Welcome To The Rock
San Antonio Spurs 91, Los Angeles Lakers 79
Spurs lead series 1-0
I was of two minds coming into this series. Part of me thought the games might resemble the game last Sunday in the regular season, a complete slog, “defensive” battle (meaning some defense, and a lot of missed shots), with little separation to be found, the victor decided on one or two key plays. Or, I thought the Spurs would wake from their slumber, start to become the team from mid-season, and blow the doors off the series.
Looks like I was right on both counts. Or wrong, as the case may be.
What actually transpired took me back a few years, to when the Spurs were more the “Spurs” that casual fans remember them to be: steady, solid execution, contributions from the entire roster, and, most importantly, “pounding the rock”. Do what you do, don’t deviate, chip away, knowing that eventually you’ll break the game open. And Sunday’s game was just that. The Spurs appeared to be in control most of the game, but the Lakers were scrapping, playing frantic defense, and hanging tough with just enough offense. But the Spurs never stopped playing their game, and finally, in a flurry to end the 3rd, broke the game wide open. Pound the rock.
The aspect of the game I found most refreshing was the evenly distributed positive contributions across the roster. In the last few years, the “new” Spurs have relied heavily upon the stars, while the role players have shrunk in the playoffs. (We all know what happened to Tiago and Danny against OKC last year, and Bonner every year.) But if Sunday’s game is any indication, this team is rolling 10+ deep right now, with everybody staying in their lane, giving exactly what they can when they can, and all contributing. If this keeps up, even with a down post-season from Parker, I like our chances in any series.
A player-by-player analysis:
Tony Parker: I thought he looked a bit quicker, though still not 100%. He was aggressive, though, which he always isn’t against the Lakers. And, as usual, his aggression opened up a lot of open looks for the team–open looks we missed, but won’t miss at the same clip in future games. His shot was way off (8-21), so just imagine how much better we’ll be if even 2 or 3 more of those shots go in. Still the motor of the offense, even when having a down game.
Tim Duncan: Solid, but not spectacular. This isn’t a great series for him to put up huge numbers, but his true value will be in defense against Howard and Gasol. To that end, he outplayed Howard where it mattered: intangibles and “winning” plays. Seemed tight on his mid-range jumper, which is a huge part of the team’s offense. A few more of those go in (as they normally d0), and this game isn’t close for the last 20 minutes.
Kawhi Leonard: I thought he was a little too quiet for most of the game, though he made one of the plays of the game with his double team, 3-point block, wide open lay-up at the other end series. Also led the team with 11 rebounds, which is crazy (and important) from the SF position. I’d like to see him featured more, but also take it upon himself to be more aggressive offensively. His defense was great, as usual.
Danny Green: Hit a few big shots, but was mostly dissapointing, particularly his defense on Nash. (You never ever leave Steve Nash alone at the 3-point line.) I expect him to play a bit better in Game 2.
Tiago Splitter: His offense was pretty sub-par, but his defensive presence was huge. When people talk about the Lakers big advantage being inside, they seem to say this without the knowledge that Splitter is a big 7-footer who can body up Gasol or Howard. I’m not saying he’s a defensive stopper, but he’s no slouch. This isn’t the Spurs of the last few years: we finished the season one of the best interior defensive teams in the league. Mostly because of Duncan and Splitter.
Manu Ginobili: Manu f’in Ginobili. What a classic Manu game. Some boneheaded plays, and then the definitive 90 second run, with 8 quick points and blowing the game wide open. Just watching him with the second unit, you realize how important his presence is to so many players: Bonner, Green, Blair, Splitter, and basically any player that can’t create for himself. If we can get him all the way back healthy and playing that playmaker role, we’ll have a shot in any series.
Matt Bonner: He and Cory Joseph were the surprise of the game for me. People make fun of Bonner (mostly because of his appearance, I imagine), but he is a solid if unspectacular defender. Most importantly, he knows exactly what Pop wants and does it to the best of his ability. As long as he’s out there with Splitter or Duncan, he’ll be fine. And what he brings to the offense is invaluable. Both Gasol and Howard are uncomfortable on the perimeter, and it really opens up the inside for the offense. If he makes a shot or two, bonus. He’s had a string of disappointing post-seasons; if he plays like this for this run (which should be expected, as it’s not exceeding his normal regular season productivity), the team will be in great shape.
Cory Joseph: Totally surprised me. I wasn’t sure how he’d play in his first post-season action, or if he’d even play at all. But he got the first call off the bench at PG, and he played his butt off. His main value is as a defender, and he was great. Poised and aggressive. And he was solid on offense, initiating the sets, hitting some clutch jumpers, and seeing and executing the pass to Ginobili to end the 3rd perfectly. I’m quite happy he has “won” the back-up PG job.
Gary Neal: Barely noticeable. Didn’t shoot very well, but will always keep defenses honest with his threat. He can heat up at any moment, so he’ll always see playing time, and as long as he isn’t a net negative on the defensive end, that’s just fine.
Nobody else played any minutes of note. (Well, Baynes did come in for one quick foul in the Hack-a-Howard ploy.)
Game 1 is always fascinating to see what story lines will prevail; Game 2 is for the adjustments. I don’t know what tricks the Lakers might have, but if they’re there, we’ll see them Tuesday night.
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