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A Series Of Unfortunate Events

By Jeff Koch on January 3, 2014.

New York 105, San Antonio 101

Basketball is a determinists dream. Every moment is completely dependent on the one that came before it, until these moments pile up into something resembling a game. Unlike football or baseball, there are no distinct breaks between plays, and the lay-up in transition may find its origins in a contested rebound 4 possessions prior. Often times I’ll find myself lamenting a missed lay-up, only to rejoice a few moments later as the Spurs hit a killer 3 in transition. Of course, had that lay-up not been missed, the 3 never would have been born.

And on and on the game goes, a dense interconnected series of moments.

Thursday night’s loss to the Knicks had a series of those moments:

–After a slow start in the first, the Spurs gained control of the game in the second behind–surprise–the play of the second unit. In particular, Ginobili, who was a man possessed all game. Having built a nine-point lead, Pop pulled Manu and went without any of the Big 3, something he likes to do for small stretches most games. Without any sort of distributor or primary threat, the Knicks quickly cut the deficit and regained control of a game that had a chance to spiral out of control.

–Late in the third quarter, finally getting back into striking distance at 83-80, Manu dribbles down and takes quick pull-up 3s on back to back possessions, missing both. By this point, Manu had played most of the quarter, and perhaps fatigue was starting to play a factor. Either way, not being able to ‘reset’ the game at that point kept the team playing from behind for most of the remainder of the game.

–Again, early in the 4th, Pop goes without any of the Big 3. At this point, he had to pull Manu, who had played almost an entire quarter straight without a breather (having subbed in very early in the 3rd). I’m surprised he didn’t go back to Parker at this point, who had gotten rest earlier than normal in the 3rd. Whatever the reason, the Knicks were once again able to extend their lead until Parker and Duncan reentered.

–The Spurs missed 6 FTs. FTs are an easy thing to harp on, and some are going to be missed, obviously. But give us 3 or 4 of those, and the entire flow of the game is different. Parker and Ginobili and Duncan each missed one, and Kawhi missed 3.

–Having finally pulled ahead in the final minutes, the Spurs are up 2 with possession of the ball and about 1:40 remaining. Parker pulls back and runs some clock. He dribbles out the possession before driving to his right and pulling up from his favorite spot on the elbow. His jumper is defended well and he misses. The Knicks come down, tie the game, and, as we all know, eventually win it. This possession to me was particularly egregious, as the ball never moved, the players never moved, and we ran no offense. Of course, it also appears to carry more weight for having occurred at the end of the game.

The moments added up and the Knicks won. As Pop put it, they were the more aggressive team and the hungrier team. They played with a lot of effort and deserved to win. Pop also pulled his usual “embarrassing” and “soft” ploys; it’s about that time of the season for it.

While the Spurs play of late does seem to be poor, they have the exact same record as they did last year, and the numbers team-wide are almost identical. This is why it’s not good to get worked up too much about games in early January. Even though it’s kind of my job to.

A few more notes from last night’s contest:

–Marco could not miss. Holy cow was he on fire. Of course, Shumpert from the Knicks was equally on fire, so that kind of balances out. The real problem: outside of Marco, the rest of our starters shot 12-32, or 38%. Parker, in particular, continues to secretly struggle. His numbers are consistent with the last few years, but something is just off. He’s just not running the team like he used to, as evidenced by the moment highlighted above. He seems to be trying to do more, eschewing the team offense, and not succeeding. His ability in the paint is a product of his crazy quickness and trickery, but also a function of the system. When he operates outside of the system, he is no longer great; he is merely good.

–Manu, on the other hand, continues to play his ass off and play well. His passion is as high as ever, and we’re a different team with him on the floor.

–The 3-ball is really all that kept us in the game in the first half, and the worm turned against us in the second half. Without the made 3s, are lazy offensive execution was exposed.

–Worse, though, was the defense, which has been secretly bad for a month or so now. We’ll go entire stretches (*cough*third quarter*cough*) without getting any meaningful stops or defensive runs. As was pointed out on twitter a few places, our best defenders and our best offensive players don’t line up right now. Splitter, Green, and Leonard form a fearsome defensive trio, but are all struggling offensively. Marco and Manu and Patty and Boris are all having offensive career years, but are all average to below-average individual defenders, particularly without one of the other 3 on the floor with them.

There’s a lot of work to do, and a lot of season to do it. And we’re still right at the same place we were last season, which turned out pretty good.

And look at it this way: now that we’ve finally lost to a subpar team, we’re due to get a win against an “elite” team. And wouldn’t you know it, the Clippers are coming to town Saturday night. The team will be well rested, at home, and have tons of motivation. I expect to see a focused and hungry team, and I expect a win.

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