San Antonio Spurs 97, Atlanta Hawks 90: Closing in by closing out

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Still a ways from playoff form, but closer to clinching home court advantage throughout, the San Antonio Spurs shook off the fourth quarter demons that plagued them through their six-game losing streak and defeated a short-handed Atlanta Hawks team 97-90.

Tonight was not so much about execution–though that’s not to say they failed to execute–as it was the individual talents and determination of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker.

The Big Three combined for 61 of the Spurs 97 points, with George Hill joining them as the only other Spurs player in double digit scoring. San Antonio shot 50 percent from the field, so it’s hard to call the offense inefficient, but the Spurs were absent the ball and player movement that has been a trademark of their efficient offense all season.

In all the Spurs recorded only 14 assists as a team, the lack of scoring and shot attempts from all role players save George Hill being a good indicator the ball was not moving around as much as we’ve grown accustomed to.

Instead Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker continued to call their own number, with Parker in particular causing damage for the Hawks on a series of spin moves and mid range jump shots on his way to 26 points on 10-16 shooting.

And while the game was far from pretty, sometimes against inferior teams it’s all about who can put the best player on the floor. The Atlanta Hawks have both the best and worst weapons you could think of to attack the Spurs defense, employing a mobile big man with range out to 20 feet and the less successful iso joe.

There are a few things the Spurs have struggled to defend all season, but give the defense a stationary target to latch onto and more often than not they’re going to be able to take it away.

On the other end, Hawks denied the Spurs three-point shooters quality most of the night, but at the expense of leaving the rim open for Manu Ginobili, who had more layups in one night than I can recall from the last several games. The Spurs hit a single three-pointer the entire night, which would normally have been disastrous  had it not been fore the Big Three getting to the line six times each.

To say the Spurs have been live by the three die by the three all season long would be inaccurate, as the team has also managed to get to the free throw line to help offset their numerous three-point attempts.

The Spurs return home Wednesday night with the magic number at 2 victories to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs thanks to a little help from the Utah Jazz knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers.

  • grego

    It’s good to see the Spurs winning in ways without the 3. That’s key because shooters do go cold at times.

    Both Gary Neal and Bonner are slumping as far as bench support, so hopefully they can clean up some of their rut. It does appear that teams have better scouted Neal and have adjusted. He’ll have to re-adjust.

  • ITGuy

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • Buckets50

    Pop is playing and sticking with some crazy lineups. I don’t understand why he keeps playing Bonner and Blair together a lot of the time.

    Bonner/Blair front court second unit = NO RING

    This time of year teams have adjusted their defence and are covering Bonner a lot more and are making it very difficult for him to spot up on open 3s. It happen every year with him in the playoffs and he doesn’t have any other game.

    Yes, it might open the court up more for Manu and Tony but the issue Bonner creates on defence cancels out any space he creates on offence.

  • rob

    Neal has stopped attacking the rim when closed out on 3 point shooting. Wonder why?

    Bonner’s history of hot and cold this time of year should not be a suprise…against a better team (if they played like this) would have been a loss. Thank goodness they managed a way to win despite poor production from the bench.

    I sincerely hope that the Bonner/Blair combo we’ve seen lately is only a passing fad.

    Two more wins for HCA. Hopefully that is finalized before the Laker game though it would make for some interesting drama if the Spurs/Laker game determined that.

    Go Spurs Go!!!

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    I am very pleased with the win. Fully expect to see Tiago Splitter get the start with Duncan and possibly McDyess on the bench tonight against the Kings.

    Spurs did just enough to win and gotta feel good about Duncan getting his while TP and Manu sliced and diced inside.

    I am not a huge fan of Bonner at all but for this team to excel in the 2011 NBA Playoffs the Spurs NEED to get some production from him and for Blair to find his groove again.

  • DorieStreet

    The ghost of Spurs defense past rose up last night at the ‘highlight factory’. Duncan made it difficult all game long for Al Horford, and a team effort kept Jamal Crawford from taking his hot start and richeting up to the “zone” level. But send an early Easter basket to Joe Johnson, who despite getting matched up against Parker numerous times (how was that happening?) chose to remain in his patented, half-circle, slow-dribble probe mode, instead of just rising up over defenders or stepping back to clear space for jumpers. (Tony seemed to be more game to guard JJ instead of Kirk Hinrich.)
    I guess Hill figured it was the Core 3’s night to be showcased in the ATL- I sensed a reluctance to step up ala Sunday’s performance.

    I am very concerned about the half-court offense in the 4th—not enough movement, too much handling/dribbling by Manu.

  • SAJKinBigD

    I want to know why the bench was so shortened – If the shot wasn’t dropping for guys, why not pop in one of the last three on the bench (Neo, Splitter, Quinn)? Couldn’t have hurt, could it?

  • Junierizzle

    Ive never thought of the spurs as a “live by the three die by the three” team. Yes they shoot a lot of threes but a lot of them are open looks. If youre open shoot it. Theyre not the magic shooting step back threes or threes with people draped all over them.
    They can totally win without the 3.

  • Timmay

    You could see in the end of the fourth that TP refused to give Manu the ball which was good. Manu has struggled lately and when TPs jumper is going like last night Tony should be the man having the ball in the last minutes/seconds of a ball game.

    Hopefully Splitter plays 20+ min against the Kings.

  • idahospur

    In years of playoff success I always remember the Spurs having a reliable 3-point shooter (Kerr, Horry). I have also seen them struggle without one, needing someone who can close those gaps at the end of the game. This year, we have Neal, Bonner, Manu, RJ from the corner. It’s good we have these shooters, but we shouldn’t get in the position where we must rely on them.

