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Energy Summit | San Antonio 120, Detroit 110

By Jeff Koch on February 27, 2014.

Back home and it feels so nice.

The two games against Detroit in the last month serve as opposite dichotomies of the curious case of the effects of “energy” on NBA games and teams. It’d be nice to imagine these games played in perfect vacuums with players performing robotically to the exact specifications of their abilities (only Tim Duncan can do that); in fact, though, many variables are at play, broadly categorized as “Energy” in the final output.

In Detroit, the Spurs were lifeless, devoid of any sort of energy. They were in the middle of the road trip, having ping ponged across the Eastern part of the country. The Pistons, on the other hand, were at home, playing for a new coach, and with something to prove. You could see it about 10 minutes into the game: there was just no life in the team.

Last night, quite the opposite was true. The Spurs were completely full of energy, having had 4 days off, home after a month away from their friendly confines, and playing with (almost) a full roster for the first time in many weeks. There was a surplus of energy. That shows as well. The players were moving all over the court; the ball was being flung around. The problem with an excess of energy is that the results of that energy are not always positive. Turnovers, miscues, over-rotations, out-running passing lanes: the first half of the game seemed like a blooper reel at times. Throw in Josh Smith having perhaps the best 10-minute stretch of his life, and the Spurs seemed to be caught in a competitive game when they shouldn’t be.

The nice thing about an excess of energy, though, is that it can be reined in. Its heart is in the right place, to completely confuse metaphors. Plus, after 24 minutes, the body kind of settles down and settles in to the game. The mind slows, and you find your rhythm. (The opposite rarely happens with depleted energy, which is why it is the more dangerous state.)

The Pistons tied the game about 2 minutes into the 3rd quarter; Pop quickly brought in Manu Ginobili to play PG with the starters, and the Spurs seized control of the game. The Pistons have a really good offense, so they were able to hang around, but it became clear that the Spurs had solved their energy issue and were going to win the game. (And the Pistons have a really bad defense, so as long as the Spurs could get a few stops, the game would be theirs.)

Now the Spurs settle in to a nice home stand (7 of the next 9 in San Antonio), are about to have a full roster for the first time in months, and can hopefully start building towards their playoff form.

A few more thoughts from last night’s win:

–Kawhi returns.

(Photo credit: USATSI)

Kawhi is one of those players who does so many little things (and a little bit of everything), that no one thing stands out about his game. After a month away, you kind of get used to the way the team plays without him. In one game back, you realize just how much you were missing. He’s a ‘glue’ guy on the court, holding everything together on both ends of the floor. He rebounds and defends like crazy (it’s no coincidence that Josh Smith had his great stretch in the one time of the game Leonard didn’t guard him), and creates so much offense and easy scoring with his defense. Offensively, he spaces the floor, has a nifty little post game, and takes a ton of pressure off of Duncan and Parker at various times. Mostly, you just trust him on the floor, and feel like the team is better served when he is out there.

–Green and Splitter also had really nice games. I thought the game really turned solidly in our favor early in the 4th when Tiago came back in. He locked up the defensive glass, and had 2 or 3 really critical baskets on rolls to the hoop. In a lot of way, these ‘secondary’ three hold the fate of the team. When Green, Splitter, and Leonard are in and on, our defense is fabulous, and our offense can be a well-oiled machine. This is what made the rash of injuries so exasperating: losing 3 critical but smaller pieces is almost harder than losing just 1 big piece. Losing any one of those players is manageable; but with all 3 out there were so many holes to plug (especially defensively) that it’s amazing the team succeeded as they did. I’m glad to have our regular starters back (Parker is expected to play no later than Sunday), the same starters that cruised to the Finals last year. And with a better bench, theoretically, if we get this version of Boris, a better Manu than last year, and an insanely-better Patty Mills.

–Manu had a pretty shaky first half. In the second half, he was put in quite explicitly as the PG (he subbed for Cory Joseph, and no other competent ball handler was on the floor), and he played beautifully. We talk about it a lot, but it’s almost definitive at this point: Ginobili is the back-up PG, and plays better as a PG in a lot of ways. His passing skills will never wane, and he is one of those players that just builds chemistry with other players instantly. It must be fun to play with him. You can see players like Marco and Patty and Ayres cut hard to open spaces when Manu has the ball, because they know that if there is a way, the ball will just magically end up in their hands. It’s beautiful to see.

–Along the same lines, I’m in favor of Danny Green becoming the starter again so that the Marco-Manu magic can see the floor together more. (And the Marco-Manu-Patty-Boris quartet.)

The Bobcats are in town Friday night. Charlotte has been playing well of late, and will always pose a threat with the defense that they play. And Gary Neal is now on the team. Yay Gary! Still, I expect a focused team and a win.

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