Tea for Two

Game Recaps

By Sarah Cilea

“Throwing the ball into the post settles your offense.”

Jeff Van Gundy once offered this commentary while working a Spurs game.  It was Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals.  The Spurs had just dumped the ball down to Tim Duncan on the left block; he responded with one of his patented turnaround-jumper-off-glass buckets.

At the time there were about three minutes to play till halftime.  The Spurs were looking to settle their offense because the Heat had just put together a run… and pulled within 15.

The circumstances were a little different Sunday night, a mid-January meeting between Texas teams.  The frost that San Antonians had awoken to Sunday morning seemed to still be hanging over the AT&T Center.  Both the Spurs and Mavericks started the game so cold that they combined for just 30 points in the first quarter.

Patty Mills threw a pass to David Robinson, sitting courtside in the second row.  It was only a few feet or about 13 years removed from landing in the hands of an active Spur.  Tony Parker rifled another off LaMarcus Aldridge’s head.  Boris Diaw attempted a three-pointer that hit nothing but the bottom of the net–from the outside.  Everything was a struggle and nothing was beautiful.

About the only part of the Spurs’ attack that did go well in the early going was a pair of Diaw buckets in the paint late in the first quarter.  It came as no surprise.

Over nearly four years with the Spurs, Diaw has cemented himself as a skeleton key of sorts.  When the Spurs’ offense finds itself locked up, Diaw routinely opens up the floor and the scoring.  With a little shimmy–an upfake here, a fadeaway there, above all, a thorough understanding of how to best use his body–Diaw creates an advantage.  He scores for himself, and creates inside-out opportunities for teammates.

His approach is deliberate.  There’s no hurry.  He always takes his time, and chaos dissolves into calm.

Last summer the Spurs laid out another place setting.  And during the third quarter of Sunday’s contest with the Mavericks, Aldridge pulled up a chair at Diaw’s tea party.  After he scored his first bucket of the quarter by collecting an errant Duncan shot and laying it home, the Spurs realized they should start serving him.

Over the next nine possessions the Spurs repeatedly fed Aldridge the ball.  Neither JaVale McGee, Dirk Nowitzki, Charlie Villanueva, nor anyone in the Mavericks’ organization had an answer.  In little more than four minutes Aldridge had scored 13 points in the quarter and extended what was an eight-point lead to 15.

Diaw entered to continue the good work, and the the game completely opened up for the Spurs.  They scored 98 points over the final three quarters, led by Aldridge’s 23 and Diaw’s 16.  Kawhi Leonard, who also got himself going in the post, had 15, and Jonathon Simmons scored 14 with a balanced inside-out attack that included going 2-for-2 from three.

In the end the Spurs rolled to a 112-83 victory, with the bench extending the lead in the fourth quarter and having no small amount of fun (see: Anderson-Green oop, Simmons wearing airplane wings better than Jason Terry ever did, Boban “taunting”) along the way.

The glacial start felt like a distant memory, and a couple of big men reminded everyone that a cold snap, even in-game, is often the perfect time for a tea break.

Big Three Signal Appears in the Detroit Sky, Spurs’ Vets Answer

Game Recaps

By Sarah Cilea

It was a rare sight.  Kawhi Leonard missing shots from three-point range–and from the mid-range, and the paint–has happened so infrequently this season that it feels like an anomaly on par with Halley’s Comet.  But it exists, rarity or not.  On Tuesday night, Leonard’s missed shots streaked across the court at the Palace of Auburn Hills clear as day.  He shot 1-of-7 and finished with fewer than ten points for just the second time this season.

With Leonard struggling to his worst game since the above mentioned cheesesteak sandwich was still in his system, a few familiar faces stepped out of the shadows to pick up the slack en route to a 109-99 victory.

Led by Tony Parker’s 31, the trio of Parker, Ginobili and Duncan combined for 60 points.  It was the first time their total scoring output hit that threshold since February 19, 2015 against the Clippers.

