Author: Stephen Hale (page 1 of 3)

LaMarcus All-Star

Season 51, Game 53
San Antonio 106, Denver 104
34-19, 3rd in the West

Well, that was a fun game. The Spurs finished survived a last second heave by the Denver Nuggets and held on to win their 34th game of the season. By all accounts, this game was great TV. It had dunks, three balls, Manu Ginobili playing like Manu Ginobili, technical fouls and for a large part of the game, some pretty bad defense.

The Spurs put up 60 points in a first half where Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gay sat in street clothes again. LaMarcus Aldridge was nothing short of dominant in the first 24 minutes, carrying 20 points into intermission. LaMarcus All-Star. He was matched up with Nikola Jokic for most of the night, with a few mouth-watering mismatches against Trey Lyles sprinkled in. While the 22-year-old Serbian has incredible vision and a super bright future, Jokic apparently is not very good at defending All-Stars from San Antonio.

In fairness, not many people have been this year.

LaMarcus has accepted the responsibility of being this team’s best player and last night was no exception. He was miles away the best player on the court and exploited the mismatches presented to him by a scrapping and entertaining Nuggets team. We probably don’t need to get into too many analytics of his game, but for kicks and giggles, let’s summarize it in a sentence. LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points in 38 minutes on 14 of 23 shots.

It’s no James Harden, but that’s pretty good.

If we were to nitpick his game, it would be in the area of rebounding, as he finished with only five. That would be concerning, except for the fact that DeJounte Murray had 13 rebounds. I mean, when you get that kind of rebounding effort from your 20-year-old point guard, you can accept five from your power forward.

Speaking of Sweet Honey DeJounte, was this game made for him or what? He really thrives in track meets against teams like the Denver Nuggets. Denver is in a bit of a holding pattern, having stopped their downward spiral, but not quite mature enough to begin their upward climb to being a good team. So they run…a lot. And they are athletic. I’m pretty sure Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley and Will Barton have pogo sticks for femurs. They were all over the place, but so was DeJounte. He thrives in these types of games.

And so does Kyle Anderson.

It’s no secret that he’s slower than molasses in February, but as Sean Elliot mentioned numerous times, just when you think he’s in jail and about to turn the ball over, his YMCA old man game kicks in and he leaves us all chuckling to ourselves. Kyle finished with a career high in scoring, notching 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also played 34 minutes, which is evidence that he is getting the full Kawhi shift. And he deserves it. He won’t get the award, but Kyle Anderson should be a candidate for Most Improved Player this year.

Lastly, the Spurs would not have won this game tonight without Manu Ginobili. I’ve run out of things to say about him. He defies logic. It can be an around the back pass to Davis Bertans, or a rainbow three pointer, or a block on Trey Lyles in the fourth quarter, but Manu is going to compete and he’s going to entertain in the process.

I realize that there are a lot of people who have mixed reviews about the way Pop has handle the Kawhi situation. That may be fair. But no one is talking about how Pop has managed a bench unit with two Hall of Famer’s on it. Tony Parker, reunited with his old running mate, is thriving on the bench. He and Manu look like they are having fun. They typically hover around 20 minutes of playing time, but they get a different group of talent, they get a different wave of game flow, and most of all, they are probably working with the best chemistry on the team.

I don’t know if it’s possible, but if I were managing the Spurs Spanish Play-by-Play broadcast crew, I’d throw every dollar I own at Manu Ginobili after he retires and hope he becomes the Spanish version of Sean Elliot on the sideline. Pair him with Paul Casto. I forget how much of a global icon he actually is. His value goes beyond basketball and his charisma mixed with his basketball acumen would make him a fabulous color commentator for Spurs En Espanol.
Kudos Pop. Kudos Tony. And Manu, Forever.

A quick thought on Kawhi Leonard…

There are rumors. And it’s up to you to choose what to believe. It’s one thing to believe Michael C. Wright and Adrian Wojnarowkski, but please don’t believe anything Stephen A. Smith says and tread lightly with Jalen Rose (believe me instead, I am way more credible!). The latest I’ve heard as recently as this weekend is “discord” is too strong of a word. Kawhi is not angry and doesn’t want to leave. But there has been a bit of strain on the relationship due to the injury.

Apparently, the Spurs felt Kawhi was ready to go. But Kawhi, who is young and has an entire career ahead of him, including the potential for a super max contract and maybe one more after that, is concerned about the possibility of reinjuring himself. So Kawhi, sought an additional opinion, outside of team doctors, which makes the Spurs scratch their head, and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year felt he should take a few more weeks to recover.

