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You Ain’t Got No Alibi

By Jeff Koch on December 10, 2010.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

Atlanta 92, San Antonio 108 //  19-3  //  1st in the West

If someone just looked at the final score of this game, or just tuned in for the 4th quarter, they wouldn’t realize what a total uglyfest this game was. For three quarters, at least. Much like in our last loss against the Clippers, the team looked flat and a bit disinterested. (In that game, they had the excuse of tired legs; no such excuse awaited them tonight.) The offense was in complete disarray; the team looked like they had just met in the locker room before the game. There was just no crispness to the team. Luckily, some solid defense and the Hawks seeming disinterest in also winning the game kept the score even through three quarters.

I played Ultimate Frisbee in college. Very competitively. People usually scoff at this, and that’s fine. In Ultimate, there is a word associated with offense that is held as sacred amongst frisbee purists: flow. “Flow” is what a good offense looks like that is clicking; “flow” is that point where the players stop being seven individuals on the field, and start functioning as one cohesive unit, being able to read each other’s intentions and anticipate where to go seamlessly; “flow” is beautiful, the essence of motion and cohesion displayed as art, poetic.

This concept has obvious parallels to basketball. The Spurs offense this season is an amazing example of “flow”. When it’s functioning at its highest capacity, it truly is a thing of beauty to watch. The ball movement is crisp; the player movement is synchronous, like the machinations of a clock; everybody is involved, everybody is a threat; every possession leads to something positive, even if shots are missed.

When I miss a game and just examine the box score afterwards to get a rough sketch, there are a few key stats I look at: rebounds. Assists. 3-pt shooting. FT attempts. These last 3 are especially telling for how much the offense found “flow”. Let’s examine tonight. First 3 quarters: 10 assists. 4th quarter: 10 assists. Flow. First 3 quarters: five 3-pointers. 4th quarter: five 3-pointers. Flow. First 3 quarters: 13 free throws. 4th quarter: 12 free throws. Flow.

Something clicked in the 4th quarter, and we overwhelmed the Hawks for the win. It’s wonderful that we can flip that switch, but it’s a dangerous game, one the Spurs would be best served not playing too often. Why were we unable to penetrate and dish to the corners for wide open 3s in the first three quarters? Why couldn’t we attack the rim and get to the free throw line in the first three quarters? Where was our crisp passing and spacing in the first three quarters?  I’m sure Pop will gently ask the team similar questions.

A few other notes from the game:

-The line-up that really took control of the game in the 4th featured Tony Parker, George Hill, Richard Jefferson, Matt Bonner, and DeJuan Blair. No Manu; no Tim. No problem. Even as the seconds ticked away and the Hawks refused to go away, Pop stayed with that five, opting against putting his two best players back in. This is an interesting dilemma that coaches face often: stay with the ‘hot’ team, or go back to your proven players, even as they’re struggling? Pop is one to often stay with the hot team, and clearly he made the right choice tonight, as that team was great down the stretch.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

-Only two players really had good, complete games tonight: George Hill and DeJuan Blair. Our two best players, Tim and Manu, had fairly subpar games, by their lofty standards. Parker was average, at best, save for the last few minutes. Jefferson was solid, but not spectacular until he nailed a bevy of 3s in the 4th. And yet, we won by 16 going away. With only our 5th and 6th best player (arguably) playing particularly well. Think about that. Think about all the ways we can win, and how the burden of responsibility of carrying this team has shifted from three pairs of shoulders to six, or seven, or eight, or…. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and will hopefully have more to say on it in the coming days.

My hometown Blazers come to town for a Sunday matinee. The Blazers are hard to get a grip on this year. Injury news has racked the psyche of the team and the fan base, yet they remain a dangerous team to play. The game will be a great test for the Spurs.

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