San Antonio Spurs 119, Cleveland Cavaliers 113: “Duncan saved our ass”

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The San Antonio Spurs did not rely on good fortune for the victory, as they did when Vince Carter missed a last second shot the previous game. But it wasn’t exactly good basketball that beat the Cleveland Cavaliers either.

Instead the Spurs won simply because they had the best basketball player on the floor.

“Tim [Duncan] saved our ass. He obviously carried the whole night for us, he was great,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “But it shouldn’t have to be that way. We had one good quarter, decent quarter, of defense—the fourth. Up until that point it was embarrassing defense.”

Duncan was spectacular, putting together a second vintage performance in as many games with 30 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks, and four assists.

If the Spurs can take any solace in their performances over the past two or three weeks it’s that Duncan is finding his early season form after struggling through a knee injury incurred right before the All-Star game.

Over the past 10 games Duncan is averaging roughly 18 points and 11 rebounds per game on 54 percent shooting. Against the Cavaliers, Duncan was running the floor for easy layups, making fluid spins off contact in the post, and throwing down some authoritative dunks with some help from Manu Ginobili.

“We’re moving the ball and gone into the post a little more and it’s been effective. I still haven’t gotten my shot back the way I want it, but all-in-all I’m just trying to be aggressive,” Duncan said. “Manu did an awesome job tonight of feeding me in the post. I got a few easy layups off that.”

The Spurs did manage to pick up the pace and refocus their offensive execution on one side of the court.

In mixing up the ways in which they got Manu Ginobili the ball, finding him on the move in some sets instead of relying almost exclusively in the high pick and roll, the Spurs got a relatively efficient night from their struggling shooting guard.

Ginobili had 14 points on 4-9 shooting and 10 assists to three turnovers. Perhaps more encouraging is that given a chance to work on the periphery of the defense—as opposed to at the top of the key with the defense set—he’s still explosive enough to throw down an emphatic dunk, as he did at the end of the first half.

While Duncan, Ginobili, and Leonard helped carry the night, defense almost cost them the game. Giving up 90 points through three quarters to a Cavaliers team lacking its top two players is inexcusable. While the defense was generally bad for all but the final quarter, any non-Duncan lineups appeared absolutely dreadful.

“We did too many things wrong. We fouled them too much so we sent them to the line. We let them run, get offensive rebounds in the first half. It was everything,” Ginobili said. “We have to find a way to counter that and clean it up.”

Though a film session might be able to find flaws in executing the defensive schemes, the simplest analysis brings the Spurs defensive woes to individual faults.

There has to be more individual accountability towards containing their assignments. The Spurs don’t like to trap or double team. The system will account for weaker individual defenders, but it requires those defenders to at least corral their opponents into the right spots for help.

Without Irving, the Cavaliers did nothing special on offense. They simply beat the man in front of them off the dribble in a way that compromised the rest of the Spurs defense.

“It was individual blow-bys, then if do get beat someone should step up and take a charge or rotate, and we’re always a step late,” Ginobili said. “We have to step up and play better because the playoffs are just around the corner.”

  • Graham

    This has been a very disturbing trend. Parker’s absence shouldnt excuse this lackluster defense. Definitely seems like Pop’s fed up with the team’s effort on that end of the floor. Is complacency setting in? These uneven performances against bad teams should be an indicator of trouble. Maybe the team needs an absolute throttling at the hands of a real contender to shock them awake.

  • Sir Timothy

    It is funny that the Spurs are thought of as such a deep team with interchangeable parts…I think that Pop finally sees that his bench is really 9 deep, with six of those playing the biggest roles.

    It is true that everyone does their job and that on occasion the Spurs do play very well even without any of the best players on the floor, but it is really a core of 9 players that are going to get the minutes and 6 players that are really special.

    A 5th championship is going to be won by Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, Splitter, Green – the big 3 and the Little 3 (although the distinction is pretty small at this point with Leonard who is not a “little” anything).

