Penny Wise and Pound Wise
After giving up 35 points in the first quarter to the Nets, bringing the total to 5 really bad defensive quarters in a row, it seemed like a fait accompli that the Spurs were about to get run out of the building. And given that our best defensive player and anchor was out of the game, and our second best playmaker and offensive spark was also missing, could you really be surprised? The Nets are a good team, with a great All-Star center (Brook Lopez), and outside of Splitter, we have no big who can even competently match-up with him.
So I settled in for a long game, and I started composing a recap in my head about how it’s better to penny foolish and pound wise, sacrificing games in February to ensure the health of core players when it really matters. But a funny thing happened on the way to the end of the game: the defense kicked in, and Tony Parker did what Tony Parker does on a regular basis.
The Parker part should come as no surprise; outside of a rough first few weeks of the season, Parker may be the third most consistent player in the league behind LeBron and Durant. But without Duncan, and after 5 atrocious quarters, for the defense to lock in and only surrender 22, 14, and 15 points in successive quarters (and only 29 points in the second half) is remarkable.
One of the biggest concerns facing the team, particularly without Duncan, is defensive rebounding. And in the first quarter, we really struggled. Lopez in particular was able to get offensive rebounds, or at least keep possessions alive for the Nets. But from late in the second quarter through the rest of the game, the team did a much better job gang rebounding, especially from the 2 and 3 position. Kawhi and Stephen Jackson may be our two best rebounders outside of Duncan, and both have done a great job in the last few games. The most important part of a defensive possession is the rebound, and once we locked that up, everything else got better. We were able to contest jump shots, protect the rim well, rotate crisply, play for each other, and use selective double teams to disrupt any offensive flow. Sure, a lot of it was just missed jump shots; but a missed jump shot is often the work of a smart defense. It’s a make or miss league, but defenses know how to force more missable shots.
The key stretch of the game for me was the first 4 minutes of the 4th quarter. The team had built a 10 point lead going into the 4th, but Parker was going to the bench, and if Brooklyn was to make a push, that would be the time. From the start of the 4th until Parker came back in (about the 8:00 minute mark), the second unit held steady, pushing the lead to as high as 14, but ultimately making it a wash. When Parker re-entered the game, it was still a 10 point margin.
Over the next 4-5 minutes with Parker running the show, the team was +11, pushing the lead to 21 and effectively ending the game.
After a dispiriting first quarter, it was a great and convincing win on the road. Up next, another tough road game in Chicago on Monday night.
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