Today is an off day and tomorrow is an off day. That’s too long to go without blathering about the Spurs.
Let’s get ready for that 2:30 tip on Saturday. I’m thinking tailgating is in order and I’m going with gin and tonics for my pre-gamer.
Tiago and Tim
The Raptors game was very interesting from a rotation point of view. The Raptors played a ton of small ball going with some combination of four from the Carter, Calderon, Butler, DeRozan, Forbes, and Barbosa group. Pop responded by playing a fair bit of small himself. Then, in the fourth quarter when Tiago was rolling, he just left Tim on the bench and let Tiago play it out. The noteworthy part is that Pop did it in a close game. The non-noteworthy part is that the Raptors had zero offensive threat from their bigs.
Tiago played great. I only remember one play where I thought “what the hell…” It was when he attacked the rim and put up a wild left-handed shot that missed everything. It was one of only two misses, the other on a short jump hook in the lane, so I find it interesting that when he misses a shot badly that it turns out to be about his only miss. The guy is remarkably effective at finishing around the rim.
I was really surprised that the Spurs made almost zero attempt to establish Tim in the paint in the early going. I don’t recall any four-downs where Tim was backing his man down. Only a couple face ups from the wings. It’s like Pop decided he didn’t want to win the game by taking advantage of their one clear edge: beasts in the paint.
Over the last several games, the Spurs have played very few teams with a scoring power forward. In fact, in the last 18 games we’ve only played three teams — four games — with a scoring power forward. Scola twice, Dirk, and Love. Tiago proved early in the season against Zach, Dirk, Love, Griffin, Aldridge, and Millsap that he can defend the scoring 4s in the West. I expect Tiago’s minutes alongside Tim to jump during these next three games.
After a string of truly terrible officiating, the refs in Toronto — James Capers, Scott Wall, and Scott Twardoski — were very good. Did they miss calls? Of course. But, I’d say they missed very few and they were very consistent.
And that travel on Tiago called by James Capers was a good call. When Tiago pivoted, he picked up his foot and moved it about six inches.
It seemed to me that Manu was looking a little more like Manu. He forced a couple really bad passes and seemed a little out of it on a couple defensive sequences, but he got up a really nice rhythm 3-pointer and also put in some good work chasing DeRozan. Manu will probably be “right” just as we hit the all-star break! Yay!
Matt Bonner’s Shot Selection
I continue to be baffled by how frequently Matt passes up a pretty decent look to pump-fake, put the ball on the floor for one dribble, and then make an ineffectual pass. If I’m Pop, I’m telling Matt to shoot until somebody blocks his shot. He’s a great shooter and he needs to be shooting 3s, not creating off the dribble. Think about this. When was the last time somebody blocked Matt’s shot? Can’t remember, can you? Well, that tells me he’s not shooting when he should be. He *has* to force guys to over commit to him. Too many times he passes up shots when guys are just closing out without attacking his shot.
The Spurs just beat three teams with three lackluster performances. In fact, I think the only game so far on the road trip that they can be moderately happy with is the Sixers win. They by no means played great, but they at least beat a good team on the road. The games against the Nets, Pistons, and Raptors were just disappointing performances. Wins, yes, and we’ll take them, but if you are looking at the bigger picture and thinking about how the team is playing, then you can’t be thrilled.
I predict that will change for the second half of the trip. I think the bump up in competition will help the guys re-focus. Expect the team to come out with a renewed sense of purpose against the Clippers on Saturday. I think we’ll go 3-1 and end the RRT with an 8-1 mark. 24-10 headed into the break is a really solid mark.
Strength of Schedule
I mentioned this the other day in a post, but heading into the game against the Nets or Pistons, we had played the hardest schedule in the league according to Hollinger. With that in mind, I went looking at the rest of the Spurs schedule to see if I could find the easy part. I did. It’s called April. During the month of April, the Spurs play 16 games. Of those 16 games, 11 are against teams who currently aren’t in the playoffs. Of the 5 against playoff teams, none are against teams who are in the top-6 (as of Saturday) in either conference. Three of the five are against the Lakers so that could change a lot during the season. The other two are Portland and Boston.
If the Spurs can hang strong during March, then they have a pretty good chance of stringing together a bunch of wins in April.