San Antonio Spurs 116, Philadelphia 76ers 93
AT&T CENTER — Corporate knowledge be damned, the San Antonio Spurs have been taking a new approach to the season. Those seeking evidence need look no further than starting center DeJuan Blair.
Neither a floor spacing big man, or shotblocking menace, Blair might be the shortest starting center in Spurs history, give or take a Malik Rose. Having struggled in a starting role through the first few games of the season, the second year big man earned his first double-double tonight by doing what the Spurs have found success in all season — stepping outside of their system.
After a quick flurry of jumpers from fellow undersized big man Elton Brand, Blair eschewed the tried and true positional defensive schemes of the Spurs and got proactive.
â€œEltonâ€™s a man. Heâ€™s amazing. Thatâ€™s who I looked up to when I was coming up and right now heâ€™s just amazing. It was good to get my groove against him,” Blair said.Â “He made a couple shots and I started playing around a little bit, fronting him,Â and I got the edge there.â€
Allowed clean catches and minimal pressure, Elton Brand hit three of his first five shots by simple turning and shooting over the top of the shorter Blair. Not deterred, Blair made a simple adjustment, taking the fight to Brand.
Fronting, swiping, showing quick hands to go with quick feet, Blair displayed a new defensive style these Spurs are increasingly becoming more comfortable with.
No longer blessed with two dominating shot-blocking presences or elite defensive perimeter defender in their starting lineup, the San Antonio Spurs have to find other ways to keep opposing offenses in check.
Tonight the Spurs created 10 steals and numerous other deflections on their way to 36 fast break points.
While the team is not actively trapping, or abandoning their rotation schemes, their newest personnel, and the additions of Manu Ginobili and DeJuan Blair to the starting lineup, have created more chaos for opposing teams.
For the 76ers, bringing the ball below shoulder level in the paint resulted in several hands swiping at the ball. Lazy or poor-angled entry passes turned into deflections. And rushed passes turned into layups at the other end.
â€œI thought for 48 minutes we played with a lot of energy,” Head Coach Gregg Popovich said. “We played good team defense with a lot of good individual efforts defensively.”
In a faster tempo, Tony Parker continues to thrive balancing his own scoring exploits with his teammates touches, leading the team in points, assists, and steals with 24-7-3.
For the game, five Spurs scored in double figures, four of them starters, none of them Tim Duncan.
But perhaps the most important number in a night of statistics was 27:35, as in the number of minutes Parker played in leading the Spurs in playing time. Only he, Ginobili and Richard Jefferson totaled more than 25 minutes.
Reading too much into tonight’s game is fruitless. The 76ers are a poor team who fell into the Spurs hands by making long 2-point pull-up jumpers their shot of choice.
Unlike this time last year, however, the Spurs are taking care of business. Even if it’s not business as usual.