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Spurs Dynasty Podcast – Episode 25

In this week’s podcast, Stephen, Trace and I:

  • review the Spurs-Grizzlies series.
  • preview the Spurs-Rockets series.
  • consider the greatness of Kawhi Leonard.
  • argue about the imminent demise of Tony Parker.
  • look around the league.

Let us know what you think in the comment section below or on the Spurs Dynasty Facebook page.

Go Spurs Go!

Bear Down

2017 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 103, Memphis 96
Spurs win series 4-2

It only took 10 games for one of these teams to find an edge over the other on the road.

All credit to Memphis: they are a bear to play. What they lack in quality they make up for with determination and execution. They never let the other team get too much separation, and they continually find answers in clutch situations. In reality, this was a 5-game series in which the Spurs came out on the wrong end of a few too many 50-50 situations. But that’s what Memphis does: they consistently win the moments that have no reason to them.

The Spurs showed their own grit and grind in Game 6, though. There were a few key stretches to the game. After playing relatively even in the first half, Memphis opened up a 10-point lead in the 3rd quarter. The Grizzlies could have pulled away here, but the Spurs clawed their way back into it.

The key stats of the quarter: 8 offensive rebounds, 9 second chance points, 10 free throws. Effort and physicality.

Again in the 4th, Memphis opened up a bit of a lead, pulling out to an 88-81 score with just about six minutes left. To close the game, though, San Antonio showed their championship pedigree, closing on an extended 15-8 run, clamping down on defense and executing just enough against the bruising Memphis defense to gut out the road win.

Brandon Dill/Associated Press

As with most games, we should start with Kawhi. While he didn’t shoot as well as he had in previous games (only 8-for-19), and while he was met with resistance at every turn and every drive, he found a way to get it done. It wasn’t fluid, and it wasn’t always pretty, but Kawhi leveraged most every situation to the Spurs advantage. In the second and third quarters, it was drawing fouls and keeping the team afloat at the line. In the fourth, when the attention turned squarely to him, he continued to show his playmaking touch for two huge assists late (and another two passes that led to wide open shots or easy baskets without the assist credit). He was easily the best player in this series. (Coach Pop thinks Kawhi Leonard is the “best player in the league right now.”)

The Spurs second best player in the Grizzlies season? Tony Parker. It wasn’t there every game, but it was there enough in the wins, and it was all there in Game 6. This was vintage Parker, nailing that midrange jumper, driving to the basket, and just running the team with a steady hand in a pressure situation. He finished 11-for-14 from the floor for 27 points, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover. More importantly, he got the team going in the first quarter when the energy of the Memphis crowd could have easily overwhelmed the team, and he hit three huge baskets late when the series was on the line. Can he bring it every night? No. Can he bring it enough to win a series? For now, yes.

The rest of the game was an aggregation of tiny contributions adding up to just enough. David Lee worked his ass off under the rim to win those cheap points that add up in games like this. LaMarcus Aldridge struggled to put the ball in the basket from close range, but battled to a team-high 12 rebounds. Aldridge is easily criticized when he struggles on offense, but rarely gets enough credit for his defense. It’s just assumed that he stinks at defense, and people don’t want to change their minds.

Manu Ginobili hit a huge and-1 3 pointer; Patty Mills had 10 off the bench; Danny Green played his usual great defense and hit a couple of clutch 3s; Dewayne Dedmon had 3 of the highest energy minutes in a closeout game you could hope for. Together, they pieced together the necessary contributions behind Leonard and Parker.

I can’t decide if Memphis was an unusually tough match-up for a 7-seed with their experience and toughness, or if the Spurs played a bit below their regular season level. Houston (who we’ll meet next round) dispatched a seemingly better team in Oklahoma City in the first round in 5, while San Antonio went to 6 against a lower seed. But Memphis might be a better constructed playoff team, while OKC is more easily exposed in the playoffs for the one-man army they are.

All to say, many people are going to be predicting Houston to beat the Spurs in the next round based on the first round results. While the Rockets certainly have a chance, I don’t think it’s that cut and dry. It’s not apples to apples.