Honestly, this makes sense, and is completely fair for Kawhi to feel that way. Like it or not, the NBA is a very different league in 2018 than it was when David Robinson played. Players now have bigger contracts at stake, but more so they have brands to maintain. Kawhi has a brand and frankly, the brand of Kawhi is in its infant stages.

Jordan Brand took a risk and signed Kawhi Leonard to their line a few years back. That comes with a huge amount of pressure, as I am sure LaMarcus can attest (also signed with Jordan). With big name players like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler signed with Jordan, Kawhi has a standard he has to meet. He also has his personal brand he must continue to develop which carries with it endorsements and commercials and basketball camps and public appearances.

Kawhi does have a responsibility to the Spurs, but the Spurs also have a responsibility to Kawhi. The NBA is a player’s league. Significantly more so than the NFL, but not nearly as much as the MLB. But since David Stern moved out of the office, Adam Silver has shown his intention to allow this type of behavior for players and rightly so. The Spurs are just slower in realizing that than most teams.

And Kawhi really just fell in their lap. So they are learning on the fly too. As a fan, you can question his millennial-type behavior. I think it’s even understandable to question his toughness a bit. But if we are going to do those things, we can only do so with the understanding that this league is changed since 1999 and Kawhi Leonard is absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt, a super star in the best basketball league on the planet, save Lithuania’s D-League.

Kawhi deserves the chance to heal, physically and mentally. Missing 73 games out of 82 is a small price to pay for him being in the right state of mind when that super max contract is ready to be signed. This team is probably not winning a championship anyways. And God forbid the Spurs lose Kawhi Leonard in Free Agency, the odds of getting another player in the draft are few and far between. He presents you with an incredible player offensively and defensively, but he also attracts other talent. He’s bait. So give him what he wants. WHATEVER HE WANTS. If he wants to sit out the whole year, let him sit.

I still think he and Rudy Gay return after the All-Star break and the Spurs win 23 of their last 25 games or so and everything will be fine, but what do I know.

Spurs draw the short stick and get to be the first team to play James Harden after he dropped a ridiculous 60 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against the Magic. The Rockets are about four games ahead of the Spurs in the standings, so even though the standings won’t change much, Thursdays I-10 matchup should be a treat for everyone.

Go Spurs Go.

Spurs Beat Nets, Face Season Without Kawhi

Season 52, Game 46
San Antonio 100, Brooklyn Nets 95
30-16, 3th in the West

In 46 games played so far this season, the Spurs have been without Kawhi Leonard for 37 of them. It looks like that trend will continue.

Hours after Wednesday’s breaking news about Kawhi Leonard being shut down indefinitely with right quadriceps tendinopathy, the Spurs beat the Brooklyn Nets and retained their number 3 seed in the Western Conference.

LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting in nearly 38 minutes of play. Aldridge was impressive from the start, but dominated the third quarter with 14 points, scoring at will. The Nets are young and play hard, but they had no match for the All-Star lock, as LaMarcus was able to shimmy, shake, pump fake, and dunk over pretty much any defender thrown at him in the second half.

His performance was accompanied by his trusty side-kick and former Blazers teammate, Patty Mills, who hit a career best 7-of-8 threes on his way to 25 points on the night, helping the Spurs hit “100” and earn their 30th win of the season. Mills shot his way out of a slump and looked like the Patty Mills we all know and love.

Danny Green is looking better by the day. Kyle Anderson has filled in admirably. Dejounte Murray is a monster on the glass. And while Pau Gasol continues to serve up Aldridge in the paint, Tony Parker remains the Spurs consistent playmaker.

The Spurs will need Aldridge’s continued dominance and this version of Mills if they want to stay afloat without their best player. In an over-crowded cluster of runner-ups to the Golden State Warriors, the Spurs have found themselves on the wrong side of the injury report this season.

My how quickly things can change.

Just a short calendar year ago, the NBA, and quite possibly the world, was starting to bask in the revelation of just how good Kawhi actually was. Words like “MVP” and “Superstar” were being tossed around. Talk of Finals trips were commonplace amongst Spurs fans. Even the “LeBron to SA” rumors were out in full force.

But alas, it was not to be. At least not yet, anyways. Kawhi rolled an ankle, we all lied to ourselves pretending the Spurs might have beaten the Warriors, and then we accepted this idea that, in 2018, when Kawhi is healthy, the Spurs can be that one team to upset them.

