Thursday, May 15, 2008
The Saga Continues
I don't know how to react to this game. Traditionally, if the Spurs were to blow a team out by 20 in a do-or-die game 6, I'd be ecstatic. I'd be praising our tenacity on the offensive glass. I'd brag about the hailstorm of 3-pointers that just poured on the Hornets. I'd make some dubious claims about "momentum." But this series has just been too schizophrenic to display that level of confidence. Yes, obviously I'm excited. Obviously I think, despite the lopsided victories every home team has recorded this series, that the Spurs can go into New Orleans and take game 7. But I sat there this evening watching this game with a look of passivity and bemusement, rather than exuberance, because, to be honest, I don't know what to expect. How could anyone? This series does not make sense.
Let's get down to business:
David West: I wanna address two different topics here. First and foremost, I hope West is healthy for game seven. I want to beat this Hornets team, I really do, but I want to do it with our opponent at full strength. I am tired of people undermining the Spurs achievements by claiming some twist of fate put them over the hump. We can beat these guys with West on that floor, and I hope he is ready and able to play so we can prove that. That being said, I think its pretty obvious that Duncan can guard West effectively without getting into foul trouble. As I consider our match-ups, I'm increasingly confused why I didn't think to put Duncan on West from day one. Duncan is a perennial member of the All-NBA defensive team and West is their best post player. It should be as simple as that.
Composure: I've said repeatedly that West's inability to keep his cool would cause this team some trouble, and he continually reaffirms my point.
Stojakovic-Bowen: Initially Peja did a good job taking Bowen off the dribble. This is both the right move for NO and something I'm not that worried about. It'll probably happen a couple of times next game, but I don't believe the Hornets are gonna fall back on Peja's slashing or pull jumper to win this next one. For stretches, even when bowen was on the floor, we had Ginobili on Peja and Bowen on West, which actually worked out well. Ginobili is a fierce lock and follow defender as well and his height cannot be easily exploited by someone like Peja. Plus, Stojakovic isn't quick enough to create distance from Manu or take him off the dribble.
Perimeter shooting: Obviously I'm not gonna criticize our outside shooters, we shot magnificently. But that doesn't change the fact that I'd prefer guys taking it to the basket rather than settling for the jumper. Two concrete instances I can think of are Ginobili's 3-point attempts at the end of the half and the end of the 3rd. He had plenty of space to drive, but decided to try to twist the knife. He missed both, and I would have preferred him take it to the lane and a) get the easy layup or b) draw the foul. If we shoot like that again in game 7 I'll change my tune, but for now one good game doesn't restore my confidence in the long ball. One addendum to this: When I say "I'd prefer guys taking it to the basket rather than settling for the jumper," that does not include Bowen
Ginobili: That being said, Manu was killing it yesterday. He was COLD-BLOODED. He lit it up from beyond the arc and I liked it. He is the only Spur who, despite my earlier criticisms, I am truly confident in when he shoots a 3.
Horry: Horry actually played decently, but I wanna address the pick he set on West that sent West to the locker room. Obviously Horry has a history of hard fouls, the infamous "hip check" on Steve Nash being the most recent example. But I really think this was accidental. Much harder contact is made all the time, on both ends of the floor. I never want to see a player get hurt, and as I said earlier I hope West is ready to play in game 7. But I think the inevitable media backlash to what was a pretty straightforward pick is going to be completely unjustified, and is only because the player who set the pick was wearing 25.
Ed. Note: In the comments section someone correctly pointed out that the crowd was chanting "Horry" while West was on the floor. Whether I think the play was intentional or not, that is completely inappropriate and I found it embarrassing. I think that Spurs fans have a reputation for being classy fans, but last night I don't believe we lived up to it.
Chris Paul: Although I thought we gave up too many alley-oops, the general formula for stopping Paul worked: Let him score 20-30 points, but hold him to under 10 assists.
Duncan: I've already mentioned his defense, he deserves more than just one mention. His footwork and positioning were excellent. Against some younger, more athletic guys he pulled down a lot of crucial rebounds, particularly on the offensive end of the ball. For me, Duncan, even when he has a mediocre game, is the toughest to write about. What can I say? The man is a legend, and the fact that his 20-15 game seems like a solid but not great performance shows it all the more.
Ime Udoka: Udoka makes me proud time and time again. Yesterday, in an article I quoted by Jason Friedman, he referred to Udoka as Bowen's heir apparent. But his game is more diverse than that. Unlike Bowen, I don't have a small heart attack every time he puts the ball on the floor. Unlike Bowen, I'm confident he'll nail a catch-and-shoot mid-range jumper. Unlike Bowen, I'm comfortable assigning him to their best perimeter shooter or a potent post player. Unlike Bowen, I'm confident Udoka will hustle on the fast break and finish if Parker puts the ball in his hands. I have a lot of faith in Udoka's game.
Experience: Ginobili made a really good point in a press conference after game 5 I believe. When asked if the Spurs "experience" had helped them in this series, he said that experience only really plays a part when the game is close. It helps you remain calm. It helps you not make mental errors. But the nature of the wins in this series has negated its relevance.
There's a lot to be said before game 7, so I'll be back over the next couple of days with small reflections on each game from the series, as well as my opinions on what each team needs to do to get the W.