Cutting through the smoke and mirrors, the Spurs are who they are

by

There is a magician in our midst and he will reveal himself in Memphis tonight. As magical as the NBA playoffs are, and we’ve seen our fair share of magical moments thus far, a seven game series is no place for illusions or parlor tricks; substance rises to the top.

In the Memphis/San Antonio series, one wonders which coach is the smoke and mirrors practitioner? Is it Gregg Popovich, tweaking and squeezing an unrealistic 61 wins out of what’s left of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili , while only surrounding them with late first round picks and players of second round value? Or is it Lionel Hollins, who for the moment has in fact made Tony Parker disappear? Where you stand on the question likely has a large say in what you think the San Antonio Spurs’ next move should be.

Understand though, the audience has the luxury of overreacting to rabbits being pulled out of hats. The head coach, on the other hand, is far too busy figuring out the mechanics of the deception. Either the San Antonio Spurs are the 61-win team their record indicates, or they were never good enough to win a fifth NBA championship in the first place. Popovich could make all the substitutions in the world and it would not change who the Spurs are at core.

Graydon Gordian has a theory on the Spurs: The Spurs, under Duncan and Popovich, beat the teams they are suppose to beat and are destroyed by those that are better than them. There are no smoke and mirrors.

This can be attributed in part to the words of Jacob Riis that adorns the locker room hallway. The metaphor for pounding the rock means, in part, to stay the course. Three games is not a series. At this point in the season the Spurs are who they are and they have already invested 85 swings of the hammer. Down 2-1 there is no magic answer; adjustments, like the difference in scoring margin between these two teams, will be subtle.

Because magicians do not get NBA championship rings, stonecutters do. A magical moment in the playoffs might swing a game, but not a series. Overreacting to the sleight of hand, however, could cost you.

The last time an eighth seed upset a one seed the Dallas Mavericks attempted a preemptive strike, removing Erik Dampier from the starting lineup in an attempt to keep pace with the fast tempo Golden State Warriors. On Saturday everything clicked perfectly for a cartilage deficient Brandon Roy, who led the Portland Trailblazers to an improbable comeback to even the series against the Dallas Mavericks. What should Dallas have learned?

Trends dictate that Roy’s knees are good for a once-a-month throwback performance. The odds say he will not be as big a factor the rest of the series unless Dallas makes him one by spending too much attention to a player whose minutes are more likely to be single digits than 30 minutes. Either Roy’s knees are suddenly healed or that moment will not recreate itself. Overreacting to Roy’s moment with excessive traps or lineup changes would be detrimental to the Mavericks.

The San Antonio Spurs enter Game 4 down 1-2 with an opportunity to even the series, which would leave them no better no worse than the Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks, the second and third seeds respectively. The margin of victory for the Memphis Grizzlies has been six points, a three-pointer from Shane Battier and a highly improbable one from Zach Randolph. Coin flips.

And yet the sleight of hand would have you believe the outcomes have been far, far worse. The narrative is the San Antonio Spurs are getting destroyed on the inside, and to a point there is something to that. But that’s just the sexy story; the impact is far more muted than one would believe.

After being questionable all season long the Spurs defense has surprisingly held up in all but the fourth quarter of Game 1. San Antonio has outrebounded Memphis, taking away one of the team’s constant strengths. And while Randolph and Gasol have proven problematic, their impact has not been insurmountable.

So stare at the curvy blonde assistant if you must, but you’ll miss the magician reaching into the secret compartment in his sleeve. The deception starts when you lose focus on what is really going on. The Spurs’ best players are simply underperforming; Memphis is seeing above average production from players like Mike Conley. The truth is plain to see.

Would Tiago Splitter help? I’m not opposed to the substitution, but let’s face it, he’s not the Spurs’ cure all. Lionel Hollins has simply taken away the Spurs’ 3-point shooters and bottled the lane, making Tony Parker all but disappear. The Spurs offense is broken. Take away everything else, and it comes down to the Spurs’ best players simply playing better. There is no great mystery here. The Spurs are a few possessions of better play away from a 3-0 series. And, of course, if the scales tilted the other way, the Spurs could easily be down 0-3.

No magic in the world is going to change that. Even if he does come from Brazil.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Good post, Man everybody was harping on that damn record. Who gives a shit now?
    “Don’t change what ain’t broke” used to piss me off because I new they needed to adjust that frikin Bonner/Blair combo coming of the bench the whole year and ignoring the chance to develop Splitter while they could. Too late now.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Good post, Man everybody was harping on that damn record. Who gives a shit now?
    “Don’t change what ain’t broke” used to piss me off because I new they needed to adjust that frikin Bonner/Blair combo coming of the bench the whole year and ignoring the chance to develop Splitter while they could. Too late now.

