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The Boogeyman

The Spurs are not beating the Warriors.

Having said that, let me now couch it a bit: barring a series of events as numbered as they are unlikely, the Spurs will not beat the Warriors four times in seven chances.

So why care? Because this might be the most important series for the future of the Spurs franchise.

The Warriors are the benchmark, the gauge upon which every other Western Conference team will be measured for the foreseeable future. For the Spurs to reclaim their spot at the top, they will necessarily need to get past this seemingly unbeatable Warriors team.

The first round of data gathering begins today.

This series is a science lab, a four to seven game experiment to begin to truly understand this Warriors team, what makes them tick, and where they might ultimately be vulnerable.

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Destroyed and Defeated

2017 Western Conference Semifinals
San Antonio 114, Houston 75
Spurs win series 4-2

I was optimistic heading into Game 6, with or without Kawhi Leonard. But I never expected this.

No one could have. As Jeff Van Gundy noted late, given circumstance and situation, this might have been the most impressive playoff road victory ever. In the history of the NBA. There are surely more dominating ones (maybe?), but none with the importance and the supposed disparity of motivation and talent. The Spurs eviscerated the Rockets.

We could look at every number and find domination. We could look at every matchup and find domination. I could list every player on the Spurs roster (just about) and wax poetically about how they contributed to the win; and how the Spurs epitomize the team over the individual; about how trust in a system, trust in your teammates, and trust in yourself is powerful. But I’ll spare you all of that. I watched the game, you watched the game; we know what we saw.

We should single out LaMarcus Aldridge, though. This was everything we’ve always wanted from him (and everything we thought we were getting from him, which is why we’re all so salty about him all the time). It wasn’t just the scoring, or the rebounding, or the swagger of being the best player on the court (something he was quite often in Portland). For me, it was his aggression and his decisiveness. He knew what he wanted to do and he did it. Nothing could stop him.

His role isn’t always scoring anymore, and I try to judge him more on his engagement and activity than his numbers. With Kawhi the center of the offense, there is little room for this LaMarcus. But it’s nice to see that it’s still there, and it gives me hope that there is still a dominant offense to be built around our two stars.

Let’s also give a little shine to Dejounte Murray. He played critical minutes in this game and he played them well. He’s not there yet, but he has a chance to be a very special player, a devastating PG in this NBA and a perfect complement to Kawhi. His size and speed are incredible, and if he ever puts it all together, he’ll be a star. I’m not ready to hand the keys over just yet, but I’d feel comfortable with a Patty Mills / DeJounte duo heading forward.

Spurs fans, rejoice. This series, in many ways, was our Finals. Thinking realistically, the best-case result for this season was the Conference Finals. The San Antonio Spurs beating the Golden State Warriors is a near-impossible task; but making it to the Western Conference Finals in what is essentially a transition year shows us that the future is bright and the Spurs mojo is still strong.

Before the playoffs I said that anything short of the WCF would be a disappointment. We’re here, I’m happy, the season was a success. The rest will be pure bonus.

So before we start worrying about the Warriors (helpful hint: don’t), let’s bask in the joy of another productive season, and another Conference Finals. We take these deep playoff runs for granted sometimes, and this is a perfect season to enjoy the process of it as much as the end result.

I can’t think of any better way to have achieved that end result than by absolutely destroying the Houston Rockets.

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals begins Sunday afternoon in Oakland.

Go Spurs Go.

Featured photo credit: Getty Images

The 7 Best Memes of Manu Ginobili Blocking James Harden

AP Photo/Eric Gay

It was the block heard around the world.

With seconds to play in overtime Tuesday night, 39-year-old future Hall-of-Famer Manu Ginobili blocked 27-year-old James Harden and the San Antonio Spurs held on to beat the Houston Rockets 110-107.

Let that sink in for a second.

And then think about this: James Harden “was 9-years-old when the Spurs drafted Ginobili with the second-to-last pick of the 1999 NBA draft – or 34 picks after Devean George.”

You’ll find 5 great photos of the block and the moments that followed on USA Today Sports.

What follows are some of our favorite fan-generated memes.

Enjoy.


 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Fab Four

2017 Western Conference Semifinals
San Antonio 110, Houston 107 (OT)
Spurs lead series 3-2

With their lead guard down and their superstar out, the Spurs had an unlikely foursome step up to seize control of the game and the series in Game 5.

After Kawhi hobbled off the court late, the Rockets had a prime opportunity to steal this game on the road and likely close out the series in Game 6. Instead, the Spurs four wing players combined to carry the burden and bring the Spurs across the finish line.

