Gary Neal Cares Not for Your Veiled Criticism, Pop
San Antonio 112, Denver 115 // 57-14 // 1st in the West
Tough loss. We opened up an early big lead, then watched it slowly dissipate over 3 quarters, leaving essentially a tie game with 3 minutes to go. In his between quarter interview with Mike Tirico, Coach Karl of the Nuggets said that the team that could put 3-4 minutes of defense together would be the team that won the game. The Nuggets did and they did.
Over those last 3 minutes the Spurs were consistently denied good looks, settling for 3s and long 2s and not attacking the basket or breaking down the defense. The Nuggets used their speedy 2 PG attack to get to the rim and get good looks or get fouls. The problems started long before, though, when we were making our 3-point shots. The team shot tremendously in the first half and opened up the big lead mostly on the strength of the shooting, despite being bested in nearly every other statistical category by the Nuggets. In the second half, Denver tightened up the defense just enough, and the Spurs skipped steps, thinking the shot was enough and abandoning the work (ball and player movement, penetration and dish out) that goes into getting the open shot. Our shooting percentage plummeted and the Nuggets seized control of the game.
And yet there we were, in a tie game, with 3 minutes to play. Execution time; Spurs time. This is where the absence of Duncan is felt most acutely. Duncan is reliable in the post down the stretch, either getting his own shot or running the offense. Teams can’t cheat off of him, which opens up lanes and (if they do cheat) wide open shots. And his poise and clutchness and intangibles are off the chart. Defensively, he can still anchor a team defense that can get big stops in close games, providing wonderful help-side defense, blocking, and rebounding. Without him, we are certainly susceptible to losing close games down the stretch.
I thought Splitter played well in Duncan’s place, providing a big body, defense, and rebounding during his time in the game. The game quickly turned into a run and gun guard shootout that made him more or less useless on the court, though. McDyess played incredibly well, especially down the stretch. Neal obviously had a career night, breaking out of a shooting slump and continuing to expand the repertoire of his game.
I’m concerned about two players: Hill and Jefferson. Both seem to be regressing, fading into near irrelevancy as we approach the playoffs. It’s not that they’re playing poorly; it’s that they’re not even registering, their time on the court being nearly inconsequential and causing zero impact. Both play vital roles as shooters and slashers and defenders on this team, and we need a good game from at least one of them each night, especially with Duncan on the shelf. Tonight, especially, as Denver was sending traps and double teams at Ginobili and Parker, there should have been wide open lanes to the basket for both of them, and yet we got almost no production out of either of them.
Tough loss. This Denver team is playing well and are always a tough out in Denver. I was hoping this would be a game we could steal on this road trip as the next two games aren’t any easier. Let’s hope we can reverse our recent bad fortune in Portland on Friday night.