New Orleans 91, San Antonio 102
R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich may still be combing the waiver wire and developmental league to fill their 13th roster spot following the unexpected release of Michael Finley, but in all likelihood the Spurs best chance of improving or adding another rotation player lies internally.
Matt Bonner, finding time in the rotation once again with Antonio McDyess out due to injury, paired with Keith Bogans to complement the Big Three in one of the Spurs’ most balanced performances of the season. Seven players scored in double figures and the Spurs won their third game in a row, putting space between them and the 9th and 10th seed as they look to extend their winning streak in Memphis tonight.
â€œWe’ll see if we can keep our rhythm going,â€ Popovich said. â€œIt’s real important this time of year to try to do that. It will build our confidence and build some consistency.â€
Building confidence and consistency is something Bonner has struggled with since returning from his broken hand. After hitting a few shots last game, the king of +/- was back to his winning ways (+8), providing some reliable outside shooting the Spurs have lacked over stretches this year, as Tim Varner pointed out:
Itâ€™s a bigger story thanÂ simply Bonner. Itâ€™s one of those truth by synecdoche moments. The thing San Antonio has lacked this season, perhaps more than anything else, even more than lock down defense, isÂ reliable shooting.
In the early weeks of the season, I drew attention to this problem and labeled itÂ San Antonioâ€™s silent shooting slump. At the time I explained away the problem as too many new faces, too little rhythm. But, of course, that kite doesnâ€™t fly. Not anymore.
The Spurs have a .361 3pt%Â this season, which isnâ€™t terrible. Â It still ranks in the leagueâ€™s top 10. But if the Spurs were two or three percent more accurate, theyâ€™d be a much better team, and for the reasons Winston cited above. Less transition baskets for opponents, better shots for the guys in white hats, and a higher eFG%.Â In other words,Â San Antonio would beÂ considerablyÂ more efficient on both sides of the ball.
Bonner entered the game with just under six minutes remaining in the first quarter and promptly hit a three on his way to 4-8 shooting for 12 points. Bonner has been an easy scape goat for many fans, but in a 15-20 minute role similar to what he played last night, he can be a valuable asset.
The Spurs were 12-20 from the three-point line, and with Bonner spacing the floor the Hornets defense had further to recover to, resulting in several open three-poiners and driving lanes Â off of the improved ball movement provided by the Red Rocket’s spacing.
But it’s rarely the offensive end where fans criticize Bonner. David West is one of the most difficult match-ups in the game and through the first half I tallied several good defensive possessions by Bonner. Then I looked at the box score and West is 6-for-6 from the field.
Few would claim that 22 points on 11-19 shooting is limiting a player, butÂ West could have done a lot more damage. Sometimes defense cannot be judged by the shots an opponent makes, but instead, by the shots that the opponent is prevented from taking.
And for a player that was not missing a shot, six attempts is a low number. Sure, West hit a few difficult jumpers, but for the most part Bonner was able to funnel West into the help, forcing him into a traveling violation and several harmless passes that gained no advantage.
West’s line is further mitigated by the struggles of his teammates. Only three Hornets scored in double figures (West, Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton) and no other player scored more than five points.
Stojakovic in particular struggled last night, finishing with three points on 1-for-10 shooting.
“We did a good job on Peja Stojakovic, that’s always a big key for us,” Popovich said. “Keith Bogans did a wonderful job and when Richard Jefferson had him, he did a good job. I thought that was important.”
Bogans, like Bonner, has been an easy scapegoat for Spurs fans and some statistical analysis suggests that he has been one of the Spurs least effective defenders.Â
For a night, however, Bogans was everything the Spurs envisioned, switching between Stojakovic andÂ a red-hot Marcus Thornton while providing an offensive spark of his own (15 points, 4-6 from the 3-point line).
â€œI get up a lot of shots in practice, and when I made my first couple, my teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open,â€ Bogans said.
The Spurs have a short turnaround tonight, having flown to Memphis right after the game. A win tonight could go a long way towards buying the Spurs some time to rest Tim Duncan for the playoffs.
That, and the reemergence of Bonner as a viable rotation player.