I wasn’t able to watch this game live. When it tipped, I was still in the gym wrapping up a practice. I followed a bit online, but I was making dinner and hanging out with the wife. I read all the recaps. Tony on fire, Harden hits the leaner, then Pop goes away from Tony in crunch time. For a great view on Pop’s end game choices, please, please read Henry Abbott’s piece. It’s the only good analysis I have read of Pop’s late-game decision.
However, I don’t think who got the ball at the end was the interesting story in this game. I think the interesting thing in this game was Manu and his team worst (again) -12. And I’m not talking about his offense.
Manu’s defense was, in short, horrid. Positively horrid. I’ve been harping on him for his shot selection this year and his fundamentals on his shot — he shoots far too many off balance — and his shooting numbers are way down. Those things happen. He shoots well. He shoots poorly. He makes great passes. He makes bad turnovers. It’s Manu. You live with it.
I’ve also been harping on him for his matador defense this year. I think he’s been taking too many gambles for steals when his man has the ball and, as a result, his guy has blown by him. I really thought he had cleaned this up over the last few weeks. Then, I watched the Rockets game.
I don’t know if he is frustrated by his shot not going in or what, but his defense wasn’t just poor. It was horrid. Poor defense would be getting caught out of position, not anticipating plays, taking bad gambles, etc. Manu didn’t put in any effort to any of the details. He didn’t box out, he fell asleep on screens, he lost track of his man, and he absolutely without doubt quit on plays. I kid you not. He quit. If there is one single thing I never expect of Manu it is lack of effort and quitting. Against the Rockets that is exactly what he did.
Manu entered the game for the first time at the 4:05 mark of the first quarter with the Spurs up 15-10 and he was covering James Harden.
Possession 1: Manu does a great job of fronting Harden and denying him the ball. Harden then drives and gets a screen from Asik, then Harden passes the ball. Manu stops playing — and loses track of Harden — and stands in the paint just inside the free throw line. No big deal. The Rockets don’t score.
P 2: Manu gets Patrick Beverley in transition. Manu harasses Beverley who hands the ball to Parsons on the deep wing. Beverley runs to the corner and then cuts back behind Parsons to get the ball on the hand off. Manu trails the screen — it looks like he was expecting a switch with Nando and didn’t get it — so he ends up quite a bit behind Beverley who fakes a 3-ptr, kicks it to Parsons in the corner as Manu flies by, then cuts to the basket and gets the pass from Parsons. Manu stops playing at this point. Just completely stops. Beverly misses the layup but Asik dunks the rebound.
(Quick interlude: at this point in the broadcast they showed a Frost Bank Flashback that featured Pete Anton. Pete has worked for the Spurs since they first moved to SA. He works the media door. He’s 86. Yes, 86. Very nice man. His son is the Greek Orthodox archbishop of South America and is friends with the new Pope. That’s like 3 degrees of separation from me to the Pope. How about that?
P 3: Manu is on Harden again. Manu fights through several screens and then has Harden 1-on-1 out at the 3-pt line. Manu falls for the pump fake and Harden goes by him. Manu reaches from behind and picks up the shooting foul. No big deal. It happens. Harden hits both free throws.
P 4: Manu is on Harden again as the Rockets run a bunch of action away from Harden. Manu runs into an Asik screen and this ends up with Delfino missing an open 3 in the corner. Asik gets the offensive rebound (with Manu pawing at him from behind) and passes the ball to Thomas Robinson at the free throw line. Robinson turns and flips it to Harden at the 3-pt line. Manu runs into the back of Robinson. Robinson didn’t screen Manu. Manu just ran into him. Harden buries the 3. Tie game. 17-17.
P 5: Manu has Harden out near mid-court with Asik setting a screen just outside the 3-pt line. Manu trails the play, like the Spurs frequently do, and Harden kicks to Delfino in the corner. Manu then puts in a little effort to deny Harden getting the ball back. Luckily, Harden didn’t try much to get it. Beverley takes Nando off the dribble for a floater. Rockets up 2.
P 6: Manu has Harden out at mid-court as the Rockets run the shot clock down. The Spurs use Diaw to run at Harden and force him to give up the ball before he starts the play. Harden passes to Beverley who jukes Nando and draws the shooting foul. Beverley hits the first free throw and misses the second. Manu is the third Spur on the free throw lane. He has one job: step into the paint and box out Beverley. Instead, Manu steps OUT OF THE PAINT. He actually steps back. Beverley gets the rebound and then flips in a floater. Rockets up 22-20. This is an inexcusable…I don’t know what. Lack of focus? Lack of fundamentals? I’d bench somebody for being so out of the game.
P 7: Carlos Delfino travels on the first possession of Q2. The Spurs switched everything and Tiago was guarding him at the 3-pt line.
And so it went. He routinely lost track of Delfino and Parsons. Both players blew passed him for layups. He stood and watched rebounds go to other players. It was horrific. I encourage you to re-watch the game and just watch Manu’s defensive possessions. There is very little effort and very, very poor attention to details. He doesn’t box out, he doesn’t know where his man is, and he quits on plays. It’s the most un-Manu thing I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know if he is tired. Injured. Has stress in his personal life. I don’t know. But, Pop should have benched his butt and that is the Pop decision that interests me most.