We’ll get into that in our series preview, but suffice it to say, San Antonio is relieved to be getting out of the mud with a physically brutal team and Houston will have to figure out how to guard more than one player.

The second round series kicks off Monday night in San Antonio.

Go Spurs Go.

Home Is Where The Shot Is

2017 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 116, Memphis 103
Spurs lead series 3-2

Sometimes the most trite analysis is also the most true: it’s a make or miss league.

It seems a bit reductive, but in Game 5 the Spurs made a bunch of shots they didn’t make in Game 4. Manu finally got on the board and Patty caught fire in the 4th quarter, and there’s your ball game.

If you remember, in Game 4, the non-Kawhi Spurs were 2-for-20 from 3. In Game 5, the non-Kawhi Spurs were 11-for-23 from 3. 38% better and 27 points greater. That covers up a lot of the margins.

The shots in Game 4 were mostly open; the Spurs just couldn’t hit them. If they hit just their team average in Game 4, this series might be over. But alas, it was a “miss” night, and the series is stretched. In Game 5, the bench and role players came to play, and huge contributions from Manu and Patty (along with the usual brilliance of Kawhi and the solid play of Parker) provided the difference in getting the crucial win.

While the shot-making was the biggest difference, there were plenty of little adjustments that helped contribute to the victory. David Lee once again got the start–this time for a healthy Dedmon–and it provided so much needed loosening up of the offense. Lee isn’t a floor spacer, but he is an offensive spacer, working beautifully in the margins and weak side of the offense, providing movement and offensive cohesion. Dedmon has his strengths on offense, but it relies on others finding him. Lee inserts himself into the offense.

Sliding up into Lee’s usual spot in the rotation was Bertans, which was also important. Bertans provides spacing on offense, stretching that Grizzlies defense thin. Like any great shooter, his presence alone has great impact on the game. He only played limited minutes, but they were important.

The Spurs also played a much more aggressive defense, often doubling Gasol and Randolph on their catches and daring the Grizzlies role players to beat them. While the likes of Selden, Harrison, and Ennis have played better than expected in the last few games, it’s a worthy risk. If the Grizzlies “others” can win this series, they deserve to win this series. I’m happy taking my chances with wide open 3s for Harrison if it means less shots for Gasol and Conley.

Conley continues to kill us. As long as he’s the only one, though, we can contain that. Damn, he’s a good player. He would have been a perfect replacement for Parker.

Kawhi was great once again, but in a less superhuman way, which is probably better overall. Once again, Memphis aggressively defended him, often sending 1 or 2 extra defenders. Kawhi was patient accepting the double teams and making the right pass. He finished with 6 assists and rarely forced the action. (Another benefit of Lee: he works great off of Leonard in the dunker position, often getting easy points off of drop offs and second chance tip ins.)

The Spurs were able to reassert control of the series, but they’re not out of the woods yet. They haven’t won a game in Memphis yet, and they certainly aren’t favored to on Thursday night. It’d be lovely if this historically great road team could get one road win in this series; it’d be great if the Spurs could make a few shots in Memphis; it’d be fantastic if the team could close this out in 6, and not drag a first round series to 7 games.

We’ll find out Thursday night.

Go Spurs Go.

Exceptionalism, Wasted

2017 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 108, Memphis 110 (OT)
Series tied 2-2

I’m of two minds about this game.

On the one hand, it was a fantastic basketball game, everything we love about playoff basketball.

On the other hand, the Spurs lost.

But then again, it was likely Kawhi Leonard’s best playoff game (in a lead performance) and arguably the best 10 minute stretch of playoff basketball by any Spurs player ever.

And yet, the Spurs lost.

It’s actually pretty easy to figure out my feelings on that game. Despite the gloriousness that was Kawhi Leonard, that game hurt. Now we have a series. While I still favor the Spurs, the Grizzlies winning would not shock me.

Let’s talk about Kawhi first. Man, oh man. The thing I was most curious to see in this postseason was Kawhi. Did his game have another gear? Could he show up in the playoffs? Through 4 games, I think we have our answer, and I think we have our player moving forward for another generation.

