End of the Road
Even playing without Tony Parker, in the 9th game of the Rodeo Road Trip that has taken the team on the road for the better part of 2-1/2 weeks, after a dispiriting loss Friday night, this game seemed an awful lot like a formality. And after a close first quarter, the Spurs opened up a double digit lead early in the 2nd that they never relinquished. The game had a weird flow to it: the Spurs would only crack the 20-point lead once, and the Suns never got it back down to single digits. So while the game never felt out of hand, it also never felt put away… but it also never really felt like the Suns had a legitimate run to threaten the game.
With Parker resting a sore arm, potentially the most exciting storyline coming into the game was the play of Nando De Colo with the starters. When De Colo gets big minutes, it’s usually with the second unit. He usually seems to play his most impressive games when the Big 3 rest and he’s given freedom to succeed or fail. When he gets regular minutes in the normal rotation, he is often solid but underwhelming. Tonight I was hoping to see something that would give me some encouragement that he could secure that back-up PG spot moving forward, and be able to lead the offense with the full roster.
Instead, De Colo played solidly but not spectacularly, and Patty Mills had a more impressive game. The battle for the best guard to back-up Parker rages on. And maybe it will never be decided, and Pop will just have to see who is going better and ride them. De Colo has an artistry to his game (much like Ginobili), but is a bit slower and more deliberate. Mills is frenetic, and can usually be counted on to change the pace and energy of game. Plus, he’s a much better shooter. But with worse vision.
The best development from this game (and the last two games, really) is the gradual emergence of Ginobili as Ginobili.
Manu has clearly fallen to #3 in the Big 3, and that’s OK. We no longer need him to be the best player on the team, or run the team for long stretches. But when he is on the court (particularly heading the bench), we need him to bring that little magic that only he can bring, eg to rip off 8 points in 2 minutes, with a crazy pass and momentum-swinging steal to boot. He has looked lost and a step out of sync for most of the season. Tonight he looked like a reasonable facsimile of his old self.
He was getting to the basket, and was just abusing PJ Tucker on defense, baiting him into contact and getting to the free throw line. His decision making was stronger, and his stroke is starting to look better. Honestly, if he only played (and played well) in the playoffs, I’d be OK with that. So on top of the “To Do” list before April is “Get Manu back in rhythm”. Tonight was a good step in that direction.
Duncan also needs to get back in rhythm. Since returning from injury, he has looked indecisive on offense, hesitant on jumpers. He’s not moving the ball as well as he should, and really forcing the action. A key to the Spurs’ offense is Duncan’s willingness to take the jump shot from the top of the key, let alone make it. When he hesitates and doesn’t even take the shot, the offense gets out of whack. Duncan’s rhythm is equally as important. He has been putting up decent numbers, but very inefficiently. That hurts the Spurs’ offense in the aggregate.
Another year, another rodeo, another successful Rodeo Road Trip. Early in the week I should be back with a post that looks forward to the rest of the regular season.
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