Ugly is as ugly does. I don’t know what that means, but I got to use ugly twice in the same sentence and that is appropriate for this game. That said, it is great to win ugly games on the road. In fact, I’m not sure I’d have it any other way.
The Spurs took half a quarter to get their act together, then they quickly built a 10-point lead before the end of the first quarter. From there on, the lead would shrink then build. Shrink then build. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Song of the Game: Empty by Ray LaMontagne
Yeah, I used Ray earlier in the season, but I wanted ‘Empty’ for the Pistons game. It’s an absolutely beautiful song. A nice quiet tune.
Attendance at the Pistons-Spurs game was so sparse, I think Ray could have done this song acoustic and unplugged during the game and everybody would have heard it fine. Announced attendance was 11,500. Eyewitness reports said there were not even 1,000 people at the game. It has to be embarrassing to the league that so few people would attend one of their games.
Play of the Game #1: Manu To Matt Bonner
With 35 seconds left in the second quarter, the Spurs tore up court to get a 2-for-1 opportunity. Tim Duncan grabbed the rebound off a missed Greg Monroe free throw and hit Manu up near half court (the team is going right to left on your screen) on the far, or right, side. Matt Bonner goes tearing, or waddling, by Manu to the corner on Manu’s side of the court. Tim Duncan, not to be out done, or run, zips up court to set a pick for Manu just outside the 3-pt line. To recap, Manu is on the right side angle of the arc, Matt is to his right in the corner, and Tim is coming from Manu’s left toward Manu’s defender. Gary Neal and Richard Jefferson are somewhere on the other side of the court.
As soon as Manu clears Tim’s pick, Tim’s defender aggressively shows to slow Manu and Tim dives to the basket. This move immediately puts Matt Bonner’s defender, Jonas Jerebko, in the torture chamber and completely at Manu’s mercy. Manu now has two people on the right side of the court and one defender to cover them both. When Manu rises to pass, you can’t tell who the target is. In fact, he might not know himself. As he sees Jerebko commit to covering Tim, Manu zips an overhand pass to Matt, who then drains the open 3-pointer.
Manu can run this play, and Tony can not, for a couple reasons. One, Manu is left-handed. Two, Manu is tall. Manu’s ability to pass over the defense, and not around it, is a critical element to him being able to wait to the last fraction of a second to make the pass. Three, Manu’s 3-pt shot. Because Manu has the ability, and the desire, to pull up and make those 3-pointers, the defense has to guard his pick and roll much further out on the court than they have to guard Tony. That extra distance creates the extra space needed to run the play. Now that Manu is back, it’s nice to see the play back in the play book.
Play of the Game #2: Tim Fouled Three Times, No Call
If you follow me on Twitter, and even if you don’t, you probably know that I thought the refs really sucked last night. I have re-watched the game and now I don’t think it. I know it. They were just brutal. Brutally bad both ways. One play, in particular, captures just how bad they were.
Tim Duncan is posting up Ben Wallace with about 5:40 to go in the fourth quarter. The Spurs lead has dwindled to one as the Pistons physical defense has stalled the Spurs offense. Tim is on the down side block, ‘down’ is the left side of the court in Spurs terminology. With Ben Wallace on his back, Tim works his way into the paint. As he gets to the paint, Tim picks up his dribble and turns left into his shot. As he turns Wallace, who has his arm extended out over Tim’s shoulder, hits Tim in the face with his forearm. Tim keeps going into his move and straightens his arms to go into his shot. Ben Wallace, who still has his arm extended, comes down across both of Tim’s forearms. Tim brings the ball up and gets off a weak shot as Wallace fouls him across both forearms. As the ball heads toward the rim, Wallace then elbows Tim in the face just under the left eye. Three very hard and very obvious fouls. Zero, yes zero, whistles blow. Apparently, Eddie F. Rush is too incompetent to call even the most obvious of calls.
Well, you might say the refs were playing by the old “no blood, no foul” mantra. Accept, in this case, there was blood. Tim got hit in the face during a post move, and hit hard enough to draw blood, and the refs didn’t call it. It was just par for their incompetent night. When people in the media are joking that the refs are having a bad game, the refs know they are having a bad game, and they predict the refs will just continue to suck for the rest of the game to be consistent, then you know the refs are bad. This happened. The refs are bad. I’m not sure what is happening this season, but the officiating has been abominable.
