“Well, they were wins.”
That was a direct quote to my son after the end of the Atlanta game, when asked how the Spurs did on this back-to-back jaunt. After a game against the Warriors where they largely went through the motions, they showed up in Atlanta with Tim in a jacket and promptly hung a loss on the talented but inconsistent Hawks. Neither game was a showcase of Spur basketball, but it did show that this team has the ability to grind out wins when not at their best. Which we knew. So, in the end, they were wins. Just wins.
Song of the Games: The Crystal Method. “Vapor Trail”
The unheralded track from the fantastic and seminal album Vegas. But it’s become one of my favorite tunes on the album, for its pure and constant energy. It starts at full speed and never lets up. I chose this song because that’s how Tony has played this season. Old Tony – prior to last year – might have taken a game off here and there, where he didn’t shoot or play particularly well. New Tony – of these past two years – almost never has that. Even when the jumper is not falling, like versus the Hawks, he’s driving, he’s making solid decisions with the ball, and he’s hustling on defense. I have to confess – I’m tired of Tony Parker being the most underrated point guard in the league. He’s doing everything well and should be a lock for an All-Star appearance this year.
Favorite Play of the Games: No Dribble Fast Break
It has been a long time since I’ve seen something like this, but it was awesome. The last scoring play for the Spurs came with about 16 seconds on the clock and the Hawks pressing for a steal or quick foul. Tony threw the inbounds pass, which was weird. He inbounded to Diaw, who had two Hawks converging, but lobbed it cross-court to Danny Green before he was touched. Green also had two Hawks converging, but before they got to him, he rifled a baseball pass to Kawhi, standing just past midcourt. The 5th Hawk player (I never saw who it was) apparently either took a nap or missed an assignment, because as Boris’ pass is in the air, he steps toward the halfcourt line, leaving Kawhi and Tiago alone. Kawhi takes Danny’s pass, shuffles it to Tiago under the rim, dunk. All 5 players touch the ball, 94 feet, no dribbles, 2 seconds elapsed.
Trending Up: Tiago, Bonner
I’m could quit putting Splitter in this spot, using the Tony/Tim “I could put them there every game” rule, but I’m not finished talking about all of the things I like about him. I see people on Twitter knock Tiago occasionally for what he can’t do: he’s an average (at best) post player, he’s not an exceptional rebounder for his size, and he cannot create his own shot in any form. Fine, I respond, let’s look at what he does well: he is an exceptional post passer (not quite Boris-ish, but close), he plays outstanding position defense on bigs and driving guards, and, most importantly, he may be the best pick-and-roll big in the league. The Tony to Tiago high screen from the wing is devastating and we saw used to perfection in these two games, both when Tony passes to a rolling Splitter or when he has space and goes to the basket himself. Tiago always rolls to the right spot and creates an angle for the passer. And he’s finishing better than early in his career. With his improved free throw shooting this year, Splitter is really coming into his own. I don’t care that he’s not Wilt Chamberlain in the post; when you run an offense based on motion and lots of pick-and-roll, Splitter is the perfect center for your team. Put him on the floor and let him do what he does best.
Pop clearly decided the Hawks game was going to be a bench game, as no one topped 34 minutes and 4 bench players saw significant time. Bonner played the most minutes he’s played all season (he also had 23 against Milwaukee in December) and made the most of it. If this was his 3-Point Shootout Audition, it was a good one: 7 of 8 from the field, perfect from trey in 3 attempts, 17 points. As I said the other day, it’s a little sad to me that Bonner has become a “minutes absorber” for this team, but that’s where we are. When he does get in for substantial time, it’s good to see him take advantage.
Trending Down: Blair, Patty, RJ
Don’t get me wrong: DeJuan actually played ok in almost 20 minutes against Atlanta. It’s the string of DNP-CD’s that should have Blair looking for real estate in Atlanta, Milwaukee, or Charlotte (or some other Spurs trading partner) in the near future. It is abundantly clear Pop neither trusts him nor is willing to overlook his deficiencies any longer.
I was highly disappointed that Patty didn’t sniff the floor after a short stint as the 1st guard in against Golden State. Here’s my prediction: Pop is looking hard at both Nando and Patty to decide who plays those 10 minutes at backup PG come playoff time. Nando’s time recently may suggest Patty has the edge and I think that’s the right choice. But I suspect, over the second half, you’ll see Patty with a lot more 10-12 minutes games and Nando with more DNP-CDs.
Ah, Richard Jefferson. This will probably be the last time I ever mention you in a blog. I thought Mark Jackson might put you in just for a few minutes, just to see the crowd reaction. I hope they would have at least given you some token applause. I would have. You were never what we wanted or needed, but you always played hard and you always tried to find your place here.
I really have to wonder what opposing coaches and players think when Pop sits a starter against them. If you’re the Heat, of course, it’s not that big of a deal. But if you are the Hawks or the Sixers or another middle of the road team, is it insulting? Is it viewed as hopeful (in a we-had-no-chance-but-now-we-do kind of way)? And is it demoralizing when a Duncanless and Ginobililess Spur team beats you?
I’m betting this hasn’t happened since he’s been in a Spurs jersey: Danny Green’s 4th quarter? 12 minutes played, 0 shots. For the record, he did have 2 boards, 1 foul, and 1 block.