Tuesday, May 13, 2008
So, unlike previous declarations announcing supposed "must-win" games, the Spurs must actually win the two remaining games of this series or their season is over. Tonight had a lot of different dynamics to it, so let's not waste any time. Let's get down to business:
The 3rd quarter/half time: Not only has the 3rd quarter been the decisive quarter in all 5 games so far, but leading at half has kind of been a bad omen. I literally got a little sick to my stomach when the Spurs led at half. I just knew it was a bad sign.
Reggie Miller: Reggie Miller is an idiot. I can't believe TNT employs him. He doesn't merely have a poor grasp of the game, he has a hard time constructing a sentence. I would point out particularly irrational comments he made, but it may be impossible to decifer the good from the bad in his case. I would like to note that, when Joey crawford and Gregg Popovich were arguing near the end of the 1st quarter, he somehow felt it was appropriate to mention Rodney King. Yup, that Rodney King. Why? I do not know.
Magic Johnson: Although not as thoroughly inept as Reggie Miller, Magic is also an atrocious half-time commentator. He is unable to comment on anyone other than big-name players. He chose to sum up the game at half like this: In the second half, either Chris Paul or Tim Duncan will play better than the other and that will decide the game. Although Paul did in fact play better than Duncan, that is a ridiculously simplistic and overly "superstar" centered analysis. Has he ever heard, not so much of a particular role player, but of the concept of role players as a whole? How were he and Reggie such great players yet are such bad analysts?
Chris Paul: The Spurs pretty much completely abandoned their approach to guarding Paul in games 3 and 4. Instead of staying home on their man, they collapsed on Paul consistently giving the Hornets open mid-range shots. By "the Hornets" really I just mean David West.
David West: We need to make a fundamental decision about the way we approach guarding West. Tim Duncan is our best defender, and in my opinion does the best job against West. That being said, guarding their best front-court offensive weapon risks putting Duncan in foul trouble. Oberto and Thomas, on the other hand, merely did a mediocre job on him, while slipping into foul trouble nonetheless. We should make a decision one way or the other: Put Duncan on West, or, if we put Oberto or Thomas on West, we need to hammer him. But seriously. If they are gonna guard him, they need to foul him hard and consistently. They need to take him out of his game. They need to make him earn every shot. Its the playoffs, there should be no such thing as an easy bucket.
Refereeing: I said during my last recap that I don't talk about the refs. And, at least from a pro-Spurs perspective, I still don't. Nonetheless, I felt like the calls in this game were ticky-tack, and they were ticky-tack for both teams. Both teams got called on some absolute B.S. incidental contact. The most important thing is that the refs call it even, but for me personally I wish that evenness would be a bit more loosely defined.
Parker: I knew it. From the minute he gave us two fearless, aggressive games in a row, I knew it. Parker can get to the rim whenever he wants. He can get open mid-range shots whenever he wants. What happens is, sometimes that isn't what he wants. He can paradoxically be our bravest player and our most timid player. He continually refrained from taking his mid-range shots, while also not consistently taking it to the hole (or worse, realizing he hadn't been taking it to the hole, and then forcing it into the lane). He will lead us to dominance or doom. More than anyone else on that floor, I believe his play will lead us.
Perimeter shooting: I kind of called this one. I said that whoever shot better from the perimeter would win this game. And, that did and didn't happen. I haven't looked at the box score yet, but I can tell you that in the first half our 3-point shooting is the only thing that kept us in it, while in the second the Hornets 3-point shooting is what put them over the hump.
Perimeter shooting 2: With the game slipping away, but still within reach, the Spurs reverted to the same offensive strategy that failed us in games 1 and 2: get our role players open perimeter shots. In the first half our perimeter shooting clicked because it was natural. In the second it was born of desperation. You don't need to nail a string of 3's when you're down 12. You need to make a few layups and get a few stops. We seemed to forget that in the late third/early fourth.
Personnel Decisions (an addendum to "perimeter shooting 2"): Early in the fourth, with the Spurs down 12, Popovich had Ime Udoka, Brent Barry, Manu Ginobili, Michael Finley and Fabricio Oberto on the floor. I took a pretty serious issue with this. In those few minutes the game could have been a 2 possession game or a 6 possession game, and we need to take that risk seriously. Having our perimeter squad on the floor, as well as assigning Finley to David West in the post, did not allow us to make up any ground.
Duncan: The Hornets responded appropriately to Duncan's recent success. They stayed with a single defender until he committed to the hoop, and then crashed a second defender hard, forcing Duncan to think quickly on his feet. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but either way it was more effective than last game.
Homecourt Advantage: I don't actually understand why home teams are 1-17 so far in the conference semifinals. I know being at home is an advantage, but is it really that much of one?
Horry: I am happy Horry surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most playoff games played in. Does that mean he doesn't have to play anymore? Man, I hope so.
Well, it's really unnecessary to hype Thursday's game. The stakes are pretty self-evident. To be honest, I am still confident. This game reminded me less of game 2 (a genuine rout) and more of game 1 (a reasonably close game the final score of which oddly resembled a rout). Even if it was like game 2, clearly the Spurs were unintimidated once we were back in San Antonio. Well, no reason to dance around the issue. We've got to win Thursday. And we've got to take game 7 on the road. The first will be easier than the second, but neither is going to be a walk in the park.