  • Bruno

    Lmao, like i said before, is just too late.
    U can put Kareem+Jordan and Spurs would lose. They haven’t psychological strength

    But Splitter played well.
    RJ/Hill/Duncan were so bad.

  • Bruno

    Lmao, like i said before, is just too late.
    U can put Kareem+Jordan and Spurs would lose. They haven’t psychological strength

    But Splitter played well.
    RJ/Hill/Duncan were so bad.

  • Titletown99030507d

    You need to give big Dave some cred too for having that bad back that kept him out the year they got the lottery. We really should have tanked last season to get another lottery pick. Damn! But still thanks Core 3 for the memories. Like to see Memphis or any other team go and get four championships in the next decade. From here on out its not going to be dominated by 1 or two teams anymore. There’s probably 4 or 5 teams that will share in the big prize within the next decade.

  • TD BestEVER

    just reviewed he play by play

    Splitter DID ALL OF HIS DAMAGE VS HADDADI……..

    he had 2pts/3rbs in 13min when Haddadi was on the bench

    And 8pts/6rbs in 9 min when Haddadi was on the court………

    Not sure if this says more about Splitter or Haddadi…… I’m guessing at this point considering how rarely he plays…… it’s more about Haddadi being really bad……….

  • Titletown99030507d

    At least we’ll be in the lottery.

  • Nima K.

    It wont matter though. Griz wont get past OKC.

  • SG

    Fire Pop…and start the rebuilding process…this era of Spurs ball is OVER! This was a JV high school team that played tonight….not an NBA team!

  • Titletown99030507d

    I bet you were one of those kids in grade school that hated to be wrong and always started throwing lies just to make yourself feel better. Read the other posts dude. Man your wrong guy. Get over yourself already.There’s plenty of posts to read and throw lies at. Face it man Splitter is just plain better than Blair. “Can you see the words coming out of my keyboard”. ala Chris Tucker

  • Hassan

    1- “Trade off and replace RJ, Parker, Bonner, McD, Quinn, and De Colo’s rights (if necessary) “.
    —–> Now why would anybody want to take off RJ & Bonner’s contracts off our hands…doubtful this
    happens, I think we are stuck with 1st round exits until Duncan retires…

    2- We need some defensive length specifically & perimeter defense too..
    ——> Blair can help if he learns to shoot from 14-18 foot, otherwise he should be end of bench warmer.

    3- Agree….

    4- ????

    5- I think we make the playoffs next season at number 6-8 and loose in 1st round again…

    6- DO NOT retire POP just let him go back to defensive pound the rock philosophy as he changed too
    much this year; maybe combine both offense and defense some.

  • Nima K.

    indeed. We did have a good run.

  • Nima K.

    Agree. JA has a bright future IMO.

  • Hassan

    I agree with you….
    Thanks for all the wonderful years Timmy, Manu and Tony. It’s been an amazing ride.

  • Len

    This is the first time I can remember Pop getting decisively outcoached. He was horrible. The play calling was atrocious.

    The 1st half, I saw Memphis going hi/lo to a big in the post about 4 times. It was a deja vu nightmare.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Hope they put out a DVD tribute from the core 3’s journey. I’ll pop (no pun) that sucker in my Blue Ray and watch it during the lean years to come until it wears out.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah good point, he needs the long vacation. Pop how could you have been so dumb! You blew the season. How ironic when Manu came to him in the off season and told him him we need to get out of the gate fast. They sure did but when they turned the last furlong they were running on fumes with no Valero in sight.

  • Hassan

    SPLITTER actually played descent against Gasol and botheredaoi his shot several times and had most of his STATs against Gasol not Haddadi….

  • Sam

    speaking of Ryan Richards…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiANnojm34I

  • Titletown99030507d

    That’s still better than Blair! LOL!

  • Hassan

    Splitter was actually the only guy even trying to block Darell Arthur’s dunk after arthur blocked TP on the defensive end and ran all the way for the Alley-oop dunk without anyone of our guards in the picture..

  • Titletown99030507d

    Also like Sean said he put the right screens at the right places and angles to allow others to get to the rim. But it’s not his fault only Manu could see this. Neal and Hill ignore Splitter and that I am glad to say will change next year. Even if Pop is back that will get addressed. That is a promise.

  • Titletown99030507d

    TD don’t respond to any of my posts anymore. My fingers are hurting. Quit already.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Maybe Blair will grow 6 inches in the off season, then I’ll be ok with him getting Bonner’s minutes.

  • miggy

    I’m still flabbergasted about why at the end of the season you bring Blair off the bench and start McDyess after winning so many games. I know hindsight is 20/20 and all, but don’t you go with what you won with? I know playoff basketball is different than regular season basketball, but I don’t see any other teams making those kind of changes when the playoffs started. Just doesn’t make sense.