Let’s start with Patty, who got his first start of the postseason and didn’t disappoint. He was hot early, keeping the Spurs even with the Rockets through the frenetic first half. When the game slowed down late, he continued to grind on defense and kept moving on offense to keep things from getting too bogged down. Asked to play more minutes than he is used to, he stepped up in a huge way. (Looking forward, Patty would actually be a great starting PG next to Kawhi, with enough ball handling to keep defenses honest and the shooting to keep them spread out. But that’s a conversation for the summer.)

Next up is Danny Green, old reliable. He played his usual stout defense, but really stepped up on offense when the team needed it most. He was 4-for-8 from 3, and hit two huge ones: the first to end the 3rd quarter and give the Spurs a one-point lead; the second the shot that got the lid off the basket in OT for the Spurs. He followed that shot up with a driving and-1 layup, perhaps his first successful foray to the rim as a professional basketball player. He then hit the final free throw to give the Spurs their 3-point margin of victory. He scored the final 7 points for the Spurs, as unlikely a scoring hero as you’ll find on the roster.

Then we have Simmons, who is proving in this series what we’ve all hoped was true about him. He is designed to play against these Rockets, with his speed and athleticism a necessary counter to Houston. He has just enough ball-handling abilities to serve as a playmaker in the Spurs PG-light rotations, and drives well enough to make up for his outside shooting. His slashes to the basket all game were necessary. Perhaps most impressively, he guarded Harden as well as anybody can, particularly late in the game. Harden turned the ball over 4 times with Simmons as the primary defender in the heart of crunch time. His poise in the biggest of moments has been mightily impressive.

Which brings us, finally, to Manu Ginobili. Manu freaking Ginobili. There’s a reason Spurs fans irrationally love him, and will forgive him all his foibles and bad games. He has risen to clutch situation after clutch situation his whole life, and he does it with flair and grace. He scored. He dunked. He assisted. He ran the team like it was the 2005 Finals.

And to cap it all off, that block. That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on a basketball court. Manu’s greatest athletic gift might be his reflexes and complete control of his hands. He just seems to operate a split second ahead of the rest of us. As many have pointed out, he was jumping to block Harden’s shot before Harden was shooting. And he just knew where to put his hands, and when to put them there. There are plenty of ways to win a basketball game, but not too many people will go with “block a potential game-tying 3-pointer from behind”. Only Manu.

These four wings stepped up huge. While the bigs seemed to play poorly throughout the game, let’s not discount their contributions. They battled hard on the boards, and the Spurs ended up with 18 offensive boards (9 by LaMarcus). While they all didn’t contribute to points, they did contribute to slow the game down and gum up Houston’s offense a bit.

And while neither LaMarcus nor Gasol shot very well (often being guarded against much smaller players), there is still benefit to hammering it down in the post. For one, it slows the game down, as mentioned. For another, even if they’re not scoring, pounding into Harden in the post possession after possession is tiresome. As much as the pace of the game, the pounding Harden took in that first half guarding the post must have worn him down.

A few more things stand out about this game. A lot is being made that D’Antoni only played a 7-man rotation. This has been his modus operandi for years. He plays who he can trust. I don’t know if playing only those seven players tired them out late in the game, but it was obvious they were struggling.

The Spurs played 9 players, basically a 7-man rotation with Lee getting 11 minutes and Anderson getting 7. You can argue that neither should be playing in this series as they can’t match up well with Houston, and I’d see your point. But I’d argue that each had their moments, and that those 20 minutes are critically important. The Spurs might not win the minutes those two are on the floor, but the rest they provide for other players might be the difference to the Spurs winning the last 5 minutes. In other words, perhaps Ginobili and Simmons and Mills and Green and Aldridge were just a little sprier in those last few minutes than their Rockets counterparts precisely because Lee and Anderson ate up those 20 minutes earlier in the game.

Finally, we all know the Rockets want to play fast. The narrative is that the Spurs need to slow them down to win the game. And this is true. But something occurred to me watching this game: maybe the best way to slow the Rockets down is to just wear them out running over 3 quarters and then muck it up in the 4th. Of course, in order to do this, you have to keep pace for three quarters. But if you can do that, you have a chance to win (especially if you are a deeper team).

I’m not saying this was Pop’s strategy. But for 3 quarters, the Spurs took every blow from the Rockets’ offense and responded in kind. After three, the score was 86-85, on pace for a game right around 115 points for each team. Instead, regulation ended knotted up at 101, as each team only managed 15 and 16 points in the final quarter.

OT was even sloggier, as neither team scored for about 2 1/2 minutes, and the Rockets only points came off of two 3-pointers.

