Eating Onions and Spotting Dimes
This team has been kind of hard to get a handle on lately. Midway through the 3rd quarter, I had the notion that this might be the game in which I start to abandon any hope of long-term (read: championship) success this season. We just looked too choppy, slow, and out of sorts. Then the bench comes in–without an injured Manu– in the 4th quarter and just runs the Timberwolves off the floor.
Which would have been expected last season, but who knows what to expect this season. Sometimes the starters play excellent and have to win the games for the bench; sometimes the bench puts the games away early for the starters. The one constant most of the season has been Duncan, but over the last few weeks, he’s shown signs of returning to post-prime injured Duncan (though his defense has still been excellent through his offensive slump). Parker had a slow start to the season, really kicked it in for a solid 2 months, but seems to be a bit tired, banged up, disinterested, or some combination of the three lately. Manu was just starting to play great (and had an excellent first half), and then pulled his hamstring. (Let’s hope it’s nothing too serious, and he’ll only be out a game or two, if that.)
And it extends beyond the Big 3. Green is the most hot and cold game-to-game shooter we might have ever seen. Neal played so poorly in the first half of the last two games that I entertained the idea of trading him with Blair, and then he comes in and essentially wins the game for us with his hot shooting in the second half (and this isn’t the first time that’s happened). Leonard is an athletic freak and can dominate both sides of the floor, but too often defers and drifts out of games. Diaw…we all know his pluses and minuses, right? Same with Jackson. Splitter has been a very consistent player this season, but is still prone to foul trouble, missing easy lay-ups, and getting bullied on the boards.
I just don’t know what to expect from the team and the players night to night, game to game. But I suppose that’s part of the process of going through a season, playing through those “slog” games in the middle of January, getting ready for the playoffs that still don’t start for a few months. We have the system, the talent, and the capability. But do we have whatever that elusive “it” is?
As the cliche goes, that’s why we play the games. Occasional frustration aside, I wouldn’t miss a single one for anything.
A few other notes from the game:
–Block party! We had 13 on the game, 7 credited to Duncan. Green was credited with 2, but I feel like he got at least 3 or 4 (or changed some shots with his presence). Green is a solid on ball defender and system defender, but is also surprisingly good at protecting the rim for his size and position.
–Another night, another 5-point play potentially swinging the outcome. Of course, when it’s Pop, it’s allowed. I’m of the opinion that whenever Pop gets thrown out of a game, it’s deliberate. Let’s just leave it at that.
–The bench was superb tonight in the 4th quarter, more or less winning the game (and getting to finish the game because of it). Pop went against the normal rotation, and had Diaw start the second half, bringing Splitter off the bench. Playing with the second unit, Splitter was great, owning the offensive rim. It will be interesting to see how the rotation plays out as we move along in the season. Splitter starting makes our defense a bit better, but Diaw in with Duncan seems to help the offense. And Splitter has great chemistry with the second unit (and when he can be the featured low-post big).
–We saw the very best and very worst of Gary Neal tonight. But man, when that stroke gets going, watch out. This is why he’ll always have a spot in the rotation. No one catches fire like him.
–I’m still happy seeing more of Mills, though. His shot was a bit off tonight, but he brings a frantic energy off the bench that can really upset some teams (similar to how Barea does). He had a tremendous steal off an inbounds pass, where he jumped in the air, going out of bounds, and tipped the ball back to midcourt, leading to a Spurs breakaway. It was a pesky, athletic, and heady play all in one.
–Let’s hope Manu’s injury is nothing more than a tweak. He’d just been starting to get his groove back.
The Spurs get a much needed two days off before facing Memphis again at home on Wednesday night. That should be a great game.
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