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Opening Statements

2017 Western Conference Playoffs, First Round
San Antonio 111, Memphis 82
Spurs lead series 1-0

That was a bad start to the game but a wonderful start to the series.

After that first quarter in which Memphis barely missed a shot and San Antonio looked like they were warming up for a rec league game, the Spurs took complete control of the game. The Grizzlies had played well enough in the opening frame to make the game seem closer than it was for much longer, but make no mistake: this was an epic blowout.

To wit: After scoring 30 points in the first quarter, Memphis scored 52 points the rest of the game, or about 17 per quarter. And this number was helped by a 12-point “flurry” in the extreme depths of garbage time as the game neared completion. They had 70 points with about 4 minutes left.

On the other side of the ledger, the Spurs took a 13-point deficit and turned it into a 36-point lead at one point. That’s almost a 50-point swing in about 30 minutes of game time. For the first time facing these Grizzlies this season, the Spurs offense looked unstuck.

The defense was more impressive, though. After that first quarter, they just put the clamps on. Gasol scored a bunch and had a great game, but it wasn’t easy scoring. Gasol’s nature is to be a playmaker first, so it’s not in his nature to be such a dominant scorer. The Spurs seem content to guard him one-on-one, make life difficult, but let him get what he wants and shut everything else down.

Conley is the other primary threat, and the Spurs were amazing corralling and pestering him all night. Parker did great work, but it was really Green and Leonard who frustrated him the most (particularly Green, who continues to be a defensive star). Conley finished with only 13 points on 14 shots. He did notch 7 assists, but for the Grizzlies to have a chance in this series, Conley needs to be an aggressive scorer.

The rest of the Memphis roster (outside of Z-Bo, perhaps) really depends on the play of Conley and Gasol to make everything else hum. By boxing in and isolating their two stars, the Spurs challenged the rest of the Grizzlies roster to beat them. They were not up to the task.

Looking at their roster, it has a bunch of good players, but nobody who you’d expect to go off and have a stellar individual playoff performance. They also have a lot of young players and players new to the playoffs who didn’t seem quite ready for what was going to happen in this game.

The other great revelation from this game was Kawhi Leonard. If this is the playoff Kawhi we can expect, the Spurs will be just fine in this series. He was aggressive on both ends of the court, finishing with a career post-season high of 32 points (on 14 shots). More impressively, though, he had 5 assists, and looked very comfortable taking on the double team and finding the open man. This was a big key coming into these playoffs, and it looks like Kawhi’s playmaking development is ahead of schedule. Adding “playmaking” to Kawhi’s arsenal (on this team, no less) seems almost unfair. I’ll take it.

Game 2 should be a real indicator of where this series is headed. Memphis will surely play better and with less nervousness. Will the Spurs be content getting the one game and let their edge down? Or will they come out even stronger and put the Grizzlies back on their heels, taking full command of the series?

We’ll find out Monday night.

Go Spurs Go.

It’s going to be a wild ride

Season 50, Game 81
San Antonio 98, Portland 99
61-20, 2nd in the West

Last night’s penultimate game of the regular season is recapped by Stephen Hale and Andrew Flores.

Stephen Hale weighs in first:

The fourth quarter doesn’t count. Actually this game really doesn’t count. It’s a glorified tune-up game, specifically played for the purpose of getting reps and finalizing that shortened playoff rotation. The Blazers sat basically everyone but the mascot and the Spurs started their main crew. So the takeaway has to be personal and I think it’s time we call a spade a spade.

Tony Parker is a hot mess.

He looks lost, uninterested and really, really old. Even in the third quarter when he made a few shots against the Trailblazers B Team in the 81st game of the season, I found myself rolling my eyes at his 18 foot jumper over Shabazz Napier. Like, now you want to hit that shot?

