The Razor’s Edge
In a game of playoff intensity with numerous story lines and subplots, the headline is turnovers.
The recent mediocre play of the Spurs might also be headlined by turnovers. The surest way to allow any team back in a game and/or prevent yourself from remaining in one is to have empty offensive possessions that lead to highly efficient ones for the opposing team. Tonight, there were just too many turnovers in critical junctures that led to way too easy baskets for the Grizzlies. Memphis, probably better than any other team in the league, really plays aggressive defense on the ball and in the passing lanes. They’re looking for stops as much as they’re looking for steals. Once they get the steal, they are off and running. Late in the first half, they had literally scored half of their points off of TOs. In almost 24 minutes, they had scored about 20 points in easy transition, and only 20 points in half-court offense. Take care of the ball, take care of the Grizz.
In the second half, the Spurs tightened up their offensive play, and took control of the game. But over the last five minutes, the offense stagnated again, started turning the ball over, and Memphis climbed back in and took control. Hell, they won the game, if not for Parker’s miracle 3 at the buzzer. It was fitting that our only basket in OT was another Parker 3, and that we were essentially unable to get a clean look in the last minute to attempt to tie the game.
Duncan was particularly bad in this game, accounting for 6 of the Spurs 18 turnovers. This is just a really bad match-up for him, and sometimes it feels like his pride gets the best of him, going directly at Gasol one-on-one, which often ends badly for San Antonio. He was able to play some great D, particularly late in the game, and was a beast on the boards. But his offense really dragged the team down tonight. (It doesn’t help that he also missed a few easy ones right at the rim on the few occasions he found himself there without pressure.) Tim hasn’t looked very sharp for about a week now, and while it’s too early to start worrying about his overall health, this team will go nowhere if his play declines too much.
The way the Spurs play offense, with so much player and ball movement, is playing on the edge. There are going to be turnovers, because the ball spends a lot of time “free”, not in any players hands. It’s the risk of our offense. The plus side of this razor edge is all of the easy lay-ups, dunks, and wide-open 3s. The downside is that we’re prone to turn it over more than teams that play heavy isolation-type offense. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. But there is a line, and when the Spurs lose, they tend to fall on the bad side of said line. I’ve written for a long time that turnovers and 3-point shooting are strong indications of how well the offense is functioning, and when we excel in both categories, we are almost unbeatable. When one or both falter, we have a tendency to look really sloppy and out of sync. It’s a game of inches and moments, and we can’t afford to be on the losing side of either.
Some more notes from tonight’s game:
–Whenever these two teams meet, it’s an event. Would you believe this is the first win for Memphis over San Antonio since the playoff stunner? Doesn’t seem like it. This season, the two teams have split OT games. It always feels like playoff basketball, in a very good way. (Except when we lose.)
–I get the sense that Pop highlights certain games as “gauge” games, to see where his team is at. Tonight felt like one, particularly coming off of the dispiriting victory over the Lakers. One way to tell this? Pop’s rotation was tighter, and he didn’t allow that small window in the middle of each half when none of the Big 3 is on the floor. He wanted this win bad.
–For some reason, Mike Conley, Jr. seems to play Parker better than just about any other PG in the league. Conley is a fine player and good defender, but it seems odd that he’d give Parker the most fits. But he does. Nonetheless, Parker had a great game, getting stronger as time went on. If not for his play, the Spurs would have been out of it very early.
–I thought the other player that showed up well for the Spurs was Splitter. He did his usual Splitter thing (including missing some shots at the rim…throw it down Big Man!), but where I’ve been most impressed with his play over the last month or so is his aggression on defense, his “nasty”, so to speak. He is more physical, less afraid, and is starting to get some huge stops/blocks at the rim. With him and Duncan in tandem, that could be a fearsome defensive back line. Part of this change is just Splitter starting to get some respect from the officials, and not getting called for ticky-tack fouls (though, ironically, he did foul out of this game). But in his first two seasons, he couldn’t guard anybody without getting called for fouls. Tonight, I thought he guarded Zach Randolph better than even Duncan.
–One interesting rotation quirk: in the second half, Mills got Neal’s minutes. Neal has had a rough couple of weeks. In each of the last 3 games it seems like he has dribbled the ball off of his foot out of bounds at least once. He doesn’t do well handling the ball against pressure (not the right team tonight), and he still seems to be suffering from that calf strain. If he’s not shooting lights out, he’s going to be a net negative. With Mills, you get the same bravado shooting, but better ball handling and peskier defense. Though he did nothing exceptional, the team seemed much sharper in Mills’ stint on the court than in Neal’s. This may just be a night to night thing, and whichever player is sharper will get the call. It’s a luxury to have good depth.
–It’s always easy to think about miscues and easy misses at the rim, and wonder “if only….” But, in general, the universe seems to balance out. Splitter missed a lay-in at the end of one of the quarters (can’t remember which one right now), a sure two points. But remember that 2 on 0 breakaway when Bayless just threw it out of bounds? Yeah, that was funny. Had the Grizzlies lost, they’d probably be rueing that play. While stupid plays drive me crazy, I try to not dwell on them, lest I go crazy. Same with officiating. That shit will drive you bonkers if you let it. Just assume it goes the same both ways.
Up next: Minnesota comes to San Antonio on Sunday. Love is out again with a broken hand, and Minnesota just can’t seem to get its full roster healthy together. Still, the Spurs aren’t exactly lighting it up lately, and a nice win with solid play would feel really good.
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