Lockout basketball and the Manu-less Spurs
AT&T Center–The thing about nuclear winter is that the aftermath has more to do with resourcefulness, luck and survival than it does actual skill. Thursday night’s game was a battle of attrition and the San Antonio Spurs were fortunate enough to land the night’s first blows.
Gary Neal, starting at Manu Ginobili’s vacated shooting guard spot in only his second game back, opened the game with a flurry of three-pointers and the Dallas Mavericks did not have the resolve to answer back. By the third quarter both teams were slogging through the motions trying simply to get through the night.
“San Antonio’s energy was better to start the game and that was the difference,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “We struggled, but their competitive level was higher and really, the decisive part was the first half.
“It’s a hit first league, they hit us first, and we didn’t respond well enough in the second half.”
This was the very definition of a lockout game:
lockout game|ˈläkˌout gām|
1.) A game played played in a compressed, shortened season as the result of a labor dispute in which the quality of play suffers enough to make one wish to divert their eyes.
2.) Any game in which San Antonio Spurs reserve Matt Bonner outscores future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki combined.
That second fact is enough to throw away the box score and bury the game film. Trying to affix any additional meaning to the game would be a fruitless endeavor, not that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will apologize for the victory.
“[The Mavericks] were on their fourth game in five nights, we were on our third in four nights, and neither team was very sharp,” Popovich said. “We happened to shoot well. We’re thrilled to have the win; we’re not going to give it away.
“Our guys played hard and we ended up with a good win, but both teams have a long way to go.”
There is a long way to go and a short time to do it in. There will be injuries, dead legs, and bipolar play from one night to the next. But the same goes for the entire NBA. This was an asterisk game in a season that will be full of them. There was no magical formula for defending Dirk Nowitzki (3-11, six points) the Spurs can replicate that a night of rest would not cure for the Mavericks. And as putrid as their three-point shooting was (1-19, 5.3%), the Spurs know there will be nights they easily match it.
“When we played at Houston we might have rivaled that,” Matt Bonner said, referring to the Spurs 85-105 loss to the Rockets in which his team shot 2-17 from three. “It was just one of those nights for them. They’re a much better shooting team, we know that and we have a lot of respect for them. We just caught them on a good night for us.”
As Bonner pointed out, there will be nights in which the schedule proves to be more dangerous than the opponent. Games the Spurs were never going to win. These are called accountable losses, and Popovich has had the Spurs taking advantage of them with rest and opportunities for younger guys over the past five years.
“It’s a long season and I think Pop understands that,” Tim Duncan said. “We’ll continue to spread it out, hopefully get a lot of games like this where we can rest guys and not wear ourselves out. Everybody’s got to do it.”
The Spurs of course will be doing it for a large stretch without the injured Manu Ginobili. While his prognosis (six weeks) was enough to bring thought of doom and gloom and talks of tanking, doesn’t the chaotic schedule soften the blow?
There are enough bad, undisciplined teams in the NBA for the Spurs to tread water on the legs of Tony Parker, a young second unit stocked with defenders and shooters, and the mind of Gregg Popovich. These are the games the Spurs have to win.
Then there are the games the Spurs can already pencil in as losses. That fourth game in five nights on the road in which all the Manu Ginobili’s in the world were never going to make a difference.
But between those games will be a minefield of asterisks. Games the Spurs would not have won otherwise without Ginobili that are made possible because in the chaos of a lockout game sometimes a Matt Bonner will inexplicably destroy a Hall of Famer (something about nuclear winters and the meek inheriting the Earth).
The Spurs might have lost their greatest closer when Manu Ginobili went down, but in the lengthy battle of attrition that is this NBA season, often times all that matters is who hits first.