Everything you need to know about Tony Parker’s season can be summarized with those missed layups in the second quarter. A sudden burst of speed that surprises even Tony, in which he finds himself with a point blank shot at the basket, only to have a layup that hangs on the rim and trickles out. Parker’s body language sums it up: his shoulders flop down and he drops his head, then literally stops running to dwell on the deeper issues of life, while his teammates try and run back into a 5-on-4 break.

This is 2017 Tony Parker. I find myself longing for Dejounte Murray’s return.

It’s unlikely the Spurs win a championship this year. It’s even more unlikely they win with Patty Mills running the show. And that’s not a knock on Patty. He’s fabulous and really fun to watch, but he’s kind of a one-trick pony.

As surprising as the big men have been all year, the guard play is incredibly suspect. Here’s a list of the other point guards on playoff teams in the Western Conference. Stop me when you feel like Tony Parker can draw even with one of them.

Steph Curry

James Harden

George Hill

Chris Paul

Russell Westbrook

Mike Conley

Damian Lillard

In a guard-rich Western Conference, I wonder who the Spurs will lean on down the stretch. It seems like an impossible feat to get two guards to play well on any given night, let alone three. Fortunately, Danny Green seems to be looking… better… as of late. Also fortunately, when Green hasn’t had his shot, he’s always had his defense.

Parker has always had… France?

Last night Parker should have channeled his inner Manu. Manu got spot minutes and made them count. “The ageless wonder,” said Bill Land at the end of the third quarter. No one says that about Tony. Manu makes the right play and extends Manu-Magic in minimal doses. Tony needs to age with grace or else it will be a swift exit.

Alas, there is one possible saving grace: Kawhi Leonard. Is he really this good? Why are we still impressed by him so much?

My only reservation is, can he drag a team through the playoffs with limited help from a rag-tag big man crew and little to no help from his backcourt? Probably not. But also, maybe so.

I’m kind of done doubting him. He’s amazing and there’s nothing he can’t do on the court. He has zero holes in his game. He’s the complete player: the epitome of work ethic, humility and physical ability. He’s a dream.

It’s going to be a wild ride. There’s no reason the Spurs shouldn’t be in the Western Conference Finals and, at minimum, push it six games. They may very well lose, but they are fully capable of winning the series and returning to the Finals. Hopefully we get a whole lot more of Kawhi: God Mode and a whole lot less of Tony Parker in general.

PS: RIP Meyers Leonard

Now let’s hear from Andrew Flores:

1st Quarter: Although a ‘thank you’ was in order for the second unit – they played such beautiful offense – their defensive continuity was almost non-existent. I was amazed by the 7-of-10 3-pointers made by the home team, but not as impressed by the end of quarter diving reverse layup by Mills. I wonder why Pau turned on that jet-pack after pulling off that sweet pump-fake at the three line with a spinning, breakaway move to the rim for the layup?
I prayed that Ginobili stays with the Spurs for one more season. His passing has been sublime.

2nd Quarter: That jet-pack is starting to get passed around (Pau and Tony combined for four missed lay-ups which overshot the roll) as well as the lethargy – 20 consecutive misses.  Also, what’s up with the mistimed passes? Aren’t we supposed to be over that by now? I appreciate that this is a game for “trying things,” but it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to watch some of these plays ending the quarter.

3rd Quarter: There was more of a Spurs pace to this one. Not much offense from the opponent, while our offense had multiple contributors. First Tony get rolling, then Kawhi, then a triple threat of Pau, Manu and Patty from behind the arc. Unfortunately, the Spurs couldn’t stop a guy named Turner (who had 13 in the quarter). However, we had Manu and the quarter ends with a 9 point swing for the Spurs. First lead of the game.

4th Quarter: I imagine that before the start of this quarter, Pop looked over at Stotts and gave him a nod, making a silent gentlemen’s bet along the lines of, “I can win with my bottom bench, even though they only have a 5-point lead”. I’m sure the fans thought that this was going to be a blow out. They didn’t know about Davis Bertans. Now they know. Dunks – yup.  Blocks – yup. As impressive as he played, he paled in comparison to the Dunk of the Year Candidate, Jonathon Simmons. If you haven’t seen that “stomach pumping” jam in the grill of Portland’s “other Leonard,” well, I want it as my next Spurs Cave poster. Unfortunately our young bucks fumbled in the last seconds, a hilarious lesson to be learned.