    Other players will be significant in key situations, notably Jackson, Gary Neal, Diaw, and who knows who else might come up big. But, in close games, it is really up to those six players to play about 35 minutes each which is 210 out of 240 minutes. That leaves 30 minutes total for everyone else. Probably about 10 minutes each for the three guys named above. The games that are not as close will give more time for the “cube steaks!”

    In short, only 5 people can be on the floor at one time for each team, so it is very, very encouraging to see 4 of our top 6 players perform significantly better than last year (Duncan, Parker, Leonard, and Splitter) – and Icy-Hot is improved as well…only Ginobili is down from last year – but by how much? – by the playoffs I bet he is back to close to his 2012 form.

    Diaw is the same as last year and Jackson, too. They can provide some good minutes. Gary Neal might prove to be the sharp-shooter he was from 2011. It does not matter too much if Bonner and Blair have taken a step backwards and if Baynes is nowhere near ready they are not needed.

    The top guys are ready and Pop is ready to play them and stick with the short rotation in the playoffs and he is wanting to see what he has in those top guys right now. So do I…

    I do not care about performances against Minnesota, Dallas, and Cleveland. The Spurs dismantled the Thunder and the Clippers recently and some real tests are coming up next week. @ Houston, Denver, clippers, Miami, @ Memphis, perhaps (with Tony for all five or at least some of these?) Throw in Golden State and Utah this week certainly without Parker and I bet we will know where we are 7 games from now.

    When Tony went down, I predicted that we would be 51-16 at this point, and we are, so here is my next prediction: we win 5 of 7 – including a victory over the Heat!

    Go Spurs Go!

  • http://www.hyperboreans.com/heterodoxia The Heretic

    What happened to the Player Grades lately? :(

  • OBI-wan-ginobilli

    I like panic mode… as a franchise we are somewhere around 160-50 over the last 3 years. we go on a 6-4 run and everyone acts like the wheels fell off. we are winning the big games and losing to panzies…yes. Duncan looks GREAT again and Kawhi has developed into a VERY good basketball player at only 21 with decision making his only weakness. He has the total package. If Icy-hot stays hot for the playoffs then we are going to be VERY tough to beat. Danny Greens 3 point shooting will be the difference in how far we go. Ginobilli is getting important PT with the A squad and is almost recognizable as Manu the great… Our playoff run will depend on how well splitter and green play. Splitter when we go big and green when we go small Kawhi allows us now to play small and still rebound well. I agree with the post below. The end of march will tell us a lot about where we are with that tough schedule.

  • Graham

    I’m glad we are finding ways to win sloppy games, but the team doesn’t feel as crisp right now as earlier in the season. Maybe it really is missing the leadership Tony provides, but I just dont like the effort level collectively from the team right now. Still, the role players are a bright spot, coming along nicely. Come playoff time, they should be ready.

  • junierizzle

    I think the Spurs are tired of not having everyone healthy. TP will come back with just enough time to get into a rhythm. Also like TD maybe its good for TP to recharge before the playoffs.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Our guys seemed to have peaked a little too early and now dropped off a little where as the heat are still peaking. They’ll come back down to earth. It’s ok we have about 10 games to peak again and if we do we’ll be just fine. But then again peaking again will take the entire team to do it. Don’t know if we have the luxury to ride these players till the playoffs arrive and then kick it up a gear. That’s asking a lot especially from Timmy and Manu. So what is better peaking again or resting.

  • assistman

    I believe we will need vintage TD both to get past OKC, and also to upset Miami. I hope Pop and Tim realize that may be an absoulute neccessity as well.

    The other thing that we don’t ordinarily see but will need in those series is S-Jax in top form. Neal can give up too much, even if he’s hitting offensively, to lean on, and Green lives and dies from outside which won’t get you the final 8 wins, he’ll need to be a reliable placeholder for the more dynamic guys (MG, SJ, and KL) to come in and kill it. And yes, Diaw need to show up with their best stuff as well, to say nothing of TP and Manu. Those younger teams are just too good to beat with our regular season game.