For his part, Parker was remarkable.  His most impressive stretch came when he opened the third quarter shooting a perfect 7-for-7 for 14 points in under five minutes.

 

His outburst helped to extend a halftime cushion.  When that cushion disappeared he returned early in the fourth quarter and was instrumental in closing the game.  Parker scored his season high on 13-of-19 shooting with four rebounds and three assists.

He also contributed to holding known Spur-killer Reggie Jackson to 3-of-13 shooting and five turnovers.  Parker not only fought over screens and pursued Jackson relentlessly, but his constant attack on the offensive end also wore on Jackson in demoralizing fashion.

Duncan had a strong all-around game.  He finished with 14 points (5-of-8), nine rebounds, three assists, four steals, two blocks, and essentially played young Pistons’ center and surefire future All-Star Andre Drummond to a standstill.

 

When Drummond sat with foul trouble, Duncan got reacquainted with former Spur Aron Baynes.

 

Baynes is no featherweight.  His solid frame leaning on a 39-year-old with a bad knee is not an ideal scenario for the Spurs.  It’s one reason, as Sean Elliott recalls only half jokingly, Gregg Popovich used to make sure Baynes and Duncan were on the same team when the Spurs scrimmaged.  But Duncan was not entirely inexperienced coming into Tuesday night, and he took care of the big Aussie about as well as he did outside that club in LA last summer.

Ginobili rounded out their triumvirate with 15 points, five rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal.  For a guy whose coach would rather he not play in any back-to-backs, he just put together a fine showing.  The two days off prior to the b2b probably helped, and Ginobili looked fresh.  He got plenty of lift out of his legs and shot the ball with a nice arc.

Ginobili went 2-of-5 from three in Detroit.  In fairness, two of those were attempts to beat the buzzer at the end of the first and second quarters, though he did manufacture a decent look on the latter of the two.

While the Big Three put together a vintage performance, their output was supplemented by another 22 points and 13 rebounds from LaMarcus Aldridge.  Aldridge beasted through the back-to-back with at least 20 and 10 on better than 50 percent shooting both nights.  His rapport with his teammates is growing and he’s starting to look as comfortable as a sheep on a Serta mattress.

All this underlines the ability that fills out this Spurs’ roster and the potential it gives the team.  Much has been made about a Next Three, or a new Big Two, or Kawhi Leonard taking the reins.  He and LaMarcus will have to be very good for the Spurs to get where they want to go.  But along the way they can afford an off night here and there.  This team is still built to share the burden and after all, the Big Three are still around.

“There are so many weapons on this team; it can be anyone any night.” – Tony Parker

A Year Later, Spurs Flex Newfound Depth Against Jazz

Game Recaps

Quin Snyder’s Utah Jazz are a disciplined, hard-playing, and talented group.  Unfortunately, they’ve also been bit by the injury bug.  Having lost guard Dante Exum to an ACL tear as he prepared for FIBA Oceania before the NBA season began, and finding themselves without three more players (Alec Burks, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert) who had accounted for nearly 40 points per game this season,  to stop the Spurs from improving to 21-0 in San Antonio was too much to ask on this night.  The Spurs rolled to victory, shooting 60 percent from the field and handing out 34 assists.  A season high eight Spurs scored in double figures and the team topped 120 points for a third straight game.

Considering the score, some of the games within the game were more interesting than the contest itself.  Here’s a look at a few.

Jan 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA;   San Antonio Spurs guard Jonathon Simmons (17) dunks a basket in the fourth quarter during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Secret Origins Of Jonathon Simmons

Game Recaps

It has been some time since the San Antonio Spurs needed any introductions. The core of the team has been together for several years, the Big Three since the dawn of time, and the biggest offseason acquisitions (LaMarcus Aldridge and David West) are tried-and-true veterans. 

Jonathon Simmons, however, is a relative mystery. When the undrafted rookie out of the University of Houston—having toiled away at a now defunct professional league, and for the Austin Toros—stepped to the free throw line for his first points in Milwaukee

during the second quarter, he was a curiosity greeted with good-natured heckling. 

