Aron Baynes’ statistical dream come true
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the ball move around the way it did last night for the Spurs. Well, at least since the first quarter of the Indiana game. But it wasn’t that side of the ball that sparked the flame. It was all about the defense on Tuesday night.
San Antonio’s defense has been a bit of a dumpster fire over the last four games. Maybe not a full-fledged inferno, but definitely one bag full of dirty diapers away from becoming one. The Spurs are giving up 107.8 points per 100 possessions over that stretch of games that included matchups with the Rockets, Hawks, Pacers and Raptors. That’s Brooklyn-Nets-level awful. And unfortunately, much of that has coincided with the injury to Tiago Splitter.
We’ve covered this ad nauseum, but the team’s defense has been bad without the big man on the floor. And last night marked the beginning of a quick, two-game East Coast swing in Toronto and Milwaukee, during which the Spurs would be without Splitter’s services as he rests his left calf. After the first quarter, Gregg Popovich was ready to tear up Tiago’s recent $36-million extension and just Fed-Ex him a max contract back in San Antonio.
Andrew wrote about it all last night: the decision to go with Jeff Ayres in the starting lineup did not work. It’s tough to fault anyone for that decision, however. Ayres has been solid defensively this season — though not so much as of late — and his mobility in the frontcourt alongside Tim Duncan seemed like it would work against an athletic big like Amir Johnson, who has been pretty damn good this season.
Yes, the Raptors were hitting shots, but the Spurs’ defense was a sieve. Valanciunas was killing Duncan who, in an effort to prolong his Hall-of-Fame career, has put himself in the type of physical condition (weight-wise) that isn’t ideal for defending these young, athletic NBA monsters. With Ayres (who isn’t the biggest big of them all) in the game, Duncan was essentially forced into Splitter’s role.
It no worky good.
But then there was Aron Baynes, the man-eating McDunkerton from Down Under. He had a career high 14 points to go along with six rebounds, but his mere presence made such a massive difference in the way San Antonio defended the paint.
I talked about it prior to the game last night, that this might be the situation in which we see Baynes get significant run. If you’ll recall, Valanciunas was the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League back in July, and he destroyed anyone and everyone that tried to guard him. He was just too good for the competition, except for Mr. Baynes.
Valanciunas’ worst performance of the summer by far came against the Spurs’ big man. He went 4-for-16 from the floor and was having major issues doing anything at all while Baynes was defending him. It was only summer league, sure, but it’s still a one-on-one matchup you could pull from. There isn’t much help defense in those glorified exhibitions, and team concepts are certainly not adhered to on a regular basis. That was Baynes just pushing the Toronto center around for 40 minutes.
In the first eight minutes or so of the first quarter, the biggest Jonas brother put up 10 points and was murdering San Antonio’s interior defense. Then Baynes checked in, and Val (I’m just gonna call him Val from now on) scored just four points on 1-of-3 shooting the rest of the way. And get this: in the 14 minutes Baynes and Val spent on the court together, Jonas was 0-for-2 from the floor and had zero points, one rebound, one assist, three fouls and four turnovers.
And it gets better. In Baynes’ 21 minutes of action, the Spurs scored at a rate of 146.8 points per 100 possessions and held the Raptors to just 88.7 points per 100 possessions. When he was off the court, San Antonio’s net rating was -11.1. (I will not show you Ayres’ numbers in this space, for they are NSFW and I don’t like graphic imagery like that.)
From the time Baynes checked in for the first time with 3:50 left in the first to just before the time he left the game for good (roughly 31 minutes of gameplay), San Antonio shot 59 percent from the floor, hit 11 threes and outscored Toronto 84-56 during that span.
I mean, just stop it, Baynesie!
Other thoughts from last night:
— Guess who’s killing ‘em softly right now? Manu Ginobili has quietly been on fire over the last month, and it doesn’t feel like many are talking about it. And I get it. It’s a long, long season, and what Manu does now isn’t nearly as important as what the Spurs need him to do later. It needs to be pointed out, though. Ginobili is shooting 50.5 percent from the field over the last 13 games, including 50 percent from the 3-point line! He’s playing just 22 minutes a night, which is important to point out, but his per-36 minute numbers are as follows (and please, spare any “well he’d fall apart if he played 36 minutes talk,” because we know the limitations and precautions this team takes with him already): 18.1 points, 8.4 assists, 5.8 rebounds and just 2.9 turnovers.
— And another thing: he’s leading the NBA in field-goal percentage on drives to the rim among players with at least 50 drives to the basket this season. (A drive is defined as any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks, per NBA.com.) Ginobili is shooting 76 percent in these situations (going into last night) and is shooting better than 68 percent from inside the restricted area this season. Keep an eye on all of this, because we’ll have more on the subject soon.
— Matt Bonner was back in Toronto last night, so it’s important we remember this moment:
Matty Bonner, the baby-faced enforcer.