Two months later, “quadriceps tendinopathy” was being googled by every Spurs fan from here to Buenos Aires.

I’ve been critical of this new dynamic of Kawhi the Superstar.

I don’t think Kawhi knows how to be a superstar and I don’t think Gregg Popovich really knows how to coach a true superstar. But in 2018, it’s all about protecting your brand, protecting the product and now, protecting the future. So this entire dynamic is new to them, and to Spurs fans. Players brands are just as important now as their jump shot.

We’ve seen quite a bit of branding coming out of Kawhi since the end of last year.

Tim Duncan and David Robinson were better than Kawhi, but weren’t nearly as talented. Both were expected to be great players and both had the spotlight shining solely on them. Kawhi kind of came out of nowhere and his emergence, while welcomed, seemed to have caught the organization off guard.

You have to remember: the Spurs signed Aldridge and then suddenly, their defensive specialist turned into an offensive juggernaut.

Frankly, I am glad to see Kawhi shut down and would like to see him shut down for the year. The injury to my understanding is more of a “wear and tear” injury rather than just a incidental one (like Tony Parker’s). And don’t get hung up on the word “indefinitely.” LaMarcus was out last year “indefinitely” with a heart issue. He missed three games and came back.

I think there are one of two scenarios at play here.

The first: the injury is super bad and he ends up shut down for the season. That’s my hope. Let’s punt this season, let LaMarcus run the show, and then start fresh next season.

The other: keeping him out until after the All-Star break, which should bring back Rudy Gay and probably Manu Ginobili, all in one motion. This is a good point in the season to buy an extra week of recovery for players with lingering ailments. As much as I’d want to see that punt, having this team roar out of the All-Star break and win 20 of their last 25 isn’t a bad alternative.

There will be good and bad in this, but if the Brooklyn game is any indication, the Spurs aren’t as bad off as we may think. LaMarcus is still a really good player. Maybe a top 20 player in this league. And Popovich is a really good coach. Spurs fans should certainly raise eye brows in concern, but I don’t think panic is the right response yet.

We’ll see who decides to fill in for Kawhi again in Toronto on Friday. It should be a good test.

Go Spurs Go.

Disturbing Trends

Season 51, Game 41
San Antonio 110, Portland 111
27-14, 3rd in the West 

The Spurs fell in splendid fashion to the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday night after CJ McCollum tossed in some junk in the final seconds of a back and forth game. The 1-point loss to the Spurs was a perfect ending to a fairly entertaining game in which the Spurs could have probably used one more possession.

The Spurs led in pretty much every category. They had more rebounds, both offensive and defensive, had more assists, shot better from the line, shot better from the arc, and committed less fouls. Unfortunately, they also had more turnovers. Late game heroics by Manu Ginobili, who has been nothing short of inspiring, as well as the continued dominance of LaMarcus Aldridge, was once again overshadowed by a chaotic whirlwind in the backcourt. Kawhi Leonard aside, this team is vastly different, sans Tony Parker.

Continue reading

A Tale of Two Franchises

Season 51, Game 36
San Antonio 119, New York 107
25-11, 3rd in the West

The Spurs beat the Knicks on Thursday night in a game characterized by its redundancy. Basketball masked the contest, but the game itself was the Spurs being the Spurs and the Knicks being, well, the Knicks.

Before tipoff, Bill Land highlighted a graphic that showed the differences between the two franchises since 1999, when a young Tim Duncan and a veteran David Robinson conquered the Knicks for the title. It was one of those graphics where you already knew the truth, but to see it in writing was almost funny.

The Knicks have been bad for quite a while and their franchise has been in disarray. It’s humbling to see these types of parallels. It makes you realize how fortunate we are as Spurs fans to get 50-win seasons out of our team on a year to year basis. This game was another example of that.

The game was never really in question, although the Knicks kept it generally close with the Spurs missing their MVP caliber player, Kawhi Leonard. But this game was a perfect example of the Spurs continued success over the years.

Forgotten in the excitement of “can LaMarcus and Kawhi play together” has been the quiet, yet consistent play of Pau Gasol. In his recap of the Spurs/Kings game, my counterpart Jeff reminded us of our expectations of Gasol: “a well-rounded game, contributing in lots of areas, but likely not dominating any one area.” Against the Knicks, Pau was just that.