His fourth quarter (and OT) Saturday night was something else. He just took that game over on both ends of the court. I feel more confident with the ball in his hands that I have since early-aughts Tim Duncan in the post. His ability to get a clean look at the basket from any position on the court is remarkable. And his court vision is improving by the game. (I think he’ll average a career-high in assists next season.)

But that brings us to the rub: the rest of the team needs to do something. Anything. (By that I mean hit a wide open shot when it’s presented to you). Fun fact: the Spurs are now 0-4 on the season in Memphis. In those 4 games, they’ve shot 32-for-101 on 3s, for a whopping 31.7%. Take away Kawhi’s crazy 7-for-10 in Game 4, and that drops to an abysmal 27%.

The Spurs total FG% from the floor in those 4 games in Memphis is 42.3%, 41.9% if we remove Kawhi’s game 4.

This is not good. But it also hints at an easy solution: make your shots, especially the wide open ones.

Despite their reputation, Memphis is allowing the Spurs wide open looks. They just can’t make them in Memphis. Green was 0-for-10 from 3 in the last two games; Manu was 0-for-5; Parker was 0-for-2; Gasol was 0-for-3; Mills was really the only player to hit anything, going 4-for-9 in the two games.

The Spurs need to hit open shots. Memphis is too good at grinding out wins to get into trenches with them. The Spurs need to win this series with offense, shot-making, pace, and space. Right now, they are 0-fer on those things away from the AT&T Center. When the game slows down, gets really physical, and becomes a nip and tuck affair, the advantage is squarely with Memphis.

This points to another disturbing trend in these last two games: the Spurs inability to dictate the terms of the fight. Yes, they played it tough in Game 4 and had multiple chances to win. But it never felt like the Spurs controlled that game. Memphis controlled that game (and likely deserved the win because of it). The Spurs aren’t really taking anything away from them, or making them uncomfortable anywhere. Conley is abusing us, Gasol is abusing us, Randolph is bullying us, and the Memphis role players are playing great (while the Spurs’ are shrinking).

The good news? All of these things could be said about Memphis after the first two games. Heading back to San Antonio, the friendly confines of the AT&T Center should do wonders for the team. You know who is 0-4 in San Antonio this year? Memphis. If this turns into a home court series, then the advantage clearly lies with the team who has home court advantage (and is the reason the regular season matters).

But we  can’t rely solely on returning home. Memphis is confident and feels like they’ve found something against this Spurs team. San Antonio needs to disabuse them of this notion quickly and emphatically in Game 5.

And they need to get Kawhi some help.

Green’s defense has been wonderful, but he needs to hit open shots.

LaMarcus has had stretches of brilliance, but he plays passive for long stretches and usually needs some inciting incident to wake up. It’s Game 5; come ready, LA.

Parker has played well, but you can only expect so much from him. He is no longer what he used to be (and what Mike Conley currently is). We need to make up for the difference somewhere else.

Lee has been unable to find any of that regular season magic, and seems overmatched by the playoff (and Memphis) intensity.

Mills hasn’t had a breakout moment yet, which he is usually good for every few games.

Anderson and Simmons have played solid in moments, but one of them will likely need a burst somewhere along the way.

Gasol has been solid, as well, but will likely need to provide even more scoring punch off the bench.

Dedmon (who was out sick for this game) is playing with his usual energy, but the team seems to have forgotten (or other teams have figured it out) how to get 3-4 cheap buckets with him at the rim every game (read: alley oops!). His defense will be needed, though, as the Spurs really need to hold Memphis in the low-to-mid 90s to win these games.

Bertans showed me something in Game 4, and the floor is just spaced so much better when he is on the court. I expect a few more minutes for him in Game 5.

Manu… I’m not ready to talk about Manu just yet. Whatever magic he and Vince have had to play so well at this age, it looks like Manu’s has run out. If Manu gives us anything (playmaking, 3-point shooting, pesky defense, ferocious energy and competitive fire), our bench can come alive and provide a comfortable margin for victory.

