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The Long and Winding Road

By Jeff Koch on February 23, 2012.

There’s nothing I hate more than getting a big lead early. Just watching that lead whittle down, ever so slowly. 28…25…20…16…14…. Suddenly you’re up 12, and it feels like you’re holding on for dear life.

Irrational panic aside, that was quite a way to put the Rodeo Road Trip to rest. Chances are we were always going to split the Portland and Denver games, so the sitting of Parker and Duncan in Portland probably isn’t that big of a deal. Except for the paying public, I guess. Of which I was one. Would I have liked to have seen Parker and Duncan play? Definitely. Did I enjoy sitting courtside to see the Spurs suffer the worst defeat in a decade (or more)? Not really. Do I support taking the longview to the detriment of a few games here and there? I wouldn’t be a Spurs fan if I didn’t.

Still, Pop owes me some good seats to a home playoff game.

If anything is to be learned from the two games, it’s the importance of the hierarchy and the pecking order. Everybody on the team has a well-defined and clearly established role. When everybody is forced up a position or two (as was the case in Portland on Tuesday), you see the results. Danny Green and Gary Neal didn’t suddenly become worse players; but when their roles expand in the absence of Parker and Duncan, their limitations are more clearly exposed. Role players are only as good as the stars they support. Or, as John Hollinger tweeted earlier tonight: “based on past 48 hrs, Duncan and Parker are worth approx. 80 points per game.” That sounds about right. Those open 3-point shots don’t create themselves.

Overall, I’m ecstatic with where the team is heading into the All-Star break. We’re second in the West, coming off an 8-1 Rodeo Road Trip. Parker is playing at the highest level of his career, Duncan is still chugging along, as efficient and valuable as ever. Pop is secretly in the midst of maybe his best 2-year coaching run ever. We’re younger and more athletic than ever before. We’re thriving without one of our best players, who might actually be healthy come playoff time for the first time in several years. The defense is rounding into shape. And the West is wide open.

The second half of the season should be one hell of a ride.

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  1. Bramlet Abercrombie February 24, 2012

    I feel for Spurs fans at that Blazers game, but I really think it had to be done.

    As for those who worried that such a big loss would destroy the confidence of our role players and younger guys, well, they ain’t that weak-minded. Most of these guys have massive cojones, and they’re also smart enough to know that a game like that is not a true gauge of the their ability level. When there’s no real post player and no natural playmaker in the lineup (Gary’s gotten better, but he’s not really a point guard; Cory’s young and raw), the offense becomes completely distorted, causing not just an inability to score, but also a lot of mistakes and missed shots that lead to easy transition baskets for the other team. And defensively, having no legitimate interior defender creates a radically different situation than players normally have to deal with. On both ends, the way both the team and individual players normally play just isn’t going to work. So their poor performance that night wasn’t just a matter of the level of talent on the court; it was also a matter of guys suddenly having to play within an unnatural basketball context without any practice or much prior experience.

    Another example of how context matters is the difficulty of evaluating players on a summer league or D-League team. Some guys (great individual scorers, in particular) are going to thrive in that context, but other guys have talents that reveal themselves much more clearly within the framework of balanced and coordinated team play. Cory Joseph didn’t look very good in his D-League stint this year, but playing alongside an established Toros point guard and not having guys like Matt and Tiago to pass to made him look a lot worse than he can be as a Spur. He’s raw and limited and may never be a regular starter at the NBA level, but I have seen signs of confidence, good ball handling, good decision making, and court awareness that can make him an effective point guard on a team that plays well together.

    Having said all this, I’m not going to claim that this team is going anywhere without the Big Three. I love our young guys, but they’re never going to reach Tim, Tony, and Manu’s level. Let’s enjoy the hell out of watching these Hall of Famers while we still can….


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