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On Lions and Winters

By Jeff Koch on February 2, 2012.

A few thoughts from tonight’s victory over the New Orleans Hornets:

–This has been a really interesting Tim Duncan season. He started out slowly, looking old and creaky. Over the last few weeks, though, he seems to have rounded into form and has been playing very well (though still obviously not the transcendent player he once was). Every time he has a game like last night or tonight, it will be written about and discussed and compared to his “glory” days. And people will continue to speculate on how much longer he will play, what he las left, etc. All of this talk seems to have imbued Duncan with a little edge to his game, as if to remind us all that stories of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. It must be an odd experience as an athlete to reach your mid-30s and hear your life and career discussed in past tense and in memory. In most ways, life is still just beginning! Yet for these men (and women), the part of their life that will most likely define them is already coming to a close. Duncan seems intent on keeping this chapter open for a bit. And if we get more games than not like these last two, more power to him.

–Speaking of edges, Matt Bonner seems to have one recently. He even got a technical a few games ago. What gives, Matty? Don’t get me wrong; I love it. His shot is starting to fall (the one thing he NEEDS to do to justify any sort of court time), but more importantly, he’s boarding a lot better, making strong (if awkward) offensive moves, and defending well. He seems to be consistently part of the units that make runs and more or less win (or get us back into) games, and, as we’ve discussed, correlation can sometimes be a small part of causation.

–Pop seems to like going to the unit of Bonner, Splitter, Neal, and Green as a change of pace/get us back into the game unit. This is the unit (along with James Anderson) that got us back into the Dallas game. And this is the unit (along with Tony Parker, the natural 5th member to give us a ball handler) that really salted the game away tonight, limiting the Hornets to just 9 points in the first 6 minutes of the 4th quarter, and essentially putting the game out of reach. Of course, around the 6 minute mark, Duncan checked in to replace Bonner, and for the next 4 minutes, we held the Hornets scoreless, thus clearly proving that the Splitter-Duncan frontcourt is our best option. (What is that? Too small a sample size?)

–Gary Neal started tonight in place of Leonard. I love Leonard’s energy, rebounding, and defense. But right now he offers very little offensive output. And until his defense (and 3-point shooting) is truly on par with Bruce Bowen’s, we need a little more offensive punch in the starting line-up. Still, Leonard fits in well with the change-of-pace group, and while his minutes will fluctuate, I expect to continue to see him get regular minutes.

–You could really see the importance of the 3-point shot to our offense in the first half. I think we made one the entire half, and our entire offense was bogged down. While we used to use the 3-point shot as a byproduct of our interior game, we now use the 3-point shot to loosen up our interior game. We play outside-in, in other words. When the shot is falling (as we’ve seen plenty of times this year), our offense is amazing. When it’s not, we look very bad…and only score 44 points in a half.

–Oh, and tired legs might have something to do with that. Most of the shots missed short. Lockout Ball.

–The Splitter/Blair debate rages on. In the first half, Splitter got torched by Carl Landry (a very good, tough player). I wanted to see Blair on him. In the second half, Blair did seem to do a better job at guarding Landry (one of only 2 Hornets that really did any damage to us). So I was formulating my thoughts around how unique match-ups each night will determine which player is best suited for the majority of the minutes. Tonight, for three quarters, it seemed like Blair was the best big to have out there. Then Splitter played the 4th quarter and kind of secretly took the game over on both ends. So my opinion stays the same: Splitter is our second best (and, on many nights, actually the best) big man, and deserves the majority of the minutes, with Blair serving as pace-changer, energy-guy off the bench. Actually, a good comp for Blair could be Carl Landry, an undersized but burly big who can score in bunches and fuel runs with energy and hustle.

Up next, our last home game before the rodeo road trip. And it’s a big one…against Oklahoma City, the clear class of the Western Conference. This will be a good litmus test for us, playing them at home.

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