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.
PBT Extra: Klay Thompson’s done well, but Warriors should throw other defenders at James Harden, too
May 22, 2015, 4:59 PM EDT
It might help Thompson’s offense, too.
May 22, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT
Summer League is a perfect place for giving White another look.
May 22, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Give some credit to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who got back on defense.
Report: Lakers have ‘big-time’ interest in signing DeMarre Carroll, Celtics and Pistons also in pursuit
May 22, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT
Would they pay him the $15 million per season one NBA executive estimated the Hawks forward could get in free agency?
Report: Tom Thibodeau believed to prefer sitting out next season rather than helping Bulls by accepting trade
May 22, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
That could leave Magic, Pelicans, Bulls and Thibodeau in a bind
May 22, 2015, 1:28 PM EDT
Which probably means it’s his last in the NBA
Chandler Parsons won’t say whether his surgery was microfracture, might not be ready for training camp
May 22, 2015, 12:50 PM EDT
Tea leaves reading negative for Mavericks
May 22, 2015, 12:13 PM EDT
LeBron James poised for a big game
Report: Lakers not locked into drafting Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor, could pick a guard at No. 2
May 22, 2015, 11:38 AM EDT
That’d be D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay
May 22, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
Consider it Riley’s revenge
May 22, 2015, 10:25 AM EDT
Is his injury more serious than previously thought?
May 22, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT
May 22, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
Cavaliers will keep leaning on injured point guard – at least to some degree – anyway
May 22, 2015, 8:31 AM EDT
Barnes all but begged for the chance for a couple years.
May 22, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Stephen Curry and James Harden have been putting on a show for a couple games now.
May 22, 2015, 2:17 AM EDT
James Harden has been nothing short of brilliant for two games.
May 22, 2015, 12:06 AM EDT
Harden scores 38 points, just misses triple-double
May 21, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Donaghy was sent to prison for betting on NBA games while he was employed as a league official.
May 21, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Golden State was rolling early in Game 2.
May 21, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
The seven-footer may be a top-five selection.
- PBT Extra: Klay Thompson’s done well, but Warriors should throw other defenders at James Harden, too 0
- PBT Extra: Give Warriors defense some credit for stop of Harden on last play 0
- Lakers general manager says Kobe Bryant told him next season will be Kobe’s last with Lakers 13
- For two games James Harden has been brilliant, but that’s not what anybody is talking about 23
- Warriors survive James Harden in Game 2, take 2-0 lead in Western Conference finals 15
- PBT Extra: No DeMarre Carroll leaves Hawks in tough spot 3
- PBT Extra: J.R. makes case for hot hand theory, is loved in Cleveland 7
- PBT Extra: Draft Lottery winners start with Lakers 24