A Free Throws Spins Out With 3 Seconds Left…
Phoenix Suns 105, San Antonio Spurs 101
(45-14, 22-3 home)
…and the prayer of a desperation pass and shot are answered, and suddenly we’re in OT of a game that should have never even gotten that close. And that OT might have been the ugliest 5 minutes of basketball played all season. 1 measly point. Putrid offense. Bad fouls. Not a single good look, solidly executed play, or wide-open shot.
But while that one simple free throw made would have certainly won us the game, it spinning out was not what lost it. Lack of focus lost it; lack of execution lost it; Jermaine O’Neal playing like it was 2003 lost it; size lost it.
And while the one loss might not mean much in the long run (though in the battle with OKC for the top seed, every game counts, particularly games at home against the worst team in the West), a couple of potentially troubling trends showed the first signs of having long-term impact. And all of them concerned the Big 3:
–One of the things that has made Duncan durable and extend his career so well is his weight loss, slimming down to take pressure off of his knees. And as the league has gotten smaller and quicker in general, that has paid huge dividends. But when faced with a legitimate “big” man working the post, Duncan isn’t the defender he once was. O’Neal absolutely abused him in the low block, using his size and strength to completely overpower him. The game really turned when Phoenix went with O’Neal and Gortat side-by-side for the closing stretch of the 4th and all of OT, matching Duncan and Splitter. Neither of our bigs could stop theirs, and the Suns took control both offensively and defensively.
The other concern with Duncan is that he just hasn’t been the same since his return from his knee injuries. Particularly his shooting. He still adds a tremendous amount offensively, but when he’s shooting below 45%, the overall offensive efficiency takes a huge hit.
–Tony Parker is clearly our best player, our most important player, and mostly unstoppable on offense. But in the last two games he has played, he has been effectively limited by being guarded by larger guards, usually long and quick 2-Guards. Klay Thompson from Golden State and Wesley Johnson from Phoenix. Both were able to jam him a bit, stifle his drives, and essentially throw a big wrench in the offense. This brings back terrible memories of Thabo Sefolosha and the OKC series from last season’s Western Conference Finals. If it’s even possible, Parker is playing better this year. The larger fear, is that any good team, given 6-7 cracks at the Spurs in a row, will figure out how to slow down Parker and the offense, and eventually seize control of any series.
Of course, Parker could still be feeling the effects of his injury, which could present its own unique issues moving forward.
–Oh, Manu Ginobili. I don’t know what to make of you this season. In stretches, you still play beautifully and with an artist’s touch, creating beauty on the court. But more often than not, you border on being a liability. The missed free throw is excusable, and could happen to anybody. But in general, his FT shooting is not as reliable as it once was. (He used to be automatic in crunch time; now he consistently misses.) The passing and the driving are still there, but the shooting and the decision making sometimes take us right out of games. The beauty of Ginobili was always walking that line of majestic and reckless, and too often, it falls into reckless this season. In OT, he took 2 or 3 horribly ill-advised shots, working outside of the framework of the offense, and killed any momentum we might have possibly established. It reached a point where I was hoping Pop would pull him and put Danny Green back in. (He did, for a bit.) Green can’t make the spectacular play, but I trust him not to make the stupid play, and I trust him to hit 3-point shots in big moments more.
I wrote this a few weeks ago as a passing thought, but now it is growing: how far the Spurs go this year might really come down to Leonard taking over the 3rd seat at the Big 3 table, and Ginobili drifting into something else, still important, but less vital. More like a true 6th man, less superstar.
After such a stellar road trip, it really stinks to lose our first home game in almost a month in such disappointing fashion, with poor effort and execution. But the Suns, despite their record, have played us tough all year. All we can do is get ready for the next one.
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