After Simmons helped break open a close game with 12 points in the second quarter (4-for-5 shooting from the field, 4-for-5 from the free throw line), including a series of vicious dunks, Simmons was the first name off everyone’s lips. 

Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

Danny Green Awakens

Game Recaps

Danny Green and the San Antonio Spurs have always had a symbiotic relationship. The shooting guard provides room for his teammates to operate, and in return, they supply him with the shots he struggles to create for himself.

For years, Green has functioned as something of a barometer for the Spurs’ motion-heavy offense. When the ball is freely flowing, and the system right, Green is a devastating off-ball threat.

When the ball sticks, and the offense sputters, Green’s statistical output plummets.

This season, the Spurs have a new team with a different offensive hierarchy–which can be trouble for a player so reliant and in-tune with the old one. Shooters are creatures of habit, and in the Spurs’ new post and isolation-prominent attack, Green has had to adjust to an entirely different way of getting his shots. The lanes through which he navigated his off-ball choreography have fundamentally changed, warped to accommodate the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, and Kawhi Leonard’s (22 points, six rebounds, two assists) new status.

Sacramento Kings 95, San Antonio Spurs 92 – Aldridge Struggles in Debut

Game Recaps
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

Oct 8, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) dribbles the ball as Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) defends during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Crafting a post-centric offense requires a highly coordinated attack, which is something these San Antonio Spurs haven’t had time to build this early in the process—especially with key players missing. In LaMarcus Aldridge’s first game, the prize free agent acquisition struggled, scoring just eight points and three rebounds on 3-10 shooting.

Turning a back to the basket also means turning a back to defenses, so it’s imperative to have a read on the floor to know what angles are available to attack, and what room there is to counter. Likewise, passing to a stationary player involves some nuance, and giving defenses a target to hone in on can create turnovers and start such possessions on bad footing.

Without Tim Duncan or Tony Parker in the lineup to help move the pieces and organize such actions, Aldridge looked uncomfortable in his new surroundings—hoisting early shots, spinning into traffic, and missing on a few of his patented turnaround jumpers. Though there were some individual positive tidbits to glean from the starting lineup, as a unit they seemed discombobulated in the Spurs 92-95 loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Manu Ginobili Fuels Spurs’ Engine in Victory over Hornets

Game Recaps

manu ginobiliIn hostile territory with momentum turned and yet another large first half lead having dwindled to a single point in the fourth quarter, the San Antonio Spurs abandoned execution and rode the individual brilliance of Manu Ginobili to a 98-93 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

Clinging to an 86-85 lead with four minutes remaining, a series of dribble hand-offs failed to gain the Spurs any traction against an active Hornets’ defense. With less than 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock, Matt Bonner flipped the ball back to Ginboili, curling from the top of the key to his right towards the rim.

With Cody Zeller in his path and the ever looming Bismack Biyombo forming a wall behind him, Ginobili lofted a hanging, twisting prayer with his left hand and all momentum fading to his right, salvation found as the ball settled to the bottom of the net.

And so it was that every Hornets run was answered by one of Ginobili’s patented exaggerated Euro steps, knifing drives, or back-breaking three-pointers. In nearly 24 minutes Ginobili provided 27 points on 14 shots, yet it almost wasn’t enough.

Spurs win over the Timberwolves just one of those Daye(s)

Game Recaps

It’s been some time since Austin Daye played more than cleanup minutes for the San Antonio Spurs, so the Minnesota Timberwolves can be forgiven if they failed to include him in their scouting report.

Still, allowing a player–scouting report or not–to part your defense like Moses in the Red Sea and throw down anf uncontested dunk hardly seems like something that requires spelling out on the white board.

And yet, with a simple kick-out pass from Boris Diaw, Daye gave a shot fake to dismiss a lone rotating defender, driving all the way from the three-point line as the rest of the Timberwolves’ defense stood still and watched.

