Apr 5, 2012, 10:56 AM EDT
If the Spurs are going to win the title this season it will be on the back of Manu Ginobili. That has become abundantly clear over the past six weeks or so. The Spurs are facing what can genuinely be considered their 14th consecutive season of championship contention, which is, in every way possible, completely and totally amazingly bonkers. That’s consistency of a kind that we simply almost never see in the NBA. Not even the Lakers have truly been contenders for that length of time, and they have five titles to their credit. But in the past two years we’ve seen a dramatic shift from the gritty, patient, bore-a-hole-in-y0ur-head-and-suck-out-your-brains-with-a-vacuum-cleaner Spurs to an offensive juggernaut with defensive issues.
In March of last year, the Spurs defensive efficiency skyrocketed to 108.5 up from 101.1 for their season average. It was a trend few were examining until the playoffs came and all of a sudden the Spurs couldn’t stop the Memphis Grizzlies, eventually losing to them in the first round in one of the biggest upsets ever. For most of this season, the trend had been corrected. Unfortunately, over the past month, we see the same trend picking up as what bit them in March of last season.
So that’s not good (I ignored the four game stretch in December for sample size purposes and the two games in April. But let it be known those six games they were good defensively overall.) They were really locking down in February but March rolled around and things changed. Interestingly, both Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw, the two deadline and buy-out additions for the Spurs haven’t been the problem, the Spurs’ defensive efficiency is better than average with them on the court. It’s everyone around them that has slid backwards.
Does this mean that the Spurs are terrible at defense? Not at all. In the past ten games, the Spurs have the 9th best defensive efficiency in the 4th quarter. They’re quite capable of good defense and all signs point to their having a superior defensive front than last year. It’s just that they are clearly not a tremendous defensive team. They’re average-to-slightly-above-average, at least in the regular season. I had anticipated them turning it on in the playoffs last year, only to find defense to be the biggest reason they lost in the first round. Can they turn it on this year? Probably to a degree, but they won’t be winning with defense.
They’ll be winning with Ginobili.
Ginobili missed a large portion of the year with various injuries. To say that the Spurs have crept to this record because of Ginobili would be false. It’s been Tony Parker, and the bench’s brilliance, and Popovich’s coaching, and overall execution. But in the playoffs, when the margin between teams is narrowed to a handful of possessions, it will be Ginobili that will make the difference.
Like on plays like this.
As Spurs blog Pounding the Rock has described Ginobili:
The 34-year-old shooting guard (34 being considered as chronologically challenged in the NBA) carefully brings the basketball past half court methodically, seemingly taunting the defense. Ten eyes are scanning his every move. His passing ability alone warrants the defense’s undivided attention. Couple that with his quirky offensive game — a game is crafted with artifice, predicated on unique angles, balanced upon the threat of scoring from every part of the floor, his ambidextrous dribbling and the ability to draw fouls continuously — Manu Ginobili is still incredibly hard to stop despite having logged 652 games at the professional level (not counting his International experience).
Manu has always been as attuned as any player can be to the ebb and flow of a game; ready and able to deliver what his team needed from him at any point. For me, the worst part about watching the ’08 and ’09 playoffs, was having the involuntary thought, “Ok, Manu needs to step up now,” only to realize that he was in street clothes. If we can all agree that his sensitivity to where and how he needs to play is as advanced as it’s always seemed to be, then it’s a really short trip to believing that we’re seeing a metamorphosis in his game that will take him places we can only imagine. And that will take the team where it hasn’t been in five long years — into the Golden Hour, where the end of the day brings beauty, even as night closes in.
Ginobili’s continued excellence lies in his ability to make key plays. Not clutch plays. But well-timed conversions of low-percentage opportunities. Slipping between defenders and hitting the and-one when the lead has swelled to seven. Nabbing the steal when the offensive momentum is with the other team. Canning the open three when the defense loses him for just a second. These are the Ginobili plays that will make the most difference.
The Spurs’ defense is not where it needs to be. But it’s good enough. And when the playoffs come around, if Ginobili is playing at this level, there will be no first-round upset. There will be the Spurs, standing in the Thunder’s way, with every matchup advantage you can imagine.
The Spurs are the dark cloud on the horizon of the Western Conference. Ignore them at your peril.
