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Allaying the Letdown

By Jeff Koch on March 9, 2014.

Orlando 112, San Antonio 121

If that game looked significantly different than Thursday night’s game, there’s good reason. All 82 count the same in the standings, but aren’t play the same in the hearts, minds, and bodies of the players. It’s only natural that a rematch of last year’s Finals, against the best team in the league, played on national TV, would garner more attention and energy from the Spurs. And a game two nights later against one of the worst teams in the league would produce a less focused and active team.

It’s human nature. However, it’s simple math that the two games count the same in the standings. In a sense, a loss to Orlando would have neutralized the victory of Miami. Perhaps not the significance, but the cold mathematical calculation of it. Luckily, a hallmark of this Spurs team is a preponderance to beating teams they should beat.

Early in the game, I made two notes: 1. the Magic are scoring all of their points on jump shots, and making most of them, usually contested; 2. The Spurs are playing smart O and decent D and should win this game if they show even a modicum of energy and urgency.

The offensive motto on this Spurs team is “good to great”, meaning that the goal is to always make the extra pass, extra cut, smart decision to get the great shot, and not settle for the good shot. But the idea can be turned around to the other side of the floor. For about 3 quarters of last night’s game, the Spurs were content to play good defense, making proper rotations and forcing long 2s, mostly contested. But two problems: the Magic were making a whole bunch of them; and the ones they were missing they were getting a ton of offensive rebounds and putbacks. And they hung around, as the Spurs offense was doing enough to stay even.

Then Manu and Kawhi happened. Another note I made early in the game was, “We need a Manu game”. Boy, did he supply. It was one of his finest scoring games of the season, but he was insanely aggressive (but also under control), driving to the basket and also hitting jumpers. He was also working the pick and roll beautifully with Tiago, scoring 6 straight points off of variations of the same play at the start of the 4th quarter. He was taking charges and forcing TOs on D. Meanwhile, Kawhi was also his usual havoc on D.

With the energy turned up, it was inevitable the more talented team would prevail. I like this Orlando team. They played hard and unafraid, and showed a lot. They just don’t have the horses to hang with this Spurs team in San Antonio, fears of a letdown or otherwise.

We should also mention that Tony Parker played an amazing game and looks to be getting back to where he was last season. Manu had the flashier game, but Parker was the steadier force keeping the team afloat for most of the game. It’s good to have a Hall of Fame backcourt.

In other NBA news, the Lakers shocked the Thunder, the Mavs beat the Pacers, and the Bulls beat the Heat…leaving the Spurs with the best record in the entire league. That’s an impressive feat in and of itself, but doubly so given the line-up shuffling and injuries that have occurred. The more things change, the more they stay the same. While the team (honestly, I think) says it never chases the top seed, I’m sure they think about it. Last year’s Finals were decided by such a razor thin margin, having that final game in San Antonio could have provided the difference. They won’t stray from their system to get it, but they know it’s out there for the taking.

Up next, an insane back to back: Tuesday against the Bulls in Chicago, Wednesday back home against Portland. There is a schedule loss in there, and the Spurs will be happy with a split.

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