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Skin of the Teeth

By Jeff Koch on December 5, 2012.

Tonight’s game against Milwaukee had “Trap Game!” written all over it. Coming off a long road trip, then a huge home game against a divisional rival, followed by 3 days off, a little letdown was bound to happen. Throw in 4 key injuries, a non-Conference opponent, and a big home-and-home against another Divisional rival coming up, and the Bucks had a real chance to steal this one.

And for 3 quarters, it looked as if they might. Despite their two best scorers shooting like crap, the rest of the team seemingly couldn’t miss. And the Spurs looked flat and out of sync, playing lax and sloppy on both ends of the floor. Thanks to a couple of mini-runs, the 3-pointers starting to fall, and some free throws, the game was tied heading into the 4th.

Neal, Bonner, Splitter, De Colo, and Anderson. That was the line-up that opened up the game for us and eventually put it away. Two mid-level rotation players, one long-time rotation player that had dropped to the end of the bench, two players that were in the D-League within the last month (one just a few days ago), one rookie, and one player that the team had gotten rid of and brought back for emergency purposes only. And somehow they showed the most energy and chemistry of any group of players that stepped on the court all night.

And here is the true brilliance of the Spurs. It is a system through and through. Yes, the stars set the tone from the top down, and need to be great for the team to also be great. But every player knows what to do, where to be, and what is expected of them. Players are put in position to succeed, not fail. And the coaches and stars trust these “others” to be great at what is expected of them. And because of this, these players are empowered to excel, allowed to win random trap games in early December. I doubt these 5 players will ever share any meaningful court time together again; but for one night, one game in early December against an average team, they were excellent, playing exquisite, high-energy basketball, and propelling the Spurs to a victory.

A few more notes on tonight’s game:

–I didn’t see the Miami game, so this was the first real glimpse of any positives from De Colo that I’ve seen. I liked what I saw. A little bit of that Manu flair. His court vision is obviously great, and his passing seems much more confident now. I still don’t trust him shooting in an empty gym. But when he develops a reliable jumper, he’ll be a big part of the rotation. Watching Manu zip a pass to him for an easy lay-up, and then seeing him return the favor on a fast break a few minutes later was pretty cool. I already have a hard enough time telling them apart with their similarly close cropped dark hair (insert bald spot jokes here) and slight builds. When they start making similar plays to and for each other, it can be dizzying.

–Once again Splitter obliterated the opposition in the PnR. I think the fact that every single ball-handler on the team has great chemistry with him in that set should tell us that he is a pretty great offensive player. He is finishing at the rim much more efficiently of late, and that makes a world of difference.

–If Matt Bonner could always rebound and shoot like this, he’d be a fixture in any rotation in the league. In general, I always like Bonner’s energy and aggressiveness; he just often comes out on the wrong side of rebounds and 50-50 plays. Not tonight. I hope this keeps trending positively for the Spurs moving forward.

–Joseph got a little meaningful playing time in the first half and was impressive defensively. He still isn’t a great playmaker nor a great shooter. But he is showing real promise to be a gnat on the defensive end, especially against opposing PGs. There is real value in slowing down the opponent’s offensive sets and just making life difficult for the primary playmaker.

Speaking of trap games, another one looms large on Saturday night. Nestled between two games against Houston, is a game in Charlotte, about 19 hours after the Friday night Houston game will end. Hmmm….

Before then, though, I am really excited for the game against the new-look Rockets.

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