I said that Game 4 was really going to show us what kind of team we had. Despite the loss (and the many worrying trends), I liked the heart the team showed. They had that game to win, and they couldn’t. But that game could have also been an overwhelming loss, and they didn’t let that happen.

They’re coming home, where so often the little things tend to turn in your favor.

Game 5 is Tuesday night. Let’s get it.

Go Spurs Go.

De-Rooked

2017 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 94, Memphis 105
Spurs lead series 2-1

The Grizzlies did what we thought they would do, what they had to do.

The lower-seeded team winning Game 3 at home after going down 0-2 to start the series is one of the safest bets in sports, particularly when the disparity between the two teams isn’t enormous (sorry, Pacers). The energy of the home crowd mixed with the desperation of going down 0-3 (and essentially ending your season) is a potent cocktail.

And let’s face it: the Spurs, perhaps despite their reputation, aren’t the kind of team to put the clamps down in a Game 3 scenario like this. If you’re not predicting a sweep, then you’re predicting the Grizzlies will win at least one game: Game 3 was the most likely candidate.

That said, we can’t just dismiss the Spurs’ performance. They played well in the first half, fighting off the first rush of energy from the Grizzlies and keeping the game close, only down 4 at intermission.

The second half was a different story. Pop did a wholesale line change only a few minutes in, hopefully sending a message to the starters. You might argue that subbing the bench in so quickly might have cost the Spurs a chance in this game. You might also argue it could be what wins them the series. (We’ll see in Game 4.)

The biggest disappointment in the 2nd half was Kawhi. After another monstrous first half, he was unusually quiet in the second half. He had one big dunk and that’s about it. This isn’t the 2014 Spurs; they aren’t good enough to survive down performances from their star. As Kawhi goes, so do the Spurs. They might not always win when he plays well, but they will surely lose when he doesn’t.

There’s plenty more blame to go around. After a good opening to the series, Parker was terrible in Game 3. Zero points, zero assists, zero steals, 19 minutes. It’s like he was a ghost out there. When Conley is the counterpart, that won’t play well.

While Patty had a bit of a bounce back game (though we’ll need at least one hot shooting game from him this series), Manu and Lee continue to really struggle. Manu has yet to score in this series, and it looks like his age caught up to him right around April 14th. We can handle low-scoring performances from Manu, but he’s really not doing anything else, either.

After a great regular season, Lee is struggling to find his playoff mode. His defense was surprisingly good in the regular season, and it’s been surprisingly (or perhaps not) bad in the post-season. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but at one point in the 3rd quarter he gave up 7 straight and-1 baskets. On offense, it looks like he hasn’t caught up to the speed of the playoffs, with his cutting and passing just a bit off rhythm.

With such little production from the bench and some glaring holes in the starting line-up, the Spurs are ripe for a loss or two. Let’s hope it’s not more than that.

On the plus side, Kyle is playing very well in his role and minutes. He’s not a series-swinger, but he can be a difference-maker and X-factor. His length is important on defense, and his patience and slithery-ness on offense work in the postseason.

Gasol is also playing well in his minutes and his role. Again, a series can’t hinge on his play, but it can be lost on it.

Simmons showed good energy and reliability off the bench. While he can’t cannibalize Anderson’s minutes, perhaps he might be inserted in instead of Manu or even Parker at times.

Aldridge also had a solid game on both ends. Still, as the clear #2 player on the team, we need more from him.

Game 4 now becomes the swing game of the series. A Memphis win and we’re in for a long one. A Spurs win and it will just about seal it. Memphis has clearly found some things they like, and if they continue to get 2011 Z-Bo, they will be a tough out. If 2017 Z-Bo returns, the Spurs should win Game 4.

I’m excited to see how the team responds after the Game 3 shellacking. Despite it looking like the Spurs we’ve known for so many years, we actually don’t know a whole lot about this squad and how they’ll respond to their first playoff adversity. Game 4 will tell us a lot about the character of this team, win or lose.

Game 4 is Saturday night.

Go Spurs Go.

Photo credit: Eric Gay, Associated Press

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