Play of the Game #3: The Defensive Stand
The hack-a-Tim play above lead to a 3-pt play at the other end that put the Pistons up 2 at 85-83. The 4th quarter started with a Kawhi Leonard 3-pointer that put the Spurs up 77-62. The big 23-6 run in 6:00 had wiped out the Spurs lead. From then on, it was a dogfight and back and forth game. For me, the part of the game where the Spurs finally put the dagger in the Pistons came with a defensive stand that started in the strangest way.
Coming out of the under 3:00 time out in the fourth quarter, Coach Pop decided to start sending Ben Wallace to the free throw line. Coming into the game, Ben was shooting 0% — yes zero, he was 0-2 — from the line this year and he’s only a 41% shooter on his career. The third, and final, time the Spurs sent Wallace to the line was with 2:05 to go in the game and the Spurs up 91-90. Ben had gone 2-4 on his first trips. Swishing two free throws and air balling the other two. This time he hits the first and then draws heavy iron on the second. The ball launches into outer space and comes down to Brandon Knight.
The Pistons work the ball around and can’t get anything going. Tayshaun Prince finally takes a long two at the shot clock buzzer and misses. Ben Wallace grabs the rebound. The Pistons eventually work the ball back to Tayshaun Prince in the post with Manu guarding him. Manu works his magic and Tayshaun plows over Manu getting the offensive foul.
In all, the Pistons had the ball 42 seconds, had two free throws, one shot, and a turnover. They came out with one point. The Spurs then went on a 7-1 run to put the game away. Credit Manu with the play of the game.
Trending Up: Kawhi’s Shot, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, and Matt Bonner
Kawhi Leonard is 7 of 8 from 3-pt over the last five games (I’m not counting his 30 foot shot at the shot clock buzzer in last night’s game). He’s got a wicked slow release, but he’s taking his time and it is hitting nothing but net. Kawhi making shots is just icing on the cake for a guy that makes great plays every where else.
Richard Jefferson had a great game. I’d say it is the best game I’ve seen him play. It wasn’t the most points he’s had and he was only 1 for 3 from distance. No, in this game Richard made plays when the team needed him to make a play. This is really, really big. Richard enforced his will on the game for a couple plays. His offensive rebound and put back in the big Pistons run was the Spurs first points in over 3:00. He did it by will. Then, he pulled up and nailed a big 3-pointer later in the that put the Spurs back on top with under 3:00 to go. Richard Jefferson making plays in the 4th quarter is huge.
Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair both played what I would say is their best average game. They weren’t crazy good and putting up big numbers. They just played the type of game that I would say is “how they would play every game if they were going to contribute and not be stars”. They played solid DeJuan and Matt games.
Trending Down: Danny’s Shot, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili
The Spurs first play of the game as a free throw line curl for Danny Green. He was all by himself. He clanged the shot. He’s lost his shot from all ranges. He needs to get it back or he will see his minutes dwindle away. Pop likes guys that make defensive plays, and Danny certainly does that, but you can’t be an offensive liability and get many minutes.
Tony and Manu? Trending Down? Just kind of and sort of. Tony has come back to earth after his otherworldly play. Manu is coming back from injury. Tony didn’t have his shot going and Manu doesn’t look like he wants to shoot his shot is so gone. Combined, they were 5-17 from the floor and 4-9 from the line. This not good shooting. The great thing though, is that they each had 7 assists and played tremendous games defensively. I’m starting to think that games like this Pistons game is the worst they can play. And, well, that’s a good thing. Plus, they still finish. Tony scored 8 straight with under 2:00 to go to seal the win.
Stat of the Game: Tiago Splitter — 22:19
Tiago had the second most minutes of the big men behind only Tim Duncan. And, he played quite a few minutes with Tim. Tiago missed a couple shots that he normally hits, but he was still effective scoring 13 points and grabbing 7 rebounds — 5 offensive — in his 22+ minutes. Bart was right in his preview that the Pistons front line was physical. We needed Tiago in order to match that physicality.
Updated: I’d like to add that Matt Bonner played 20:50 and had zero rebounds.
Off to Cory Joseph’s home of Toronto. I hope Pop gives him 4-5 minutes in the first half. Then, I expect Cory to be sent to Austin when the Spurs get back to Texas on their way to LA. Cory needs playing time and he’s just not getting it now. With Manu back, it is time to do what is best for Cory.