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.

  • AS

    You mean, ONE of the stars playing better.
    Memphis threw his 2 best defenders over Manu, and he fouled out one of them and shook off the other one in rout to a 23 point / 5 assist performance.
    Tim has been consistent defending Gasol/Randolph and efficient in offense.
    Tony must step up and Pop should not play Bonner if he´s not hitting is 3 pointers.
    Just that.

  • SAJKinBigD

    Yay! The Voice of Sanity! I know it seems trite to some, but let’s trust those who are paid to make decisions and play for our favorite team to do what they do. This story pretty much summarizes what I’ve been telling all my Mavs-fan friends and co-workers (since I’m living in Enemy Territory): “It’s all good. No series is over until one team has FOUR wins.”
    I’m OUT!
    Go SPURS GO!

  • este

    Memphis is not a true #8 seed they tanked the end of the season in order to draw the Spurs. Based on talent and the level of play they are really a 6 seed and you can make the argument that they are better than the 5th Denver Nuggets.

    The reason Parker is playing poorly is directly attributable to Memphis D and not because Parker has just lost his mojo. The Lakers developed this strategy to beat the Spurs in 08 stay home on the three point shooters and pack the paint. The Spurs still have not figured out how to counter.

    The amateur coach in me would have Manu run the point on more possessions and substitute Splitter for Blair in the rotation to keep the Memphis bigs honest and make them pay for helping on dribble penetration.

  • DorieStreet

    Clear the smoke, clean the mirror–win game 4 tonight.

  • Bruno

    Sad true, but is too late now

  • TD BestEVER

    If we are going to have a Game chat we need to have it organized from 1 thread……. Like game 4 comments and then people just log on 30min before tip and start chatting

  • Bob

    Quote:
    “We’ve been one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league for 82 games. They’re not falling now,” Ginobili said. “We either have to find a way to get our teammates or guys more open, or we’ve got to attack more or do something else.”

    I think this sums it up perfectly. This is not the regular season where you can go a 6 game losing streak. Spurs need to find answers fast. The Spurs have the advantage on the perimeter but the Grizzlies have nullified that. But they can’t keep doing the same thing over and hoping to get different results. I think the Spurs need to mix it up. They should look to pound the ball inside some more. Beat the Grizzlies at their own game. Get high percentage buckets. They have a hall of fame power forward who has made a career out of doing that. To do that they will probably need Splitter so Duncan can go one on one on Randolph. Gasol’s playing him to a stand still. Pop shouldn’t have been so focused on creating a fool’s gold regular season record. He should have been developing Splitter for the playoffs and greater flexibility. Now the Spurs are stuck playing tough games that are 50/50 outcomes.

    The problem with starting McDyess is that it weakened the bench’s defense. Before if Blair/Bonner were getting killed inside they could use Dice to stop the bleeding. Now the Spurs take the lead or play even and then get killed when Bonner/Blair goes in.

  • Mark B

    The Spurs played their best first half of the series, and they’re up by 2. Whew. This is gonna be a rough one.

  • Titletown99030507d

    If Tiago can keep doing what he’s doing and get in sync with the boys it’s all over for the Grizz.

  • Mark B

    Not so much. 14-0 start for the Grizzlies. And counting.

  • Gomezd

    This guys arent missing any mid range jumpers, what the hell

  • DBAGuy

    they are shooting wide open, we don’t switch, we keep folloring under screen, just stupid stupid defense. I’m glad is over now, instead of getting whooped by OKC, these Spurs have sucked sucked big time, not one damn player has shown any damn balls this series. Fire the whole damn bunch and lets start fresh

  • Mark B

    Unfortunately, the Grizzlies aren’t the Mavs. Let’s see what the Spurs can do here, but I’m not confident.

  • NDSpursFan

    Wow this is getting really ugly from the lack of defense to guys wanting to play one on one and turning the ball over. It’s going to take a miracle at this point!

  • Gomezd

    what can you do now? how the hell do you get out of this hole?

  • Mark B

    Right now, as much as I hate to say it, the better team is winning. There’s no doubt who’s the better team tonight. They’ve just got to go back to San Antonio and try to win one.

  • NDSpursFan

    I hate to say this but there’s absolutely no intensity or desire left in the Spurs. The ball get’s kicked out to Battier in the corner he holds it and no one on the Spurs even attempts to get out there and put a hand in his face!

  • Titletown99030507d

    Yeah that was at half time, what do expect everybody is playing like it’s summer league

  • Titletown99030507d

    No 3 point barrages from our guys like earlier in the regular season?

  • Titletown99030507d

    Tragic. Let’s get one at our house and hope for the best.

  • Sam

    what a pathetic 2nd half.