Both teams were noticeably gassed in the final 17 minutes. Offenses slowed to a grind, and there just wasn’t any movement, particularly from the Rockets. It took 3 quarters of playing the Rockets way, but the game finally turned the Spurs way. And it did so precisely because it had been played at the Rockets’ pace for 36 minutes.

Wait long enough and the worm will turn; pound enough, and that rock will break. Have a Manu Ginobili, and you’ll likely win Game 5.

Now the Spurs head back to Houston with a chance to close out in Game 6. We don’t know how badly Kawhi is hurt. He says he’ll play, but I imagine it won’t be his final decision. Should Pop sit him out in Game 6 (knowing the team isn’t favored any way) and give him four full days of rest before a potential Game 7 on Sunday? Or should he play him (assuming he’s healthy enough), knowing that he risks further injury and potential catastrophe?

My thought is you play him if he’s healthy enough to go, even if not 100%. You can’t give away chances to close out a series. The Spurs have shown they can close these things out on the road, and I’d rather take two cracks at it than one.

Either way, I hope Kawhi isn’t seriously hurt. He didn’t look good for most of the game, though he did play valiantly after returning from the injury. I think to win this series, the Spurs need one more ultra-Kawhi game.

Game 6 is Thursday night.

Go Spurs Go.

Game 1 Redux

2017 Western Conference Semifinals
San Antonio 104, Houston 125
Series tied 2-2

When the Rockets are cooking, they look near unbeatable.

The Rockets want to play fast, and they want to shoot a lot of threes. In Games 2 and 3, when the Spurs won, they were able to slow the Rockets down, and limit the long range shots.

Some of that shotmaking is just luck of the draw. On any given night, they might make 50% of their threes, no matter how well you guard. On those nights you’re not winning.

Game 4 was one of those nights. While the Spurs kept it close in the first half, it always seemed like they were one good run away from losing control of the game. The third quarter was that run.

While the shooting is largely out of their control, the pace is not. The Rockets made a concerted effort to get out in transition, and the Spurs took the bait. Same as Game 1. You have to remain disciplined in your pace against this team, and the Spurs were unable to do so.

Of course, it helps for the Spurs to make shots. As we’ve discussed, sometimes the best defense against Houston is a good offense. As we know, these Spurs are prone to shooting droughts. Miss enough shots, and the Rockets will romp all over you.

Houston may have also inadvertently stumbled into another edge. With Nene going down with a groin injury (Editor’s note: Left Adductor Tear) and Clint Capela saddled with foul trouble, Houston went super small with Ryan Anderson at center. While no defensive juggernaut, the Spurs had no way of stopping this lineup, and it effectively ruined their best defensive counter to keep the big man clogging the lane. With Anderson playing Center and never venturing into the paint, the Spurs had to concede the lane or concede a wide open 3. There is no in between.

The Spurs can remain stubborn and stay big with one of the traditional Houston centers playing, but not when they go this small. The evidence was there in the third quarter: Houston started Eric Gordon instead of Anderson, going smaller against the Pau Gasol-LaMarcus Aldridge lineup. Eventually Anderson came in for Capela, with Houston remaining ultra-small. In both iterations, the Rockets just feasted on the slow and lumbering Spurs.

Staying big has advantages, none of which the Spurs could fully exploit. They got Gasol and Aldridge isolated in the post several times against smaller players. But the payoff wasn’t enough to keep up with the Rockets’ threes. The Spurs also couldn’t make the small Rockets pay on the glass, as they were ineffective collecting offensive rebounds and getting second chance points (another way to really slow the game down and muck it up, like in Game 3).

Moving into Game 5, the Spurs have tough decisions to make. Nene is out for the remainder of the season, so it’s going to be Capela and Anderson as the only centers, and likely rarely together. All small, all the time. Will the Spurs attempt to counter? Will they try to win going big, like in Games 2 and 3, even though the Rockets have gotten much smaller (and much harder to guard)? Will they try to go small, with Kawhi Leonard at the 4 and only one traditional big at a time (likely Gasol or Aldridge, both of whom will have a size advantage in those small lineups)?

This is what makes this series so fascinating. It is two really great teams playing really different styles. Right now, it looks like the team who ‘gets their way’ more often will win the series. But there’s another way: the team who can beat the other at their style can also win the series. We know the Rockets can’t match the Spurs in size (they literally don’t have the personnel for it); can the Spurs match the Rockets in speed and “smallness”?

More pertinently: is Pop willing to try?

This series may be won or lost on Pop’s willingness to be flexible or his obstinate rigidity in sticking to his system. The answer will only be given in hindsight.

Or it might just come down to whether the Rockets can hit a bunch of threes in two more games. Sure makes you feel helpless.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in San Antonio.

Go Spurs Go.

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