Baby I’ve Got Your Number

Season 50, Games 79 and 80
San Antonio 102, Dallas 89
San Antonio 87, Los Angeles Clippers 98
61-19, 2nd in the West

The playoffs start in one week; thank God.

It’s hard to watch “meaningless” games. What makes it even more difficult is knowing that each “meaningless” game can actually have negative impact on the team. Letting off the gas too early and playing for nothin for too long of a stretch can bring you into the playoffs dull, unprepared to match the necessary intensity playoff games require.

So I’m glad Pop isn’t resting players these final two games. I think this is a mistake the team has made in years past, and it felt like the team never regained their edge. Unlike last season (though against the same team), the playoffs will be a battle from the opening minute against a Memphis Grizzlies squad who have no doubt that they can beat the Spurs in a best-of-seven series.

I liked the way the way Pop managed these two games. Rest against Dallas on the road (giving the rested players an extra day off before the final push), then start the final push at home against the Clippers, a team that’s always a challenge for the Spurs to play.

It’s hard to take too much from either game. The Mavs likely would have won the game if Carlisle hadn’t essentially ceded the game at halftime, making the second half C-Squad vs. C-Squad (I like our C-Squad in any comparable battle). But it was fun to see the young ‘uns get the win and get lots of valuable playing time.

The Clippers were playing for real stakes and the Spurs weren’t. So while the game could have been more competitive, that slight difference in motivation will always manifest. The Spurs were just a step slow everywhere compared to the Clippers. I don’t like it–the Clippers are my second least favorite team to lose to–but I understand it. Factor in the way the Clippers match-up so well against the Spurs, and the loss makes sense.

So let’s look at some positives from the game:

–Aldridge contines to look sharp. He is playing aggressively on both ends of the court, rarely falling into his passive mode (probably the root of all the knocks against him). His defense on Griffin was tremendous in the first half, and his offensive game was flowing, as well. I hope Aldridge can have a productive playoffs.

–Kawhi seems to have rediscovered his long ball, which helps open up the rest of his game. His playmaking has obviously taken a dramatic step up in the last 2 months, which will be critical as he starts to see more and more double-teams. Like Aldridge, I hope Kawhi has a good playoffs. He needs to show he can lead a team in the playoffs.

–Gasol played great off the bench. I’m excited to see how the brother vs. brother match-up plays out in the playoffs.

Areas of concern:

–Parker. This will never go away. He’ll have good games, he’ll have more bad games. The fates of the team will rest too much on his play.

–The Spurs seem to have good offensive line-ups and good defensive line-ups, but not many that are really good at both. How Pop manages this will be critical, and this will likely become more and more of an issue the deeper the team goes into the playoffs…assuming they do.

Of course, the best news of all is that the Spurs almost certainly will not have to face the Clippers again this season. Only two teams beat them twice: the Clippers and the Grizzlies. (Ugh.). The Clippers beat them three times. They just have the Spurs’ number. Their starters (who are very good) tear up our defense. Their bench (who mostly stink) kill our bench (who mostly don’t stink). I don’t understand it, but we just never play them well.

Good riddance, Clippers. And bad luck in the Playoffs.

The Spurs close the season on a very tough 2-game road trip: Portland on Monday, Utah on Wednesday. The Blazers have locked up the 8-seed, so aren’t necessarily playing for anything. However, they’ve been fighting for their playoff lives for so long, it’s doubtful they’ll let up the last week of the season.

The Jazz will be fighting for that 4-seed and home court in the first round. That game will likely be huge for them.

The Spurs are still playing for nothing other than rhythm and confidence. I’d like to see them win at least one of these games so they don’t go into the playoffs on their only 3-game losing streak of the season.