  • TD BestEVER

    Where are all the Tiago can save us PEOPLE…….just look at these STATS
    Tiago’s 1st game in the series =
    1st game Memphis wins on the boards
    1st game Memphis shoots a higher % than we do
    1st game of the series that’s a COMPLETE BLOWOUT

    Is this a coincidence, Or is it the fact that is has BEEN BONNER ALL ALONG!!!!!!!!!!!! As long as Bonner gets a lot of PT we are doomed……

  • TD BestEVER

    Where are all the Tiago can save us PEOPLE…….just look at these STATS
    Tiago’s 1st game in the series =
    1st game Memphis wins on the boards
    1st game Memphis shoots a higher % than we do
    1st game of the series that’s a COMPLETE BLOWOUT

    Is this a coincidence, Or is it the fact that is has BEEN BONNER ALL ALONG!!!!!!!!!!!! As long as Bonner gets a lot of PT we are doomed……

  • TD BestEVER

    Where are all the Tiago can save us PEOPLE…….just look at these STATS
    Tiago’s 1st game in the series =
    1st game Memphis wins on the boards
    1st game Memphis shoots a higher % than we do
    1st game of the series that’s a COMPLETE BLOWOUT

    Is this a coincidence, Or is it the fact that is has BEEN BONNER ALL ALONG!!!!!!!!!!!! As long as Bonner gets a lot of PT we are doomed……

  • TD BestEVER

    That 2nd fact about FG% is wrong……….But 2 out of 3 isn’t bad………..

  • SpurMan

    This series is over. The better team won it tonight and even though we might win the next one, that won’t change the fact that Memphis is just the better team this year. Sad but true.

  • Mark B

    Well, the Spurs were completely outplayed tonight. I’d still like to see them win Thursday. I’m not going to worry about what happens after that.

  • Anonymous

    1st seed is being eliminated by 8th seed? Pathetic. Next time ppl will actually stop and think before being so hunky dory about the “best record in the league”. Well now we know it doesnt mean anything. The Spurs are the new Mavs.

    At this point, it’s time to start thinking about how to rebuild the team long term:

    1. Trade off and replace RJ, Parker, Bonner, McD, Quinn, and De Colo’s rights (if necessary)

    2. Bring in some length from the trade. Blair et al wont cut it.

    3. Start working on our new guys (Splitter, Butler, Green, Ryan, etc)

    4. Pick up something from our late first round ’11 draft, and either use it, or trade it.

    5. Start building around a core first round pick that we’ll get in 2012 once we miss the playoffs next season. Timmy is on his way out.

    6. Retire Pop. Bring in Coach Bud or whoever else that wont be so narrowminded about rookie/seniority issues.

    This team wont beat MEM. It needs major new blood. It’s time to think of a transition.

  • Mark B

    I really don’t think this one can be hung on Bonner. Everybody on the Spurs got outplayed. Popovich got outcoached. This was the worst team game … I’ve ever seen from the Spurs. And I’ve been watching them since the 90s.

  • bayareaspursfan

    What the hell is happening to the Spurs? I should have see the writing on the wall after the all-star break. They just lost it. I just hope they can pull the series out at home

  • Mark B

    Hollins is looking very smart for tanking the end of the regular season to get the Spurs.

  • Jimbo

    The Grizz are indeed the better team. Their strengths- two brutes upfront and a lot of athletic guards/wings, really cause the Spurs problems. It happened in the regular season, and it’s happening now. Oh well, I won’t give up hope just yet- win Game 5 and the Grizz will have a lot of pressure to close out in game 6.

    Bonner simply cannot be allowed on the floor any more, not even for one minute.

    The Spurs really overachieved in the regular season- winning 60 games with this team was a minor miracle. I didn’t have much hope for a title run, but it still sucks.

    They have to blow this team up in the offseason- the last two playoffs make that clear, despite the great regular season this year. The Spurs can’t match up with LA and Memphis, and OKC would be tough too. Denver too. Just too little size and athleticism.

  • ribanez1

    To the Spurs, here is a tip of the hat to all, past and present Spurs, for what they have accomplished, for the class they have displayed when they won and when they lost. No critiques, no excuses, and no amateur analysis just a sincere thank you for the great years. It has been a special run since Mr. Duncan arrived. Thank you

  • Titletown99030507d

    Hey a**h*le he was 1 rebound shy of a double double. You need to check yourself before you wreck yourself! Try looking at these numbers if you want to look at performances:

    Timmy – 6 points, 7 rebounds all in almost 30 minutes
    RJ- 0 points in 27 minutes
    Bonner – 4points, 2 rebounds in almost 17 minutes (those are Blair numbers)
    Blair – 1 rebound, 2 points in almost 6 minutes

    Splitter – 9 rebounds, 10 points in 21 minutes, read it and weep j*ck*ss he had the best showing out of all of the above. Even Sean said he could find no fault in his performance tonight especially not having played with this team in a good while. Go question Sean and get out of my hair you pesty bug with no logic.

    The way the rest of the team was playing if Balir played we would have lost by 40. LOL

  • Titletown99030507d

    This is probably the first time in this series they really got out played by Memphis and the other losses were careless stupid losses. The problem could also be at this point it’s all in their heads. and just aren’t playing the ball the are accustomed to. By now this is a total mind f**k for this team and Pop. Right about now they all have this look on faces including Pop like Scoobey’s HUHH?