Many Spurs fans were left scratching their head this offseason with the Spurs extension of Pau. I’ll admit, I didn’t understand it at first either, but as the season has progressed, it’s made more and more sense. The Spurs put a premium on culture and regardless of how you feel about him basketball wise, Pau embodies the Spurs culture. He was kind of a Spur before he played for the Spurs.

Now, Pau is doing all the little things and is a key reason as to why the Spurs have had success this year without Kawhi Leonard. Pau makes the game easy for everyone, but no one reaps the benefits more than LaMarcus. Gasol can stretch the floor and has showed an impressive consistency from 18 feet and beyond. But more so, his ability to get LaMarcus the ball, early, has brought the “High-Low” combo back in full force. Pau finished with 17-11-7 and no turnovers and the pair of them made Kristaps Porzingus and Enes Kanter look silly tonight.

But let’s make sure to give LaMarcus his fair credit as well. LaMarcus is an All-Star this year and rightly so. He’s been amazing the first half of the season and if it weren’t for the scoring spike in MVP candidates in recent years, he’d be in that discussion as well. He’s not going to score 35 on a nightly basis, but this has easily been his best year as a Spur and he’s the team’s MVP.

What impresses me is how hard he is playing. LaMarcus is putting in legitimate work here, folks. He’s been assertive, efficient and hungry. He wants the ball, he moves the ball and he makes the right play. This is the LaMarcus we all wanted two years ago. It’s better than “Portland LaMarcus” and I think he is only going to keep getting better.

A couple other quick notes from this game against the Knicks:

Tony Parker – Boy, does he look great. This is a 35-year-old point guard coming off an ugly injury and yet, he’s looking more and more like he never took 25-plus games off to start the year. He’s fast, he’s crafty and most of all, he’s an absolute calm on the court. Tony is going to win a playoff game this year for the Spurs and I’m all for it.

Kyle Anderson – It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of SlowMo over the years. I think his growth has been a bit slow and his slowness bothers me. But he’s had a phenomenal year as well. And didn’t he just have a knee injury too? Doesn’t look like it. Anytime you put your back-up small forward into the starting lineup and he produces 16 points and eight rebounds, shoots 4-for-4 from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line and only has one turnover in 29 minutes, well I think you take that every day of the week and twice on Sundays. It’s time for me to eat some crow: Kyle Anderson is a good basketball player.

Danny Green – The best value contract in the NBA. Don’t @ me. If you could assemble the perfect “Three and D” player, it would be Danny Green. He’s had a nagging groin and hammy injury, but I’m expecting big things from Danny this May.

Rudy Gay – Guys, I really hope Rudy is ok. He’s been fabulous all year, but we might have to nickname him Achilles. His heel has been giving him problems and he is now scheduled for an MRI after leaving the game in the third quarter. He’s been a real gem this year and I hope he can stay healthy enough to stay on the court. The “Point Shark” is a playmaker every time he is on the court.

We still haven’t seen the best of this Spurs team and they are still pretty good. It remains to be seen how they will fair against the elite teams and their small ball line-ups. But for now, they continue to dominate with two more twin towers. Hopefully, we see the minutes restriction lifted for Kawhi in a few weeks. He’ll be back in action Saturday when the Spurs travel to Detroit to take on a pesky Stan Van Gundy-led Pistons team.

It’s going to be rowdy.

Go Spurs Go.

Manu, Forever

 

San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) pumps his fist after hitting the winning shot in the final seconds of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 105-102.

Season 51, Game 26
San Antonio 105, Boston 102
18-8, 3rd in the West

Sometimes, a game requires an in-depth analysis that breaks down plus/minus and true shooting percentages.

Sometimes, a game reveals mismatches that one team exploits over the other and can be talked about at length.

Sometimes, a team gets lucky and steals a win against a better team in perfect storm scenarios.

And then sometimes, a 40-year-old Manu Ginobili steps out of the phone booth and reminds us he can still save the world from time to time.

Make no mistake, this game was worthy of its True Shooting Percentage analysis or its mismatch exploitation recap. But the heroics of Manu Ginoboli, which I surmise are taken for granted more than any other player in Spurs history, are exponentially more impressive than can be verbalized. It’s quite simple really:

Manu Ginobili is a gem. A national treasure, who should be preserved. A rose in a field of thorns. On a snowy night in San Antonio, Manu Ginobili hit a game winner and there was only one thing to say:

He is Manu, Forever. Continue reading

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