Go Spurs Go.

Did We Learn Anything Watching Golden State vs San Antonio?

(Photo: Getty Images)

I’m going to level with you all before I get deep into this one.

I have no clue what to expect in a potential Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs playoff series. The season series was just about as nonsensical as it gets. Teams this talented and well-coached shouldn’t play three blowouts against one another. Never mind that two of the blowout wins were by the team on the road.

Still, we must have learned something from these games, as non sequitur as they seemed… right?

If nothing else, we’re going to try to learn, so buckle up!

Season Opener
Spurs at Warriors, October 25, 2016
Spurs win 129-100

It’s hard to remember this game, it was so long ago. So much has changed in the world since this glorious night. Back then, the USA hadn’t even elected a reality TV star as president yet! What a world… what a world!

Anyway, believe it or not, in the first game of the post-Tim Duncan Spurs era (coincidentally, the first game of the evil villain Kevin Durant Warriors era), three of the oldest guys left playing basketball strolled into Oakland and “Get off my lawn’d” the Warriors into a pile of rubble. It was beautiful. It made me believe that all our dreams could come true if we simply believed in the powers of light and darkness and manifested those powers directly onto the things we care about. Whether San Antonio wins the Finals this year or not, this game proved to me that as long as your team is the real-life depiction of a Disney villain, you are screwed in the long run.

What went right for the Spurs in this game?

Kawhi Leonard assumed his throne and dropped 35 points and 5 steals on the defending NBA chokeians (that’s a new word I made up for teams that blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, btw), LaMarcus Aldridge dropped another cool 26, and Jonathon Simmons – bless his heart – made us all think this was going to be the year he became a legit bench threat with a 20 point effort and an epic chasedown block on Steph Curry.

The Warriors starters were great, as expected, but their bench was HORRENDOUS. Ian Clark led the bench with 5 points. Nobody on the team had a positive +/-. Zaza Pachulia (who I hate) had more turnovers than shot attempts.

It wasn’t meant to be for Golden State on that fine October night, and while one could argue that it was their first meaningful game with Durant and they still had to learn how to play together, well… actually no you can’t make that argument because that starting unit combined for 84 points while the bench scored 16 points.

And if you really wanted to make that argument, I think San Antonio’s case for potentially laying an egg is even stronger. The Spurs were without Duncan for the first time in 19 years. They replaced him with Pau Gasol, who isn’t nearly as young nor athletically gifted as Kevin Durant, and San Antonio steamrolled the Warriors.

If we learned anything that night, it’s this: The Warriors need SOMETHING from their 5-12 guys – Zaza is included here because, honestly, he is not good enough to start for this team, c’mon – or they aren’t making a third straight trip to the Finals. Strength in Numbers? Not this season.

Warriors at Spurs, March 11, 2017
Spurs win 107-85

Danny Green was the only starter for either team that played in this game. Again, Zaza doesn’t count. Anyway, that tells you almost everything you need to know about this game. Oh, get this! JaVale McGee only played five minutes in this one! In a game where literally only ten people on his team were dressed he only got five minutes.

What did we learn?

Uh… that if somehow every starter from both teams dies before they play next, that lack of bench depth we already knew about is going to be bad news for Golden State. Also, it’s going to be a really shitty and somber playoff series. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. It was also a good reminder that San Antonio has a good bench. One of the best benches.

Warriors at Spurs, March 29, 2017
Warriors win 110-98

This started as the kind of game where I thought I’d be excited to see Davis Bertans and Kyle Anderson getting fourth quarter minutes against a quality opponent. But by the time the fourth quarter came around and I noticed that Anderson and Bertans were on the court, all I could do was scream and writhe in pain until my girlfriend dragged me out of the bar and into a cab.

This one hurt. Not only would a Spurs win have put the 1-seed firmly within grasp, but San Antonio raced out to a 15-0 lead and ended up losing by 12 to a team that was missing Durant. Ouch. And the Spurs weren’t missing anyone besides Dejounte Murray who wouldn’t have seen anything but garbage time if he were healthy.

