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San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets, May 7 [2017)

Ugh.

These are the games which suck to write about.

Games whose grammar is beyond repair.

As Gregg Popovich said, repeating a pithy meme which President Trump has made standard on Twitter, “Not good.”

A.K.A. “Bad.”

And not in some Michael Jackson sort of flipped logic.

The Spurs went from bad to better to worse to godawful.

And so now the challenge is clear.

San Antonio must decipher what they did so well that allowed them to win Games 2 & 3.

Houston, as is apparent, seems to have cracked the code of their own Game 1 success.

Cipher.  Code.

Sometimes Coach Popovich is right in his dismissive grumpiness.

“It’s just basketball,” I can imagine him saying.

But this is the guy with notecards in every pocket–the guy who has obsessively strategized every imaginable contingency.

And so Gregg Popovich is like the Roman god Janus.

Two faces.

One face says “no big deal”, while the other face is contorted in perplexed scrutiny.

And that is an asset.

Basketball is not war.  And war, obviously, is not basketball.

But that’s no reason why “deception in war” (the title of Jon Latimer’s intriguing book) cannot be superimposed (or otherwise imposed) upon basketball.

“All Warfare Is Based On Deception.”

…it says in my copy of Sun Tzu.

When one is getting one’s ass kicked, it is hard to convince anyone otherwise.

If you are getting beaten up in plain daylight, there are few judo/Jedi tricks I know of to flip the situation in your favor.

You have to fight back.

If you want to survive.

Or play dead 🙂

Pets are good at this.

Animals.

Which is to say, people.

And such.

But Coach Popovich doesn’t have much to work with when his team gets so thoroughly skunked as they did tonight.

But he’s in there with them.

You WANT a hard coach.  If you’re serious about winning.

But sometimes there’s no tirade to reverse the tide of collapse.

This one didn’t start well.

And though the team clawed back in it, they didn’t have the stamina (!) to make it a true competition.

Which brings us back to planning.

I credit Kenny Smith on his insightful halftime dissection of the Spurs’ defense.

It was something I hadn’t noticed.

In the first half, San Antonio was positively committed (in theory) to not giving up the long ball.

This led to some layups for Houston.

But that’s the tradeoff.

As Smith noted, however, the Spurs weren’t consistent enough with this approach.

Meaning, they didn’t execute this game-plan effectively.

There were lapses…

And those lapses add up.

You can’t give up the easy stuff (mildly destructive) AND some of the heavy stuff (very destructive).

If you are committed to deflecting all major attacks, then you must succeed at an almost-perfect rate.

Otherwise, you will be proverbially “nickeled and dimed” to death.

In such case, it’s the dimes which hurt.

And math rock bands probably count off “3, 4, 5” in honor of Pythagoras 🙂

So let’s talk numbers.

Everyone loves numbers!

On the plus side, LaMarcus Aldridge only played 25 minutes.

Kawhi Leonard only played 30 minutes.

They each scored 16 points.

That little extra freshness will be needed in Game 5.

Pau Gasol was effective.

And he only played 19 minutes.

Another extra-fresh player for Game 5.

Dejounte Murray had his first real impact on this series.

His 8 points were huge.

That is a very positive sign moving forward.

Danny Green played 26 minutes.

That’s not that much.

So all the Spurs’ starters should be in decent health (in terms of recent fatigue) for Game 5.

Another guy whose minutes we want to watch (because of his advanced age).

Manu Ginobili.

Only played 16 minutes.

So he was not unduly exhausted in trying to chase an out-of-reach game.

Smart move by Coach Popovich.

The only REAL highlight for the Spurs was, again, Jonathon Simmons.

He had a big impact.

Now it is up to the rest of the guys to match his focus.

He was relaxed, but energetic.

And he was effective.

He didn’t try to do too much.

Kyle Anderson also had some nice garbage minutes.

For Houston, everything worked (more or less).

Ryan Anderson finally broke out with some shots.

Trevor Ariza made shots.

Capela had a quiet night, but there were plenty to pick up the slack.

Patrick Beverley had a good, solid game.

James Harden was damned good!

But the dagger was Eric Gordon.

He burst out for 22 points…off the bench.

Simmons had 17 off the bench for the Spurs, but San Antonio was anemic at so many other roster spots.

Lou Williams also had a decent game for the Rockets.

And it was just too much.

The Rockets ran the Spurs ragged.

Much like that Game 1.

There were demoralizing stands on defense.

Chasing and switching and switching back and running off and chopping steps…over and over.

The only attenuating circumstance was that Houston’s Nenê had to be taken to the hospital with a groin injury.

Yikes!

That doesn’t sound good.

So, assuming he’s out at least one game, that means each team is down an important piece (Tony Parker for the Spurs).

While Nenê is not a starter, he is an important player off the bench for Houston.

So we will see…

What Game 5 has in store.

I am hoping the Spurs can recapture the magic of Game 3.

It’s not gonna be easy anymore.

Without Tony Parker.

These guys will have to figure things out.

And fast!

 

-PD

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