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Defense Ratchets Up-ish, Offense Ratchets Down

By Jeff Koch on January 7, 2011.

San Antonio 90, Indiana 87  //  30-6  //  1st in the West

After the last two performances by the Spurs, one would imagine that defense would be a top priority for the team coming into this game. By most accounts, the defense was much better. By Pop’s favorite metric, we held them to 37.5% shooting, always a great sign. In the fourth quarter alone, the Pacers shot only 1 of 15, a paltry 7%.

In reality, we only played two good quarters of defense: the first and the fourth, in which the Pacers scored a combined 32 points. In the middle quarters, 55. In the second quarter, we were able to counter and close with a late Manu Ginobili surge (in which he scored 10 of our 12 points), ending the half up by one point. No such counter existed in the 3rd quarter. Due to two late buckets, we entered the 4th trailing by only 11, rather than 15. Those two buckets may have saved the game for us, giving us a workable margin after an embarrassing quarter of basketball.

Despite the wonderful defensive closing quarter, there were several mistakes made that prevented us from pulling away until the very end. On consecutive defensive possessions, we committed a dead ball foul, giving them an automatic two free throws; then a defensive 3 seconds and another foul shot; next up, a silly foul late in the shot clock with nothing going for them on defense that gave them another two free throws; and finally, a technical on Tim Duncan for another free throw. All six of these FTs were converted, giving them half of their points in the quarter. Luckily, Danny Granger missed the two free throws sandwiched around Duncan’s technical, and we were able to put the game away with some free throw shooting of our own.

And why was the game so close if we held them to 37.5% shooting and only 12 points in the fourth quarter? Really mediocre offense. The team seemed disinterested on offense, settling one or two shots too early, not driving into the lane, not making the extra pass. And we were just missing our shots (we didn’t shoot much better for the game: 41.6%). Between offensive rebound and turnovers, the Pacers shot 11 more times than us, and actually made 1 more basket than us. Coming down the stretch, our offense looked totally ragged and out of sync. Even while we were holding the Pacers down defensively, I didn’t have any confidence we could score enough to win.

Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images

But we did. And having finally secured a 1-point lead and back on defense trying to prevent the Pacers from reclaiming it, who should save us but Old Reliable, Tim Duncan, playing exquisite post defense on Roy Hibbert, forcing him to put up a wild, horrible shot that had no chance of going in. The Spurs collected the rebound, Tony Parker raced away from the pack, and by the time the Pacers could foul, only 0.8 seconds remained, just enough time for one last desperation heave (after Parker hit both free throws) that fell way short.

An academic debate of sorts: up 2 with 0.8 seconds left (after having made the first free throw), should you intentionally miss the 2nd free throw? By the time the ball is done bouncing around and the other team secures it (assuming they do) and calls a time out, how much time (if any) could be left? On the other hand, if you allow a 2-point margin to remain and give them another shot at it, a 3 could win it for them; by making the second free throw, the worst that could happen is that they hit a miraculous shot and the game goes to OT. I have no answer, just a question.

The game won’t be featured on the end of year highlights, but it’s still a win, and gets us to 30 wins faster than any other team in the league. It also salvages the road trip somewhat.

Minnesota comes to town Sunday night (and then we play in Minnesota on Tuesday night). We’ve ripped the Timberwolves’ hearts out in particularly devastating fashion in our previous 2 meetings. Here’s hoping that we beat them in much less dramatic fashion these next two games.

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