San Antonio Spurs 109, Oklahoma City Thunder 105: Coach Pop has his [bleeping] bench

by

AT&T CENTER — It was the type of play that only Manu Ginobili used to be able to get away with. Gary Neal thought about taking the 3-pointer on the fast break, but thought better of it.

He took a couple of dribbles towards the basket; still mainly just Thunder defenders crossing halfcourt. Neal then dribbled back out to the 3-point line. And shot it.

“Might’ve been some furniture moving if I missed,” Gary Neal said after the game. Thankfully for him, it didn’t.

Otherwise, who knows what would’ve happened.

“I was wondering when the trade deadline was,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said when asked about his reaction to Neal’s shot.

Neal hit the 3-pointer, giving the Spurs a 88-80 lead late in the third quarter.  It was the standout play in a night chock-full of them for the Spurs rookie guard.

In the locker room post-game, Tony Parker marveled at the crowd waiting to talk to Neal. A crowd so big that Parker was able to sneak out without being bothered, only to be brought back into the locker room by a team official shortly after to answer questions.

Coach Pop wanted a bench this summer. After being swept by the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs last season, Coach Pop’s wishlist was simple: “a [bleeping] bench.”

Well, he’s got it. It’s not the deepest bench in the world. Most nights the Spurs go just eight or nine deep. But in terms of quality, it’s one of the best any Spurs team has had.

On Wednesday night, the San Antonio bench outscored the Thunder’s 45-32. Gary Neal scored 19 points and Matt Bonner had 12.

On the surface the Spurs bench looks one dimensional. They can shoot, but that’s about it. And there’s some truth to that, they sure can shoot. The Spurs second unit shot 8-11 from 3-point range against Oklahoma City.

But going deeper there’s an a full arsenal of skills for San Antonio. Neal’s ability to score in a variety of ways has been mentioned this season, but his playmaking ability was top notch against the Thunder.

“Gary Neal was super because he also assisted for about three or four layups in between making shots,” Coach Pop said. “He had a great run and played a complete game in that regard.”

Matt Bonner came up with a solid defensive performance on Jeff Green. Blair struggled early in the game on Green, but Bonner came in and, surprisingly enough, his defensive movement was great on Green.

The Thunder used Green frequently to set picks for Russell Westbrook, and Bonner was able to effectively help on the pick-and-roll and recover to Green, who was usually spotted-up on the perimeter.

George Hill shot just 3-8 from the floor in the Spurs win, but he put in some strong shifts defending Kevin Durant. Despite a disadvantage in both height and length, Hill was physical with Durant, and though 30 points doesn’t look great, it could’ve been much worse.

I’ve criticized Hill lack of court vision from time-to-time this season, but he made one play in the second half that really impressed me. In the third quarter the Spurs were in transition. Hill caught a pass near the free throw line extended and Neal was next to him, spotting up in the corner.

Hill could’ve easily just passed to Neal for a possibly-contested 3-pointer, but he didn’t. Instead, Hill took a dribble toward the basket, forcing a Thunder defender to commit to Hill. Then George passed out to Neal in the corner, who had all the time in the world to line up another 3-pointer.

Together the Spurs bench gives Coach Pop one of the best second units he’s had the fortune of coaching. If James Anderson is successfully integrated back into the rotation over the next few weeks, it becomes one stronger. All the better to take on the top of the Western Conference come April, May and June.

If only that Tiago Splitter thing had worked out better this year.

  • krista

    SG, I was just thinking the same thing. Jim Henderson annoyed me too much to bother reading any comments on this site. Looks like I’ll stay away until there is (hopefully) another banned poster.

  • Espoon

    @Mike

    The Spurs got spanked in the 2nd round by Phx (and one of the weakest Suns teams in the Nash era). Dallas has it’s own problems, so beating a #2 Dallas team doesn’t mean much if it aint in the confernce finals, this is team that gave up a 2-0 lead in the finals and then lost to a 8 seed in GS.

    I know injuries have been a factor in the Spurs recent lack of success in the playoffs but so has the roster. My main point was that if we are going to argue about trades and the Spurs organization, please stop this non-sense that the Spurs are always right, have done everthing great, and can do no wrong. It is one thing to trust in the Spurs and believe they have a good plan it is another thing to believe that their plan is the best possible one and they won’t/don’t make mistakes.