The contest was pretty much our collective worst nightmare, and a microcosm of the season. The Spurs have looked like the hottest team on Earth several times this year, including versus Cleveland and opening night vs. these same Warriors (well, minus Durant).

At other times, the Spurs have looked like Brooklyn would give them a run for their money. Sometime we get both versions of San Antonio, and the shitty version sticks around for a lot longer than we’d hope for.

What did we learn?

JaVale McGee still has an atrocious rattail. But in actual basketball…

When the Spurs are operating at optimum efficiency, they can hang with and beat anyone. They led 33-17 at the end of the first quarter, and it wasn’t because they were relying on Leonard to do everything. Yes, the Spurs’ star had 8 points in the first quarter, putting him on pace for another 30 pt game, but contributions from Aldridge and Green helped them get out to their strong start.

As the game wore on, the Warriors figured out to mostly remove Kawhi from the equation, and Kawhi was eventually forced to try and take things on himself despite constant double-teams. It, obviously, didn’t work out.

Tony Parker (who went scoreless) and Manu Ginobili (who missed a lot) both looked very much their age against the younger, quicker Warriors, and neither Patty Mills nor Anderson instilled much confidence with their games either.

Remember that time I talked up San Antonio’s bench to be the best thing since the invention of the 3 point line? Bleh.

That’s all just a really long way to say that if the Spurs match up with Golden State in the playoffs, Kawhi is either going to have to become basketball Jesus, or the rest of the team is going to have to hold up their end of the bargain.

Oh, and playing some defense would be nice too. Sheesh.

Messed Around And Still Got The Win

Season 50, Game 76
San Antonio 109, Utah 103
59-17, 2nd in the West

This was a really good win.

Utah is a good – possibly great – team. They are fighting for their playoff positioning, and it behooves them to win every possible game. They wanted to win this.

San Antonio was resting six players, including two starters and three of the top four bench players. The team is locked into their seed, and are playing more for experimentation and preparedness than wins at this point. But even with the end of the bench doing most of the heavy lifting, the Spurs still got the win, building 20-point leads in each half and holding off the inevitable Jazz comeback.

Motivation is an often overlooked aspect of unique wins and losses. On any given night, the team that ‘wants it more’ can often be favored to win. Wanting it more and playing most of your top of the rotation players should usually mean a win. Instead, the Spurs just Spurs-ed right along and got the win anyway, all while giving huge playing time to players like Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes, Dewayne Dedmon, Jonathon Simmons, and Kyle Anderson.

Anderson played very well. I’ve always been a fan, partly because he’s probably about as athletic as you or me, so must use intelligence and cunning to keep his place in the league. It’s obvious that Kyle Anderson is a very smart player, and I like to see him slowly figure it out. He was a team-best +24 in a game won by 6.

Simmons got out of the dog house and made the most of his opportunity. His play is definitely less consistent than Kyle’s (which is likely why Kyle has usurped his rotation spot), but at his athletic best, there’s nobody like Simmons on the roster. The team will need that at least once these playoffs.

Forbes and Bertans both got big minutes and both acquitted themselves win. I really like both of these players. While it’s likely too late for either to have any sort of playoff impact, they are nice pieces building for the future.

The best sight of the night, however, was Tony Parker. He looked spry and fresh, and played smart and aggressive. This is what makes this season so frustrating: when we see these games he’s still capable of, we understand just how good this team can be. But we can no longer rely on it night to night. Hell, I’m not even sure we can rely on it more than one game out of four. That won’t cut it in the playoffs.

But if he really can get his legs and get a bit healthy, we could be a formidable team come playoffs.

If, if, if. The story of Parker’s season.

The Spurs go for win number 60 at home against Memphis on Tuesday night. This is also our likely first round opponent, so a win would be good psychologically, too.

Go Spurs Go.

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