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