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.
Apr 21, 2015, 12:14 AM EDT
Pierce’s comments made him unpopular north of the border, but his play should bother the Raptors more.
Apr 20, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT
Jimmy Butler’s 31 points led the way.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
He was simply the most dominant player in Game 1 of the Mavericks vs. Rockets series.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:56 PM EDT
They did exactly that in Game 1.
Apr 20, 2015, 8:55 PM EDT
John Henson, O.J. Mayo, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah all got techs.
Apr 20, 2015, 8:50 PM EDT
I could try to use logic and suggest that discussing the complete legacy of Jordan with the incomplete legacy of James is a fool’s errand. But this is the Internet, logic is not always welcome.
Apr 20, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT
What you want to see as a Boston fan is Smart embrace the challenge.
Apr 20, 2015, 6:13 PM EDT
The Bulls should be in no rush to bring Hinrich back for this series.
Apr 20, 2015, 5:32 PM EDT
Also, Tyreke Evans is a game-time decision after his injury in the playoff opener.
Apr 20, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Rose was getting into the paint and making plays.
Apr 20, 2015, 4:06 PM EDT
The Clippers need a rebranding, but the leaked images are not winning over new fans.
Apr 20, 2015, 3:22 PM EDT
One of Ollie’s biggest fans? Kevin Durant
Monty Williams on Warriors home games: ‘I’m not so sure that the decibel level is legal there, and I’m serious’
Apr 20, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
Is Pelicans coach actually serious?
Apr 20, 2015, 2:03 PM EDT
Whom else would Heat president mean?
Apr 20, 2015, 1:26 PM EDT
Smith committed four fouls in 19 minutes in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 1
Apr 20, 2015, 12:38 PM EDT
Full voting included
Apr 20, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
And he’s not the only Portland player worried about Aldridge leaving
Apr 20, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Clippers tougher than Spurs in Game 1
Apr 20, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT
Admittedly, this was not the finest batch of questions in his postgame press conference
Apr 20, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT
And by fix, I mean smashing it and then tossing it aside when that doesn’t work
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Can Toronto keep Paul Pierce quiet on the court? 0
- Bulls overcome ugly start to take 2-0 series lead over Bucks 5
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Dallas has to find a way to deal with Dwight Howard 2
- Man arrested after fight over who is better, Michael Jordan or LeBron James 21
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Marcus Smart needs to take on Kyrie Irving challenge 2
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Pelican guards need to stay with Curry, Thompson 1
- PBT Extra: Matchup to watch in Bulls vs. Bucks, Derrick Rose vs. Michael Carter-Williams 6
- Pat Riley: ‘No more smiling faces with hidden agendas.’ That’s totally about LeBron, right? 33