  • Espoon

    @Ed

    “I remember Nazr winning a ring….how long ago? He did barely enough NOT to screw it up for the Spurs, that’s it. Now all these years later I doubt he’s better than he was. I would take him as a FA or maybe for a 2nd round pick, but give up Splitter? No way.”

    I wasn’t arguing for a trade of Splitter for Mohammed. What you said now sounds alot more logical and makes sense. Before you made it seem like Nazr had no value and would be a waste. He did more than not screw it up, he made the team better.

    “I’ll consider a lot of things including trades but Splitter for Nazr Mohammed? Uh, no. Splitter for Nene’? OK, I’m on board there, but Nazr? He had his chance here, we’ve seen that show.”

    I just wanted to point out what he did and has done with that chance. That last sentence is what got me. We did see that show and it ended with a ring.

  • TD = Best EVER

    Statistically Nazr Mohammed can still get it done, especially in limited minutes. He is still top 17 in the league in both blocks/rebounds per 48 minutes played. So is he a good starting center, maybe not. But as a back up, he still rocks out.

  • ITGuy

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • Mike

    Yes, the Spurs lost to the Suns, in the 2ND ROUND. There are plenty of teams that would kill to get to the 2nd round, let alone make the playoffs. So unless you completely ignore beating a decent Dallas team, they didn’t get “destroyed”.

    As far as the FO, of course they make mistakes, Scola is a huge glaring star of one, however, to sit, contradict and post a bunch of garbage hypothetical about what the FO ‘should’ have done is equally as egregious. The only people that have any idea of the moves the FO have tried to make, or the steps they have tried to take to upgrade this team are the people in the FO.

    Continually winning makes it awfully tough to gain pieces that are easy to move to teams that want/need specific players.

  • DorieStreet

    @ Mike / Espoon

    Over HALF the league makes the playoffs each year; almost a third make the 2nd round.
    -’10 wc semis—lost by 9, 8, 14 & 6 in ONE week- 4 losses, NO wins=sweep. ‘Destroyed’ not accurate; but ‘busted’ or ‘flattened’ by the Suns- is. Espoon was just saying that a lot of fans create an aura around the FO’s moves & procedures. Part of this is fanned by the sports media–ironically, led by the (“lets ignore/dismiss the Spurs’ record season) ESPN/ABC gang. Their mantra in discussing the team’s success is to praise the scouting and signing of foreign talent, which has fueled the championship run when in reality, once you get past Tony & Manu, what late round finds have we mined and developed that joins 9 & 20 in Silver & Black lore? No one. Udrih: 3 pedestrian seasons in limited minutes; Barbosa & Dragic: drafted & traded immediately. Oberto: fulfilled his part in the sub role during ’06-07, but afterwards inadequate as the starter. And as you mentioned Scola—the first of the ‘Euro big man draft & stash’ moves; 0-2 so far, No. 3 is so far grading as ‘incomplete.’ You dismiss some all reviews of past FO ops as “hypothetical garbage.” An equal number of fans wax poetic at the “Midas Touch ” of RC & Pop. History and the truth lie somewhere in the middle.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ DorieStreet
    +10 – Well said Sr.

    @ everybody – WOW this article just hit the 150 posts mark……. I haven’t seen anything close to this in the past 6 months or so that I have been posting here…….lol….. way to keep the Convo up guys/gals

  • DorieStreet

    Oh —
    My very late observation of the 1st game back home from the nearly month-long wandering of the league-leading Silver & Black:

    When then OKC center Nened Krstic hit 2 jumpers-uncontested- within the first 1:40 minutes, I could not erase the sudden thought of this being a ‘rest vs. rust’ battle by the Spurs throughout the game. Sure enough, it was. The Thunder sliced & diced the Spurs, who hang in there with their own firepower striking back. On to the 2nd qtr, when the D steps up, and the team thumps OKC to the point where they almost run away and hide. Only 9 TOs in the game total, but the Spurs commit HALF of them in the 1st 9 minutes of the 3rd qtr– but flip the switch again and repeats the 1st half spurt. But (they’re going to be a TOUGH out) the Thunder takes the lead halfway through the sport and almost steals the game.
    Good win, going strong in 2 phases – 3pt shooting and assists on makes- to overcome the beatdown on the boards. It was especially gratifying not to give away a game lead in the div/conf lead in the first game back from the allstar break.

