Tonight was a throwback kind of night for the Spurs, where all three of the Big 3 played big games with big numbers. The order is different now than it was 3-5 years ago (as Manu has reminded us, it’s Tony’s team now), but the outcome is the same: when healthy and playing well, these guys can beat anybody.
Wayne was pretty accurate with his Bold Prediction in today’s Four by Vore. It was a 13-point win instead of 18 and he was dead-on with the Spurs ball movement. The passing tonight was beautiful to behold. So was the high pick-and-roll, for which the Knicks had absolutely no answer at all. The only negative in this game was a stinger for T.J. Ford, who appears to be ok. As I have said before, we need him healthy come playoff time.
Song of the Game:
This is the only game against the Knicks this year and even though it is not in New York, I still feel morally compelled to use this song: Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” from 2009’s The Blueprint 3. I’m not a big rap or hip-hop fan, but I have my spots and this song hits one of them. Love it.
Play of the Game:
One of the great joys of being a Spurs fan all these years has been watching this team execute great plays out of timeouts. Pop is a master at getting his guys a good look in these situations. One such play occurred tonight, but well after Pop had been ejected for arguing a terrible call on Tiago Splitter.
The play occurred with 5:35 left in the game and the Spurs leading 103-91, but the Knicks had been on a hellacious run that saw them deeply cut into a 20 point lead. I’m going into detail on this play, because it’s a fantastic out-of-bounds play that I have seen the Spurs use variations of, but not this exact set.
Manu is inbounding from the left side of the floor, RJ is sitting on the left block at the free throw line, and Tim is on the low block on the same side. Meanwhile, Danny Green is on the right wing at the 3-pt line and Tony is on the right baseline almost that deep. When Manu gets the ball from the ref, Tim runs the baseline to screen for Tony, who sprints to the left corner. RJ comes diagonally across the lane to screen Tim’s man, as Tim sprints hard back to the left high block, exactly where RJ started. RJ has now moved to the right corner, Tony is in the left corner, and Danny Green is still on the right wing. Manu inbounds to Tim, then Manu cuts hard toward the middle of the floor, but reverses his step and cuts back to left, leaving his man (J.R. Smith) screened by Tim, who hands the ball to Manu. Tim’s man (Amare) has has to fight past the Richard screen and is still charging to catch up to Tim. The result is that Manu blows by Amare and gets the easiest layup you’ll see from an out-of-bounds play. And it all took 3 seconds of game time.
The beauty of what Pop and staff does on these plays is not necessarily the outcome, but the process. As a defender, you have to be alert at all times, because your man, who is setting a screen, may still be the shooter or primary passer on the play. In this play, Tim was the initial screener, but the whole action was setup to get him a clean pass and for his man to be trailing the play, away from the cutting inbounder. I suspect this play has two or three wrinkles that Manu could have taken if the defense setup differently. I know the casual fan still prefers to see a dunk or alley-oop and I appreciate those plays too. But, mercy, that level of execution is a thing of beauty to watch. It makes me feel sorry for other teams that aren’t coached by Pop.
The Big 3, as I said, were phenomenal: 66 points and 15 assists between them. Tony led a layup line tonight, as he got 32 points on only 19 shots.
I don’t know what else to say about Kawhi Leonard that has not been said. He’s turning into an excellent defender in front of our eyes and he is a disruptor on that end of the floor. And he continues to find ways to score.
Green is still struggling, although he shot better tonight. I have to believe his injured shoulder is robbing him of some aggressiveness.
After years of watching Stoudamire abuse the Spurs in the pick-and-roll, it is clear that he is not at all the same player he was just a few years ago. He used to be a below-average defender, but now he’s simply terrible. In this offense, he looks out of place as well. He doesn’t run the pick-and-roll with Lin that well and he looks lost when Carmelo is isolating on the wing. He was a -21 tonight.
Mike D’Antoni has not changed at all. He still runs a 9-man rotation and Melo and Amare played 38 minutes each. The offense still consists of this weird mix of pick-and-roll, rushed fast breaks, and wing isolation. The defense fronts without backside help and plays horrible pcik-and-roll defense. The Knicks look like a much-less talented version of his Suns teams.
Stat of the Game:
The Spurs had 7 guys in double-figures tonight and one more with 8 points. If you had told me that Bonner and Jefferson would be scoreless, I never would have believed that many guys got over 10 points.
The Spurs could have won this game by 25, but 17 turnovers kept the Knicks in this way more than they should have been. I think the Spurs’ sloppy play will continue to get better over the next few weeks as the minutes regulate and the rotations get set.