Season 51, Game 02
San Antonio 87, Chicago 77

There’s a reason Pop preaches defense above all else.

While both ends of the court require tremendous skill, athleticism, and intelligence, offense still comes down to “luck”: shooting.

Of course, shooting is more than just luck. But even the best shooters in the world hover around 50%, which is about the same as a coin-flip. All the skill, athleticism, intelligence, and system in the world will still lead to a simple proposition: will the shot go in or not.

Defense, on the other hand, mostly comes down to effort. Sure, you need a certain amount of skill, athleticism, and intelligence; and you need a system to organize the foundational principles. But what makes it hum is effort.

Effort is controllable; luck is not.

And every few weeks or so, you’ll get a game like the one the Spurs played in Chicago, when offense is hard to come by and luck seems to be turning against you. But the one thing the team can still control is effort. Defense.

So even in today’s offense-heavy NBA, there’s still a role for defense. Particularly when most teams are loading up on the offensive side of the ball, defense can be the zag while others zig.

The Bulls might be the most talent-depleted team in the NBA; on any given night, they shouldn’t be competitive with the Spurs. When the Spurs shoot 40% overall, and only make one 3-pointer all game, though, any team will have a chance. Field a good defense, though, and you’ll stick in just about any game.

Put another way, if you’re only going to score 87 points, you damn well better be able to hold the other team to 77.

A few other thoughts from Saturday night’s win over the Bulls:

• One of the fun things about the beginning of the season is seeing what skills players have added to their game. On the Spurs, nothing is more obvious than Danny Green’s sudden ability to dribble, drive, and dish. Through two games, he looks like a point guard out there at times.

After historic seasons shooting the 3, it was only a matter of time before the league caught up to him. So he added the dribble-pull up to his game after defenders ran him off the line. But watching him dribble was always torturous.

This season, though, he looks great dribbling. Not only that, he is making passes ranging from moderately difficult to Manu-esque difficult. He is penetrating to the rim (thus breaking down defenses) and both finishing and finding open players. He is shooing off the dribble with defenders in his face.

All while still playing great defense.

Green has always had value with his defense and offensive gravity, even when he wasn’t making shots. If he can become a versatile offensive player to boot, his contract really is one of the best values in the NBA.

• Aldridge had another great game, the kind of performance you need from a star when nothing else seems to be working. Again, it will take a few weeks to see if this really is a “new and improved” LaMarcus, but the signs are there.

And then we’ll see how he looks playing with Kawhi.

• Gasol and Aldridge are showing great chemistry this season, particularly playing the high-low game on offense. Pau has always been a wonderful passer, and is very comfortable in the high post. The two have built a nice rapport playing off of each other.

• The NBA eliminated the automatic under 9-minute timeout in the 2nd and 4th quarters this season in a hope of speeding up the game. I love it. It allows for almost 6 minutes of continuous action if neither coach calls a timeout.

But it can also lead to players getting tired and play getting a bit ragged near the end of some of those stretches. It will be interesting to see how coaches adjust their rotations to this, or if they start calling timeouts differently.

Either way, the fan experience is improved not getting a timeout so quickly after a quarter starts.

The Spurs return home to face the Raptors on Monday.

Go Spurs Go.

Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

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