Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Satan and His Minions Strike the First Blow
Well that was frustrating. I typically associate blowing a 20 point lead with a team like the Suns, not the Spurs. Despite how belabored and obnoxious that comeback was, I think this game offered a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
First and foremost, I don't think this Lakers team stopped us because of a uniquely impressive defensive effort in the 2nd half. They had a couple of nice stops, in particular a few memorable blocks here and there, but for the most part I just think the Spurs started missing their shots. Or worse, I think the Spurs stopped trusting their shots. How many times did you see a Spur step into an open look and either hesitate, dribble into a worse situation or pass into a worse situation? I can think of instances down the stretch in which Parker, Duncan, Udoka, and Bowen are all guilty of such moments of self-doubt. We played like a team trying to protect a lead, not a team trying to continue to build one, and against a team as potent as the Lakers that's not going to work. We're going to need to score consistently for 48 minutes to take this series.
That being said, a lot of things about this game left me confident. I am confident Parker can take Fisher off the dribble whenever he wants. The problem is Parker has a tendency to disappear in the 2nd half, like he did tonight. If he plays aggressively from 12:00 in the 1st to 00:00 in the 4th I have no doubt we will win this series. But that's up to him.
I am confident Bowen can slow down Bryant. Obviously Bryant's going to score points. A lot of points. But I think an important thing to notice is that he isn't consistently beating Bowen off the dribble, even though Bowen has lost a step this year. Mostly Bryant was scoring by stopping short and using his craftiness to get the open look. Over the course of a game, Bryant's cerebral calculus will out duel Bowen's insidious intellect, but its clear Bryant's going to have to work a little harder than normal. And that's all the edge the Spurs may need.
I am confident that we can slow down Odom. Coming into this series, a lot of people (myself included) identified Odom as the key match-up issue for the Spurs, and I recommended that we put Ime Udoka on him. Low and behold, Popovich followed my advice and Udoka consistently did an excellent job denying Odom on the perimeter and going pound-for-pound with him in the paint. I believe we have a solution to our Lamar Odom problem.
I am confident that our bench can out-perform their bench. This is probably a point where a lot of people disagree with me, and tonight only weakened my argument. Fundamentally I see it like this: The Lakers have a potentially excellent, but inconsistent bench, while the Spurs have a savvy, highly specialized, but inconsistent bench. Neither are going to show up every game, but I personally prefer the smart, focused role-playing of guys like Horry, Barry, Udoka, and Finley, to the momentum driven production of the Lakers bench. I imagine this argument will be settled by the end of this series.
I am confident Duncan can guard Pau Gasol. A couple of people (not Spurs people) have identified this as the series where Lakers fans get over their Gasol high. I agree with them more after tonight. I increasingly believe Gasol doesn't have strong moves to the basket and is less inventive with the ball in his hands than he initially seemed to be. Kobe will consistently draw the double and this will get him easy buckets. But open layups from Gasol are not my problem (or at least have little to do with guarding Gasol straight up. They are in fact, a huge problem). Duncan understands the task before him. I will humbly note that I was completely wrong; Popovich brought out Duncan on Gasol from the beginning.
I am confident Gasol cannot guard Duncan. Let's just be honest. Duncan commands the double and its up to Jackson whether he's going to give into it our not. Just because Tyson Chandler did a good job slowing down (not stopping) Duncan does not mean every team can afford to leave a single defender on him. Yes, Duncan had to earn his points tonight, but leaving him in a one-on-one scenario is a gamble to say the least.
I am confident Ginobili will not play abysmally the entire series. Because let's be honest. I love Manu. The man lights up my life. But he was awful out there. I understand that everybody has a cold shooting night. What really kills me is the turnovers.
I sat down to watch this game fully prepared to watch my Spurs lose by twenty. And although its gut-wrenching to watch us blow such a significant lead, I am confident.