    Let’s go San Antonio–get these next 4 victories and square up the defense enroute before South Beach & Hollywood come to the house next weekend.
    GO SPURS GO!

  • DorieStreet

    @ TD=BE

    I didn’t post Thursday night/Friday morning because I was captivated by the point/counterpoint review that eventually erupted into an online ‘finger-to-chest, nose-to nose scrum. Got a little personal at times, but it goes to show: we can watch the same game and SEE differently. And add to that intense marathon was the backdrop of all those trades by so many squads. And since that guard from 300 miles north threw down the gaunlet (& his team is trying seriously to make his prediction come true), these last 25 games are going to make this stretch run all the more scintillating.

  • Mike

    @DorieStreet,

    The fact they pulled Tony and Manu as late picks in the draft is all the evidence I need to put faith in them. What other FO has been able to pull off two players like that in the late 1st and 2nd rounds?

  • Mike

    The fact of the matter is RC and Pops have been the best 1 – 2 punch compared to any team the past decade. The fact people want to fault them for not making ridiculous trades (see Ainge/Perkins), is utterly and completely ridiculous. This team wasn’t even projected to win 50 games this year with this team, yet they are currently 3 games away from 50 with 25 to go.

  • DorieStreet

    @ Mike

    Your faith and what other FOs have done with their late 1st & 2nd picks is not the issue. What is simply being stated is that those two great, franchise altering moves (along with the ’97 No. 1 overall pick) that happened in 1999 & 2001 were not followed up with acquistions of other foreign players to this team that have contributed so much. The sport media in general perpetuates this myth. That is the point being made, nothing else. Not a critiscism, just pointing out a misconception.

  • TD = Best EVER

    Jared Jeffries just got waived – we should pick him up and play him at the combo SF/PF position. He isn’t the best scorer. But he can lock up like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and should be cheap.

  • Tyler

    So this is what a Laker blog feels like…..

  • http://espn.com Ed

    @Espoon
    OK, I hear you. What I meant was the Nazr show resulted in a ring but also resulted in Pop sending Nazr packing, trying to improve. Go Spurs Go!!

  • Bankshot21

    Spurs have more hits than misses. Will any of you disagree with that? That’s where the “aura” comes from. We made the 08 WCF and was injury riddled since then. Anyone who is suggesting Manu’s broken nose didn’t contribute to our being swept is delusional. Manu was ripping the entire Association a new one before that injury. The year before we were without Manu entirely. We have the best FO hands down. Nobody is perfect. We drafted Scola. That’s a plus. We gave him up. That’s a minus. The two cancel each other out. Same goes for Dragic, Barbosa, and others. We have maximized the thought to be done players like Finley, Smitty, Big Dog, Dyess. This team has worked wonders and anyone who questions that needs to look @ their entire body of worked.

  • krista

    Bankshot21, I thought I was the only person who realized there was a correlation between Manu’s broken nose and the Spurs struggles against the Suns last year.

    Regarding all the drafted players that were traded, if my memory serves, both Dragic and Barbosa were pre-arranged trades, where the Suns picked them. And regarding Dragic, we got DeJuan Blair out of that trade, so I think we did OK.

    As far as Scola goes… the Spurs wanted him. He and/or his agent caused problems. Scola had multiple opportunities to buy out his Euro contracts during short windows of reduced buy out times during one or two summers earlier on. He let those windows pass. When he finally decided to buy out and come to the NBA, he wanted Manu money, which the Spurs were unwilling to commit. I don’t blame the Spurs for that either. Scola is the reason he was never a Spur.

    I’m not saying the front office is perfect, but they are the best in the NBA as far as I’m concerned. Then again, I don’t expect perfection.

  • http://espn.com Ed

    @Bankshot…..I would agree!

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