The easy headline for this game is that these two “veteran” teams went head-to-head in a surprisingly high scoring affair. The reality is neither team is either all that old or bad offensively. It was a high scoring game, because these are two contending, high scoring teams. The Spurs were without Kawhi and Jack, so the lineup and rotations were a little unusual all night. What was not unusual was Tiago Splitter, who played very solidly on both ends and was, at times, the most important Spur on the floor.
Song of the Game: Arlo Guthrie, “Alice’s Restaurant“
One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions. If you’ve never heard this, stop now and click the link. I’ll be here when you get back. It’s gonna take awhile.
Play of the Game: A 3 Where Everyone Does the Right Thing
2:35 in the 3rd, up 73-71. As much as I love to see a Pop play that leads to a bucket, I equally love to see a play that develops not because it was drawn up, but because everyone knew the system and understood what to do in each circumstance.
Diaw grabbed an offensive board from a Manu miss and went back to the left wing to Green. Danny has options to pass: Diaw is on the left block, Splitter in the right block, Manu at the right wing, and DeColo at the top. He chooses the skip pass to Manu and Tiago immediately (before Manu even has the ball) moves up the floor for a screen. Tiago rolls and gets a quick pass from Manu but is too far out to really do anything.
Meanwhile, the rest of the offense is doing what it does. Green has sagged all the way to the left corner and Diaw has stepped into the left flat to screen Green’s man, Paul Pierce. Nando, by the way, is also wide open at the top because his man, Rondo, has sagged on the Splitter roll as well. Tiago finds Danny in the corner, Diaw chips Pierce, and the result is a trey from Green off of an offensive board and everyone on the floor knowing what they are supposed to do. This is Spurs system basketball at its finest.
Trending Up: Tim, Chip Engelland
I could talk at length about how different Splitter looks this season and how much more Pop seems to trust him with Tim. Or about how awesome Tony was against Rondo. But let me take a turn to praise Tim Duncan. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but he actually seems more efficient so far this season than he was at the end of last season. Yes, he is still going to struggle against the uber-athletic bigs (like DeAndre Jordan and Serge Ibaka) but he put Garnett and Bass in the blender tonight. 20 points on 12 shots? And 15 boards? Ridiculous. I’m worried about his minutes with so many team injuries (and I suspect a night off in the upcoming 4-in-5 run), but he’s really getting it done on both ends.
Huge props to the shooting coach extraordinare Chip Engelland for his offseason work at the line with Splitter. His FT shot looks consistent and confident when he takes it. It’s not the form you’d teach anyone, but it works: this is the 3rd game this year Tiago has been perfect from the line with at least 5 attempts. Kudos Coach Chip.
Trending Down: The Rotation
I mentioned Pop experimenting with lineups and that trend continued tonight. Moreover, I suspect it will continue for some time, until everyone can get healthy and Pop can decide what his game rotation will look like. But I think it makes it harder for certain players to get comfortable and in a groove with irregular minutes. I suspect it will be January before we know who Pop’s goto lineup will be, but I think he may have found a closing lineup tonight. The Parker-Green-Manu-Duncan-Splitter lineup tonight seemed really effective at the end of the game.
Stat of the Game: Points Out of the Paint
If you read me at all, you know one of my big beefs is when this team takes too many tweeners – shots that are not for 3 and not in the paint. If you are looking for a game film to show a team on how to avoid these kinds of shots, tonight is a good one. 8 of 15 on tweeners – a good percentage, sure, but also a low number. It was good shooting and very good shot selection that overcame 18 turnovers.
Random Thought: Thankfulness
As sappy as it will sound, on this Thanksgiving Eve, I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to watch the Spurs with Pop and Timmy for all of these years (and David and Avery and Sean and all those who came before). I truly believe this is the best organization in major sports and it’s a thrill each season to know your favorite team will have a shot to win consistently and will be run with dignity and intelligence.
I’m also thankful to Wayne for the opportunity to write about my favorite team here in this space. Blogging about the Spurs has made these last few seasons more fun than I could imagine.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.