There is a distinct type of defense that tends to give the Spurs offense the most trouble. It’s the defense that relies more on individual athleticism, length, speed, and, truth be told, a little bit of luck. It’s the disruptive kind of defense, rather than the solid “team defense” that is more likely to rate better over a large sample size. The Spurs can pick that defense apart with crisp passing, player movement, and unselfishness. But get a couple of young guys with legs and some long arms in there, and the gears of the offense get totally mucked up. It’s like quicksand: you can’t pass your way out of it, and the more you try, the deeper you sink.
Of course, the Spurs did themselves no favors by playing slow and lethargically. The team looked like they all ate a little too much on Christmas, and were happy to just play the pace of the Raptors and win without effort. Even against the worst of teams, that probably won’t happen. And despite the Raptors’ record, they are playing well of late. Throw in the fact that they were making a lot of long jump shots (the shot our defense wants them to take), and the game was annoying and close for about 1 3/4 quarters.
Somewhere late in the 2nd quarter, after falling behind by 3, 30-33, Matt Bonner hit a three to tie the game. From this point on, the Spurs would outscore the Raptors 67-47 and dominate the game the way in which we all expected they should. The offense woke up, the pace quickened, the defense stayed tough, and the Raptors were doomed.
It’s hard to point to one distinct thing, other than the each player on the team just playing a little bit better, a little bit sharper. In the aggregate, on a very talented team, incremental gains in the individual like that will result in a major overall change. You could see this change at the beginning of the 3rd, and all confidence was restored.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do in the NBA is when the games you should on lazy nights. About 4 years ago, it seemed the Spurs lost a lot of these dumb games. One of the best things over these last 2 years is knowing that the team maximizes its potential night in and night out better than almost any other team in the league.
Of course, the natural extension of this thought is that the team, in the end, lacks the overall talent of the upper echelon teams (like, say, the Thunder), and faced with a 7-game series, will ultimately come up short.
Still, I’d rather go to war with these guys than any other team in the league.
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