  • Bob

    Anderson/Green can provide some athleticism. Splitter can provide some size. Pop saw the cracks and did nothing about it. Having the ability to play some good defense would be better than that fools gold regular season record. Spurs basically one by shooting lots of 3’s and pushing the break with little defense. They were a one trick pony. Whenever they played a game where they didn’t do enough of both they didn’t play to well. Like McHale said being able to play multiple styles is very useful.

  • Sam

    I can’t believe its over…

  • Sam

    I can’t believe its over…

  • Len

    RC has ALOT of work to do this offseason.

    Looking at the contracts of the current Spurs I can only say one thing for sure. Dice won’t be back. Other than that. Tony, Manu, Tim, RJ, Bonner, Hill, Neal, Splitter & Blair are all under contract next year.

    Sub Richards for Dice and that’s about it. Could be lean times for the Spurs until some big contracts expire.

    but, thanks for all the wonderful years Timmy, Manu and Tony. It’s been an amazing ride.

  • Len

    RC has ALOT of work to do this offseason.

    Looking at the contracts of the current Spurs I can only say one thing for sure. Dice won’t be back. Other than that. Tony, Manu, Tim, RJ, Bonner, Hill, Neal, Splitter & Blair are all under contract next year.

    Sub Richards for Dice and that’s about it. Could be lean times for the Spurs until some big contracts expire.

    but, thanks for all the wonderful years Timmy, Manu and Tony. It’s been an amazing ride.

  • Hassan

    Wow..what a disappointment…..I don’t think I can sleep tonight…sad to see…I don’t mind loosing if we competed but this was an embaracing butt whooping.

    We got outplayed completely..not Tiago’s fault, he actually played very well and definitely better than Bonner, McDyess(who lost his cool) and even Duncan(on his 35th birthday). The team has no energy no husstle and no defensive discipline at all.

    I hope they find a way to win next game just not to loose in front of their home fans….

    And again Bonner disappears in the playoffs, but add the $36 million dollar man(RJ) to the list of disappointments with 0 points….we are now stuck with him for 3 more seasons…wow.

    We are now going to be a good regular season team & out in 1st round for 2 yrs then Duncan retires & we are stuck with RJ/Bonner for yrs to come in the lottery….sad..just sad….

  • Hassan

    Wow..what a disappointment…..I don’t think I can sleep tonight…sad to see…I don’t mind loosing if we competed but this was an embaracing butt whooping.

    We got outplayed completely..not Tiago’s fault, he actually played very well and definitely better than Bonner, McDyess(who lost his cool) and even Duncan(on his 35th birthday). The team has no energy no husstle and no defensive discipline at all.

    I hope they find a way to win next game just not to loose in front of their home fans….

    And again Bonner disappears in the playoffs, but add the $36 million dollar man(RJ) to the list of disappointments with 0 points….we are now stuck with him for 3 more seasons…wow.

    We are now going to be a good regular season team & out in 1st round for 2 yrs then Duncan retires & we are stuck with RJ/Bonner for yrs to come in the lottery….sad..just sad….

  • Bob

    I thought the Spurs calling them out for it was a bad foreshadowing.

  • Bob

    I thought the Spurs calling them out for it was a bad foreshadowing.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Man I’m right there right behind you. How bout OJ Mayo? He ain’t happy in Memphis sharing time with Allen. Or is he not worth the trouble?

  • Titletown99030507d

    Man I’m right there right behind you. How bout OJ Mayo? He ain’t happy in Memphis sharing time with Allen. Or is he not worth the trouble?

  • Len

    And Anderson will get playing time next year. Butler has a great shot at some time at the 3.

    Honestly, I think Pop needs to recharge the batteries. He completely blew the rotations and peaking the team at the right time.

  • Len

    And Anderson will get playing time next year. Butler has a great shot at some time at the 3.

    Honestly, I think Pop needs to recharge the batteries. He completely blew the rotations and peaking the team at the right time.

  • TD BestEVER

    Splitter did ALMOST all of his damage VS….. Hamed Haddadi…SO lets not get too carried away…..All of that Defense that YOU and Others said he would bring didn’t happen at all……….. He did NOTHING to slow down Gasol/Randolph/Arthur……….

    So yes he played well…… But if Haddadi had been playing all along Memphis would probably not be winning this series……….. Also his low post game is still not there…… he just did a very good job of Moving Haddadi around and got to the Offensive glass……..

  • TD BestEVER

    Splitter did ALMOST all of his damage VS….. Hamed Haddadi…SO lets not get too carried away…..All of that Defense that YOU and Others said he would bring didn’t happen at all……….. He did NOTHING to slow down Gasol/Randolph/Arthur……….

    So yes he played well…… But if Haddadi had been playing all along Memphis would probably not be winning this series……….. Also his low post game is still not there…… he just did a very good job of Moving Haddadi around and got to the Offensive glass……..