That was one of the strangest Spurs games of this young season. After watching the game, I thought Tony Parker had just finished one of the best games he had ever played as a Spur. 20 points on only 14 shots, 17 assists, and a couple of boards. He looked like a guy who was perfectly in control of the offense, finding the right balance between scoring and passing. He even made several re-post passes, one to Tiago and a couple to Tim, which he has not done in ages. But that’s not the whole story. He was -3 for the night and Jarrett Jack lit him up.
In fact, none of the Spurs starters had positive plus-minus numbers at the end of the game: RJ was -11, Blair was -15, and even Timmy was -2 (the other starter, Kawhi, was -7, but in only 7 minutes early in the game). The bench, on the other hand, was tremendous in +/-, with Tiago at +8, Anderson and Bonner at +13 each, and Danny Green at +14. I’ve mentioned that plus-minus is certainly not a perfect indicator, but it is telling. So, what to make of this? I have no idea. I want to say last night was an anomaly, because according to 82games.com, the Spurs starting unit has the highest plus/minus and win percentages of any 5-man unit the Spurs have played all season (warning: small sample sizes).
This Spurs team right now is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. I simply don’t have a good feel for this team or how they are going to perform on a given night. Part of it is the fact that there are so many young guys on this roster. Part of it is that Ginobili and to a lesser extent, Ford, are on the shelf. But I’m also starting to believe that part of it is the transition of the Spurs starters to a purely offensive unit. Offense comes and goes in the NBA, but defense persists. On nights when shooters can’t shoot, defenders still defend. And right now, it looks like the best defenders on the Spurs team are guys coming off the bench.
What I think that means for the long term is lineup changes. I can’t see Pop going into the playoffs with 3 or 4 of his best defenders not starting the game, if that’s how he sees it as the season progresses. In another post sometime, I’ll discuss what the most likely changes might be, but for now, just remember that what you are seeing is one giant chemistry experiment. The minutes fluctuate and the scheme seems to change because Pop is trying to figure out which lineups and which strategies will get this team deep into the playoffs. And on some nights, the result is that a pretty bad Hornets team hangs around and almost steals a win.
Song of the Game:
Tim’s legend as an NBA player doesn’t need any help, but one area where he does not have a sparkling resume is in the “last second shot” category. So, from a legendary player adding a new trick to his bag, the song for this game is from a legendary band with a more recent song. 2007′s In Rainbows from Radiohead features one of my favorite songs from them ever, Reckoner. This song is a symphony of controlled intensity and layers upon layers of music and meaning.
Play of the Game:
Clearly, it has to be Tim’s shot at the end of the game. While I’m pretty sure this was not the play Pop drew up out of the timeout – and Tim hinted as much in his post game comments – it worked.
Horse of the Game:
It’s hard not to highlight Tony or Tim for this, but I am starting to gain great affection for Tiago Splitter. We are starting to see the player that so many teams coveted when he was playing in Europe. I mentioned his +8, but he finished with 12 points on 5-8 shooting (one miss was on a dunk at the end of the game that absolutely should have been a foul), 6 boards, and a steal in 23 minutes. In addition, he is the best screener on the team and has finally developed a fairly consistent free throw stroke (thanks, Chip).
Goat of the Game:
Kawhi Leonard played only 7 minutes in this game. I’m not sure what Pop saw or if he simply wanted to experiment with other lineups, but Kawhi’s minutes have been all over the place lately.
Stat of the Game:
Chris Kaman played only 14 minutes for the Hornets last night. 6 points, 4 boards, +1 on the night. A few years ago, I thought he might be the best center in the West. I’m not sure why the Hornets aren’t using him more. An Okafor-Kaman lineup would clog the paint in a way Pop would be proud of. On a related note, I wonder if they would trade him….
The chemistry experiment will continue Wednesday night against the Hawks back at home. What to expect? If you have a clue, please let me know. I don’t.