Spurs Wars Episode IV: A New “NOPE”

Game Recaps

In “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” the entirety of the Rebel Alliance’s attack plan on the Death Star relies on the exploitation of on flaw in the design: a small opening about two meters wide.

Hosting Star Wars night in the AT&T Center against the Detroit Pistons it was the San Antonio Spurs playing the role of the empire, firing away from the free throw line with the accuracy of a Storm Trooper, missing six in the fourth quarter.

With an opportunity to put the Pistons away, Tim Duncan reentered the game to inbound the ball, an errant pass sealing the Spurs fate as Brandon Jennings (13 points, seven assists) picked up the loose ball and ran the length of the court in less than seven parsecs (or, you know, seconds). The 104-105 loss by the San Antonio Spurs continues a search for any semblance of rhythm in a very disjointed season.

“Of all the losses [this season] it seems that there are a lot of minor mistakes here and there. We’re not where we need to be or want to be,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “We’re not able to close the way we have in the past and that’s uncharacteristic of this team.”

Greater fortunes seemed in store for the Spurs as they jumped out of the gate with a commanding 37-20 lead in the first quarter. Tony Parker made his long awaited return to the starting lineup and the Spurs responded with good ball movement and spacing, which got Tim Duncan going early, scoring nine of his 15 points in the first quarter.

Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich continued to utilize his hockey-line (5-for-5) substitution patterns, prompting the best game from Jeff Ayres this season (16 points, four rebounds) and another solid game from Boris Diaw (10 points on five shots).

The second half proved less fruitful for the struggling Spurs. Duncan played only a little more than seven minutes in the second half while Parker (three points and two assists in roughly 13 minutes) did not return to the court after halftime.

“He wanted to play, but I’m being conservative,” Popovich said. “He had 13 minutes. That’s good after sitting out as long as he did; make sure he doesn’t reinjure the thing.”

While the Spurs are waiting to add players returning from injury to make them whole, the Pistons have benefited from addition by subtraction. Since jettisoning Josh Smith the Pistons are now 6-0, led by their foreboding front line of Greg Monroe (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (20 points, 17 rebounds) as well as Jennings, their resurgent point guard.

Overpowering the Spurs, the Pistons used a 33-19 third quarter to overtake San Antonio. A flurry of fourth quarter three-pointers from the Spurs helped retake the lead, but five turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch provided the flaw in the design the upstart Pistons were able to exploit.

In the end, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t need an elaborate defense or Death Star. With a one point lead and a fraction of a second remaining, Spurs fans hoping for a sequel of the New Year’s Eve victory over the New Orleans Hornets were disappointed by Van Gundy’s brilliant strategy.

“Build a fucking wall,” Van Gundy shouted in his team’s huddle, a rallying cry that will reverberate in even galaxies far, far away. Out of the timeout the Spurs got a one-in-a-million attempts on a Manu Ginobili tip “shot.” But for those looking for a victory, these were not the Pistons you were looking for.

San Antonio Spurs 101, Washington Wizards 92: The CoJo and Bobo Show

Game Recaps
San Antonio Spurs point guard Cory Joseph slices through the Washington Wizards defense.

San Antonio Spurs point guard Cory Joseph slices through the Washington Wizards defense.

Heading into his fourth season, San Antonio Spurs point guard Cory Joseph was still a mystery to the NBA, though one that some light would be shed on with Patty Mills expected to miss half the season while recovering from shoulder surgery.

Injuries to Tony Parker, however, turned opportunity into necessity, which often breeds invention. And the Spurs have needed Joseph to reinvent himself from caretaker to playmaker, the evolution showing itself in the first half of the Spurs 102-91 victory over the Washington Wizards.

With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili struggling–each shooting 2-8 for the game–it was Joseph who kept the Spurs afloat in the first half, scoring 17 of his 19 points, while the Wizards torched the Spurs’ defense with 58 points on 60.5 percent shooting.