hope we’re ready for them.

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