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The Cornerstone Remains, Ever Strong

By Jeff Koch on January 2, 2013.

After spending the last two recaps gushing about one of the Big 3, might as well make it a clean sweep and praise Duncan.

But what can you say about Duncan that hasn’t already been discussed thousands of times amongst the Spurs faithful. He is the rare breed of brilliant player whose contributions show up in the box score and yet exceed what any metric could ever measure. He is an amazing anchor for a defense, a great communicator and help defender. He never makes mistakes. He competes. He is, for my money, the best teammate of the last decade. And one of the 10 greatest players of all-time.

So let’s go trite on the “something new” category: his jump shot has improved amazingly over the last 3 years. Of course, we can fold this back into a larger point, showing how, in his mid-30s and apparently on the decline, he improved a dimension of his game to the point that he would be able to feature it. The team now runs pin down sets for him specifically for his 15-foot jump shot from the elbow. He can play on the floor with any line-up, because he has mastered the low post and the high post. And once a weakness, his jump shot off the pick and pop is now a strength.

“Favorite” players may come and go, but Duncan will always be my first love, my true favorite…and to be honest, probably the reason I root for the Spurs in the first place.

Notes from tonight’s game against the Bucks:

–The game had a very interesting rhythm. The Spurs built a sizable lead in the 2nd quarter, which they extended into the 3rd, but then the Bucks made a push and even cut it to single digits at one point. Yet, it never really felt like the Spurs were ever in danger of losing the game. Even in the last minute, the Bucks cut it to 7. But it was still garbage time. Weird.

–Of course, Pop had to call the big boys back in early in the 4th to make sure the game didn’t slip away. Duncan and Parker re-enter (along with Green), and immediately push a dwindling 9-point lead back up to 18. Green hit the first big shot, a 3, to put the lead back to 12.

–Speaking of Green, remember his shooting slump? He is in the middle of the inverse of that right now. Whenever he takes a shot from the wing 3, I just assume it’s going in. I’m right about 90% of the time.

–I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I love watching the Spurs on the road against the East, because the Eastern Conference announcers just kiss the Spurs’ collective asses for the entire broadcast. For good reason, mind you. But even I get a little embarrassed after a while.

–I’ve talked a lot about how making 3s really opens up the Spurs offense. You know what else does? Low turnovers. The Spurs only committed 8 tonight, while still keeping the ball moving and the passing sharp. And the Bucks–a rather good defensive team by most metrics–could do nothing to stop them.

–One thing that impressed me about the Bucks was how they were able to chase down fast breaks. I don’t think we converted one clean fast break all game, and the Bucks probably got clean blocks on 3 or 4 of them. There is some good, young talent on the team, particularly in the front court.

–DeJuan Blair is a mess right now. What little value he could add to the team seems to be all but gone. Whenever he gets into a game, he just commits one bad play after another. He came in late in the 3rd with a sizable lead, and it was cut in half in about 3 minutes. This is not entirely his fault, but I don’t think the damage is nearly as severe with any other big playing that spot. He immediately came out to start the 4th.

–You can’t really have a 5-man Big rotation, anyway. Right now it seems to have settled nicely into a 3-man rotation. Splitter and Duncan start, with Diaw spelling Splitter about 6 minutes into the game. Near the end of the 1st, Splitter will come in for Duncan, leaving Diaw and Splitter out there. We’ll also play stretches of small ball, with only one big (usually Tiago with the second unit, Duncan with the starters). Bonner gets some spot duty here and there.

–Another fun little rotation quirk: there’s always a 2 or 3 minute stretch in the 2nd quarter, when Ginobili goes to the bench before Tony or Tim come back in, and Pop rolls with no Big 3 player out there. I think Pop must be a gambling man. These stretches always stress me out. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Neal (or somebody else) will go off and blow the game open. But the odds are the opposing team will make a mini-run.

–Splitter is dunking more. This is a very good thing.

The Spurs play their 4th game in 5 nights, and the second of a road back-to-back tomorrow in New York. With the ease with which the team has been winning, I do expect everybody to be available, and for the rotations to look mostly normal. But don’t be surprised if we see some more shenanigans.

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