  • TD BestEVER

    Blair would have played batter VS Haddadi as well….. also If Blair can develop a jump shot he will be very good…..if he can’t he is trade bait……. But my points earlier were simply to show you that Tiago can ONLY be the ANSWER if BONNER is the problem……. He can out play Blair all he wants as long as he does is against Haddadi, he didn’t slow down the other bigs anymore than Blair would have……… The problem has ALWAYS BEEN POP/TP/BONNER/RJ…..and in that order as well………..

  • TD BestEVER

    look at the replay, Arthur was BEHIND Splitter at halfcourt and just out ran him to the rim…………So he should have been the 1 trying to block the shot…..

  • Hassan

    thanks sam..this was nice to see Ryan for 1st time.. He plays PF right….????

  • Mark B

    Blair got in Popovich’s doghouse. I’m not sure what he did to earn it, but it was obvious. It’s clear that Blair needs to work on his game in the off season. With his height, he’s not going to be able to rely just on athleticism. He needs to look at what Zach Randolph is doing and see if he can put together the same kind of game.

  • TD BestEVER

    But he is still no more than a good back up……… You saw what happened to start the 3rd qt….. Splitter had to be subbed out because Gasol was all up in him……….. Yes this was when Memphis started that 14-0 run……. And all of that Defense that he was suppose to bring didn’t happen…… ALL he did was ABUSE a HORRIBLE player in Haddadi because Memphis was resting starters………IF he does this vs Gasol/Randolph/Arthur then I will give him probs, but not until then…

  • Hassan

    Don’t know about that…Memphis beat thunder 3-1 …. BUT granted that was before the Perkins/Mohammed trade which was awosome….

  • Hassan

    Gonna be an awsome series though….

  • TD BestEVER

    He needs to learn to shoot a 15ft jump shot……. But I agree with miggy, POP shouldn’t have changed the starting lineup unless it was to play Splitter……. and have Dice/Blair come off the bench……….. POP really needs to go…..what a lame job he has done this year………….

  • Sam

    No problem and yes he plays PF. He’s got a sweet stroke for a 6 10 guy and he is only 19. A Lamar Odom-esque player with more passion. Very versatile. He reminds me a lot of Perry Jones from Baylor.

  • Hassan

    I agree to some extent although most of the year we actually had Duncan & Blair as starters with Bonner playing with McDyess in bench…

  • Sam

    http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Ryan-Richards-1272/
    he is practically 7 feet with shoes on.

  • Hassan

    Great Idea…I will buy that CD too….

  • miggy

    Sorry, but I just can’t say that the Spurs are the new Mavs. The Mavs have never won anything.

  • Hassan

    It’s sad(but great) to see OKC’s Ibaka blocking shot after shot- up to 4 blocks in 2.5 quarters and averaging 4 blocks per game… I beleive he was drafted by Sam Presti(a spurs product) he was taken by a Spurs pick traded to OKC to get Kurt Thomas….
    Well we have passing of the torch to the OKC this seasulon to another Spur-like built team.. I will root for them in the absence of the Spurs…..

  • manufan

    Pop has no more tricks in his hat. He is done.

  • Colin Rigney

    “Spurs defense has surprisingly held up in all but the fourth quarter of Game 1″

    I’ve thought the Spurs defense the 2nd half of the past 2 games has been a throwback to their championship years by suffocating passing lanes and limiting their team to one shot possessions. But limiting the Grizz’ offense to one shot only makes a difference if you can convert at the other end. As the article states, the Spurs offense is the culprit here. Memphis has taken away the 3 pt shot and Parker’s penetration angles which are the lifeblood of this offense. Now it is incumbent upon the big 3 to play better. Take away a couple timely turnovers and missed 3 pt opportunities we would be up in the series 3-0 and vice versa. The Spurs need to value each possession more.

  • Bob

    Spurs might have been better of tanking games to get the Mavericks. That might have been their best possible first round matchup. That would have given them plenty of rest for the playoffs.

  • Dmarhop

    I agree. Splitter starting with Duncan would fair better with this strategy. Splitter is much stronger inside than McDyess. Attack Gasol and Randolf and get them into foul trouble and the penalty early. That weakens their offensive ability. This is the way the Spurs used to work, inside–out.
    Duncan needs more touches and our guards need to focus more on protecting the ball and playing better defense.

  • Colin Rigney

    Epic, systematic breakdown. Very hard to watch. Reminds me of that 3rd quarter against Phoenix last year.

  • Doggydogworld

    Besides that, Arthur was Splitter’s responsibility in the first place. And since Arthur had just made the play at the other end of the court there was no reason for Splitter to get beat. Just a mental lapse.