Freakin’ Derek Fisher
Oklahoma City 100, San Antonio 88
(56-20 overall, 23-15 away)
There was a lot working against this team going into the game, and even more going against it once it tipped off. We were missing Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili, who despite down seasons, both perform quite well against OKC. In fact, if you could have each for only one series in the Western Conference, you’d choose OKC for both. Then our bench almost collapsed at the end of the first quarter. Derek Fisher had his annual good game (which only ever happens against the Spurs, naturally).
Tony Parker was MIA, then left the game with injuries. We kept making bone-headed plays, failing to convert on 3 fast breaks in the second half, choking at every possible “momentum turning” moment.
And yet, despite all of this, we were only down 3 in the 4th quarter, with a chance to actually pull off a victory. On the road. Against a team playing on 4 days rest, and quite well.
So while I’m upset with the loss, I’m encouraged overall.
Who am I kidding? I’m encouraged by one thing and one thing only: Kawhi Leonard. (Tim Duncan gets his usual amount of love and praise, but he has been our anchor for so long that I literally can’t really say anything else at this point.)
What a game from the young kid. It was almost like watching him come into his own in the league right in front of our eyes in the span of two hours. With no other perimeter threat, he took the reins of the offense, created for himself and others, and played with a confidence we haven’t seen yet. And he was great on Durant on defense, too. Fun fact: he led the team in points (tied with Duncan), assists, rebounds, and minutes played. More importantly: he stood toe to toe with Durant–the 2nd best player in the league–and more than held his own.
I’m most encouraged by the minutes played. Come playoff time, we’re going to need him to be great, and to be a workhorse for us. Duncan and Ginobili (and even Parker) can’t go 40+ minutes a game. Leonard can.
So the loss isn’t totally disheartening. But the potential of Parker’s more serious injuries is. Early word is some shin pain, which can be a number of bad things. Parker hasn’t looked right in weeks (since returning, really), and that downturn directly correlates with the offense stalling out. Gone is the ball movement and quick-hitting machine-like efficiency that has been the hallmark of the team the past few seasons. Offensive possessions often seem like a slog now, often resulting in poor shots at the end of the shot clock. Without Tony right (and also missing Manu), we have no engine to drive the offense.
Health is more important than seeding. The overall top seed would be nice, but not if we lose Tony and Manu in the process. We won’t escape the first round without Parker. Looking at how the standings are shaking out, the #2 seed has plenty to recommend it. In the first round, would you rather play the Lakers? Or either Houston or Golden State? While the Lakers aren’t necessarily the better team this year, I still fear Kobe, Pau, Dwight, and Nash in any playoff series. Houston and Golden State would both be making their first trips with young teams. In the second round, as it stands today, would you rather face the Clippers or the Grizzlies? Or Denver? Denver is fearsome, but might have lost Gallinari tonight (a horrible turn of events, if initial reports are true), and Lawson is still down with a heel injury. While not an easy series, it might be easier than facing a bruising Memphis team, or hungry and talented Clippers team.
Over the last two weeks of the season, I’m most concerned with health, and getting the team back into a rhythm. I don’t really care what seed we get, or even wins and losses necessarily, though we need to win some games for confidence.
No game truly matters until Game #1 of the playoffs.
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