May 20, 2013, 5:56 PM EDT
Would the Nets wait to hire a coach until Memphis is eliminated from the playoffs just so they can make a run at Lionel Hollins, whose contract expires after the season? If Scott Skiles is a top alternative, patience could make sense. What’s there to lose? Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times: Some NBA officials…
May 20, 2013, 5:32 PM EDT
The Nets were surely dejected when Phil Jackson turned them down, so it seems they want at least one coaching candidate who’s extremely unlikely to reject them. Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times (hat tip: Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball): the Nets also have put Scott Skiles on their short list. Skiles was fired…
May 20, 2013, 5:23 PM EDT
The Nets are pretty hamstrung with their roster this summer. Billy King did put together an interesting team to open the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, a team led by Deron Williams and Brook Lopez that was the fourth seed in the East. But he capped out the team to do it — they have $86…
May 20, 2013, 4:07 PM EDT
In the last three years and five of the last six, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft has been a player who declared after only one year of college basketball (Blake Griffin being the exception). At one point, Shabazz Muhammad was rated as the the No. 1 incoming freshman, so it’s reasonable he…
May 20, 2013, 3:59 PM EDT
The NBA Summer League is about rookies and guys trying to make NBA rosters — basically it’s guys 10-15 on the NBA bench and a bunch of players who will be in Europe next season battling it out to impress scouts. But each year a handful of name players (often top drafted rookies) are there…
May 20, 2013, 3:44 PM EDT
Amar’e Stoudemire just dealt with one of the more frustrating seasons of his career. A variety of injuries limited him to only 29 appearances and 23.5 minutes per game when he was healthy enough to suit up. And while he made a return to the Knicks’ lineup in the 2nd round against the Pacers, he…
May 20, 2013, 2:43 PM EDT
For the next five weeks PBT will be profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today we talk about Pitt’s star center. In today’s NBA player development matters a lot — draft a guy and for a few years bring him along slowly, develop his skills and mold him into a player…
May 20, 2013, 1:28 PM EDT
Fans of every lottery team have a simple solution for how to operate in a historically weak draft: Trade down. Of course, if you think this is a weak draft, other teams probably do too, and they’re not going to be so keen on trading up. But there might be one team interested in trading…
May 20, 2013, 1:25 PM EDT
It’s Dwight Howard silly rumor season. Everyone knows the Lakers are still the front-runners in this race but the latest reports have the Rockets and Mavericks at least in a good stalking position to make a move once this race moves into the home stretch. Other teams may try to get into the mix as…
May 20, 2013, 12:44 PM EDT
The Bobcats would receive the Trail Blazer’s first-round draft pick this year – a remnant of the Gerald Wallace trade – in the .001 percent chance Portland lands the No. 13 pick in tomorrow’s draft lottery. But Charlotte is doing a lot of work based on just that .001 percent chance. Rick Bonnell of charlotteobserver.com:…
May 20, 2013, 12:28 PM EDT
Bryan Colangelo is still going to be with the Toronto Raptors. But he is going to be on the other side of the building (at least metaphorically). By today the Raptors had to come to a decision on picking up Colangelo’s option as the franchise’s general manager and decision maker. And he is out in…
May 20, 2013, 11:52 AM EDT
The video above was a reminder to Alonzo Mourning that there is no privacy anymore. Not anywhere. (And if you think Jordan’s legacy would be the same in today’s world of cell phone video and 24-hour news/blog cycle as it was in his era… you should ask Steve Kerr about that rock show on the…
May 20, 2013, 11:03 AM EDT
There are a lot of coaching interview rumors right now — basically the same handful of guys interviewing for every open job while those fan bases dream of Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy. What follows is a wrap up of the weekend news from the coaching searches going on. • The Suns are going…
May 20, 2013, 10:33 AM EDT
If you watched Carmelo Anthony at all as he tried to carry the Knicks through the playoffs (often too single-handedly, but that’s another issue for another day), you could tell that his left shoulder was really bothering him. So it’s not a shock that a team doctor is about to have a look at it,…
May 20, 2013, 9:22 AM EDT
Zach Randolph recovered the opening tipoff in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, and he didn’t touch the ball again until the possession following the Grizzlies’ first timeout. Moments after cameras caught Randolph and Tim Duncan sharing a laugh coming out of that timeout, Randolph ran a seemingly designed pick-and-pop with Mike Conley, caught…
May 20, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Anyone need a 6’9” floor-stretching forward who hit 44.2 percent of his threes last year? A lot of teams could, which is why Mike Dunleavy Jr. is starting to draw some interest around the league, reports the Journal-Times. Apparently, Dunleavy’s fine playoff showing after a quality regular-season performance has impressed some other NBA folks as…
May 20, 2013, 7:58 AM EDT
Veteran NBA swingman Terrence Williams, who played last season with the Celtics, was arrested Sunday, according to multiple reports. The charges stem from a domestic violence dispute in Kent, Washington (a city between Seattle and Tacoma that is part of the metropolitan area near where he grew up), according to the Kent Reporter. The victim…
May 20, 2013, 1:26 AM EDT
I’m not sure about some of you. Did you really think Kobe Bryant was going to allow the last image of him on an NBA court to be that of him limping off after his Achilles injury? Does that seem like him? At all? Yet, when Kobe said he was going to make a major…
May 20, 2013, 1:02 AM EDT
When Lionel Hollins and the rest of the Grizzlies coaching staff put together the new game plan for Tuesday’s Game 2, job number one has to be stop Tony Parker and his penetration. Parker carved up the Memphis defense Sunday, as you can see in the video above. Hollins said after the game the Grizzlies…
May 19, 2013, 10:01 PM EDT
In getting to the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies played two teams that couldn’t put together solid execution on the offensive end of the floor anywhere near consistently over the course of those playoff series. A lot of the credit for that goes to the Memphis defense, of course. But in the first round, the…
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