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I Second That Emotion

By Jeff Koch on February 4, 2014.

San Antonio 102, New Orleans 95

I know the Spurs are playing well when I’m happy and enjoying the game. I know this is an overly emotional reading of what should be a very intellectualized study of events. But I started writing about the Spurs because I love the Spurs; while I do enjoy very intellectual and overly nerdy analyses of the things I love, my foundation is one of pure emotion.

And if a non-basketball player watches thousands upon thousands of hours of the team he loves, the intellectual and the emotional will surely being to align in very intuitive and fundamental ways. I’ve watched the Spurs long enough to know how their systems work, know where cuts and rotations should be. And that understanding has seeped into my bones, my heart.

So when the Spurs are lifeless and playing crappy, I don’t enjoy watching the game. Heart and mind synchronicity.

Last night, for about 43 minutes, the Spurs were garbage. Collective corporate knowledge was at a minimum, which forces the ball to stick a split second too long, the cuts to come a hair too late, the rotations sloppy and undeceive. The whole system, the entire team, is just slow. Unbalanced. Out of tune. For a team built upon the principle that group synergy, repetition, and a strong system can outperform raw talent more often than not, this is a bad thing. Because talent to talent, up and down the roster, the Spurs don’t often win.

So for 43 minutes, I really didn’t enjoy the game. Then a funny thing happened: the Spurs started to resemble the Spurs again. Everything just clicked in, and the entire team was in sync. For the final 5 minutes of the game, they out executed New Orleans to such a degree that even though the Pelicans had been in complete control the entire game and held a big lead for most of it, once the Spurs tied it up, it felt over. The Spurs hadn’t looked that solid down the stretch of a game in a long time. Needless to say, I quite enjoyed those final 5 minutes.

Intellectually, I saw a few things. Parker was amazing for the entire second half, and closed particularly well. Danny Green was a big reason for this. Take away Green’s offense completely, and he’s still a critical part of this team. One of Green’s roles on this team is to guard the primary backcourt threat down the stretch of close games. A few years ago he did a wonder on Chris Paul in the playoffs. Last night he was tasked with guarding Eric Gordon, and played him well. Perhaps more importantly, this freed up Tony Parker from any heavy defensive duties, which allowed him to control the offense. So not only is our offense being run with fresh legs, we avoid mismatches on the other end.

Tiago Splitter played the first 6 minutes of so of the 4th quarter, and was on the floor at the start of the key stretch run. Tim Duncan subbed in for the final kick (and also played magnificently all game), but Splitter’s contributions were huge. Partly, because he allows Duncan to get rest and be fresh for the close. He is the only player on the roster that can approximate Duncan’s role on the defensive end (and might even be our best defensive anchor at this point), so that our defense doesn’t go off a cliff when Duncan is out. Part of why we seized control of the game is not only that we scored 38 points in the final frame, but that we also only allowed 19.

As injured as the team is, there are no easy games on the schedule. Even when the injured players return, there will be an adjustment period as returning players find their rhythm and game legs and the healthy players readjust to them. But with Splitter and Green back and Leonard on his way, things are looking up, and the Spurs should look more ‘normal’ in due time.

If Ginobili can come back healthy? Then this team just might be as good as we all thought a few months ago…and most everybody else has seemed to have forgotten.

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