Wait…the NBA Playoffs are Still Going On?
After what seemed like 2 1/2 months off, the Spurs finally resumed playing in the NBA Playoffs. And by most accounts, picked up right where they left off.
The big topic of discussion was the “rust vs. rest” debate, a storyline that is brought out every time a team has an extended lay-off in the playoffs. In my thoughts over at The Big Fundamental’s series preview, I thought the expected rust of the Spurs and the fatigue of the Clippers would cancel each other out. For the most part, the game played out the way I thought: the Clippers were sharp early, the Spurs sloppy; the game was tight into the 3rd quarter when the Spurs opened it up, and held the Clippers at bay for an easy-but-not-as-easy-as-the-score-indicated win.
Since there is so much to suss out after the first game of a new series, let’s go to some bullet points.
What I Liked:
• Tim Duncan. Old reliable. Steady as she goes. It’s no mistake that every game of the post-season has started with the classic ‘4-Down’, the dump into Duncan in the post and let him go to work. Pop watches his minutes closely all season for this very reason. Even at 36, the Spurs ability to win championships — not games, championships — still hinges on Duncan being great. Greatness doesn’t have to be defined by a 30-15 every night, though the occasional 26-10 sure is helpful. Even at 36, Duncan is still the smartest defender in the league, and still the anchor of the best offense in the league. As Barkley said in the post-game, this series will be a learning experience for Blake Griffin. Watch the master go to work.
• Boris Diaw. 12 rebounds. 5 assists. 3 steals. 1 block. Zero turnovers. Stellar defense and passing. We got him for nothing.
• Team defense. After giving up 29 in the first quarter, we surrendered 20, 23, and 20 in the following 3 quarters. That’s really good. I was particularly pleased with the defense on Chris Paul. The Clippers are deadly on the pick and roll, so what did we do? Didn’t even allow them to run it. I thought we’d let Chris Paul score at will and not allow anybody else to get off, but instead we just took the ball out of his hands, so he couldn’t be a scorer nor a passer. Want to shoot 20 foot jump shots Blake Griffin? Be our guest. Want to hold the ball for 12 seconds then shoot a contested 23 footer, Caron Butler? More power to you. Coming out of the half, Butler had a quick 10 points, but I was actually happy with the defense. He made 3 really tough shots. Sometimes that happens. For the most part, we were able to dictate exactly what we wanted the Clippers to do on offense. And we owned the boards.
• Our offense. A little sloppy and a bit rusty, but still a buzz saw.
• Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Not afraid of the big moment at all. Both are making solid contributions on both ends of the floor and impressing the hell out of me in these playoffs. Green was playing such good defense on Paul, I was actually relieved when he came back into the game in the 2nd half.
What I Didn’t Like:
• Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. This is where ‘rust’ might come into play. I thought we were a bit careless with the ball too much, giving the Clippers too many easy TOs into transition buckets. Hell, take away the Clippers 24 points off TOs, and we have an even bigger rout on our hands. This is something that I expect to go away, but we still need to be more careful with the ball. Credit the Clippers defense, though; they have some pesky defenders. Speaking of…
• Eric Bledsoe. Dear God, was he frightening in the second half. I thought he was going to bring LA back on his own. It seems like he stole the ball from us and then scored on the other end on like 8 straight possessions. Every time we turned it over, I heard the announcer say “Bledsoe with the steal”. Parker and Ginobili — world class ball handlers each — had trouble bringing the ball up and getting into the offense against him. Wow. He’s good. I fully expect him to be in the starting line-up soon. But that might actually work to our advantage, because…
• Tiago Splitter (and the bench). Splitter had a pretty rough game. Late in the first quarter he had two free throws to push our lead to 8 (I think). He missed both, even air balling the second one. Then he committed a bad foul at the other end…then had his inbound pass promptly stolen underneath the basket. Just a bad stretch. Splitter in particular, running the pick and roll, can kill the Clippers. We need him to step up.
The rest of the bench was okay, but got outplayed by the Clippers bench. (Note: I don’t necessarily consider Ginobili a ‘bench’ player.)
Tony Parker had a weird game, but I’m not going to put it in the “Didn’t Like” category. I actually was encouraged by it. He didn’t score (only one made basket), but still had 11 assists and was able to control the ball fairly well under the extreme pressure of Bledsoe. More importantly, I still felt his presence in the game, more so than Paul, who had a similarly bad night, but seemed even less able to leave an imprint on the game.
What a difference a year can make, eh? Had this game happened in last year’s playoffs (and I’m sure similar games did), we all would have been killing Parker. But with his superlative play all year, his growing leadership and confidence, and his ability to influence the game beyond his ability to score, we’re seeing a whole new Tony Parker. He’s no longer just the ‘quick, scoring point guard’. He’s an elite, unqualified point guard, probably one of the 2 or 3 best in the league. Furthermore, everybody sees the game as an aberration, and expects him to turn it around.
Of course, everybody expects the same of Chris Paul. Game 2s are often the most interesting in the series, as we see what adjustments are made both ways, and how the two teams settle into the series. Once you get to Game 3, the identities are generally set, and it’s all about execution and effort. But Game 2 can often be when the tone and timbre for the rest of the series are decided.
And we have the greatest conductor in the league on our side.
I think a win in Game 2 is critically important. No need to give even a glimmer of hope to the Clippers.
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