  • WH Silver

    Scene of the Grime report: As a Hawks fan since the 70s while a Spurs devotee for a modest 16 years (why not root for a Western Conference team as well if your team’s in the East?) here in Atlanta, attending these games used to be bittersweet (with the Spurs often victorious). I’ve been over that for a few years now.

    An ugly game but informative considering the Spurs situation coming in. One sensed they wanted this win badly (playoff starting lineup, Lakers nipping) but it was cat-and-mouse through 3 qtrs. Eminently forgettable.

    Then the gloves came off. With Josh Smith held out to rest a sore knee and TP tp’g at will, it became obvious to a certain Argentinian that there was hay to be made in the lane. All game the Spurs eschewed the 3-ball (8 total attempts) but once the 4th sounded Manu took over. Best of all, Team D got back to that clamp-down mentality once they got the lead and closed out the Birds.

    No tears were shed by this reporter.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Bry

    The Spurs don’t ‘rely’ on the three. They are the same as the other teams that had a dominant low-post scorer for years. Teams normally can’t double the post AND defend the three well, so Duncan’s team inevitably had 3-point shooters (just like Shaq’s). They don’t live or die by it, because they are taking open 3’s, normally from the corner.
    In the 4th quarter last night JJ was being defended by everybody at some point. It looked like the Spurs were under specific directions to switch on the high pick they were setting for Johnson. I thought he made mostly bad decisions off of the switch-ups (he usually had a big teammate being defended by a gaurd that completely ignored) and often took a low-percentage shot in traffic. A couple times he just tried to shoot over Duncan, which is almost always a poor shot selection. Parker, meanwhile, just ran poor Heinrich off screen after screen and eventually got a wide-open look for a high-percentage shot.

  • betsyduncan

    Great (albeit nerve-wracking, at times!) game!
    We need to turn the Kings into peasants tonight!
    SO happy that the Fakers lost last night and here’s to the Celts doing to the Bulls what they did to us!

  • jwalt

    Am I the only depressed fan from last night? Biggest game of the year and we played like poop. This was not just one of out 82. This is not December. Plus Atlanta is terrible. They wouldn’t make the playoffs in the West. And they didn’t even care, sat Josh Smith, and still had the lead for most of the game.

    Yes, we won. But we did not look like a champioship caliber team. And the time is here to show who you really are. I’m sad because I fear the answer.

  • ITGuy

    @SAJKinBigD
    “If the shot wasn’t dropping for guys, why not pop in one of the last three on the bench (Neo, Splitter, Quinn)? Couldn’t have hurt, could it?”

    Maybe because Neo and Quinn were sitting behind the bench in suits??

    It’s crazy trying to figure out why Pop doesn’t play TS more.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com JTEX

    I loved my Spurs for the last 38 years. You fan’s blind loyality is admirable. I know this will P.O. many here. This is just a guesstimate but I’d think the odds are 35% for 65% against the Spurs making it to the finals. I’m not sure if when the regular season is over they can try to pick up a quality big man available from a team out of the playoff picture. If they can the should seriously consider it. The upcoming game against the Lakers, should again prove the Spurs aren’t big enough up front to win it all, unless lady luck is with us. I know our six game losing streak, the Spurs had key players injured and were just rusty even with the big 3 back. The perimeter game is a thing of beauty when it’s working but when it’s shut down, it shows the Spurs real weakness up front and in the middle on the boards. Sure hope I’m wrong. If are lucky enough to make it to the finals, I hope it’s not against the Bulls. Crucify me if you want but standing pat at the trade deadline, when we could of had Perkins, cost us dearly!!!!!!!

  • betsyduncan

    JTEX: I’m sorry that you feel so dejected and that your crystal ball tells you to give up on the Spurs now, even before the playoffs begin…
    For me, I’m going to enjoy seeing how my team plays in the weeks ahead. I will live and die with every win and loss. I will cheer them on and enjoy the ride. Wish you could, too.

  • junierizzle

    @jwalt

    I know what you mean. Sometimes it just looks like the SPURS don’t care. But it isn’t that they don’t care, they just care enough. They never get rattled, never show too much emotion. That is their style.

  • MSteele

    @jwalt
    “Biggest game of the year and we played like poop. This was not just one of out 82.”
    What a load of absolute trash. This game meant absolutely nothing to how our season is going to pan out. It was exactly what you said it wasn’t, one of the 82. We didn’t have a lot of ball movement but we played solid basketball. Defense was alright but could have been better.

    @JTEX
    Don’t be ridiculous, we never had a chance at getting Perkins. Boston wanted a player who could play backup 3 and 4 minutes. Who would we have given??? Nor would they have given us a player who would help us dearly, in winning another championship.

  • Joe

    Spurs are playing with uncertainty still and that is the serious problem. It is slowly getting better with the 2 recent wins. But, worries began to hit the Spurs before the 6 game slide in March. It was really the big loss to L.A. and then the big loss to Miami in early March that were the eye openers. The Spurs can lose, but they never even were in the game on those, and it was because of no defense. It didn’t matter if the Spurs scored 150, the other team would’ve made more. They have to get out of that mindset. This small ball, outside shooting without getting your hands dirty basketball and not driving the lane and causing problems for the core of the other teams defense. When the Spurs were winning championships, their offense gave strength to their defense. Because they attacked the basket so much, if I were the Spurs I would shoot the 3 less because then it won’t put pressure on the 3 but instead pressure on the defense. When Spurs get in the “street ball” mindset it’s first to 100 wins, and that is not good in the playoffs.

  • Titletown99030507d

    @Bry,

    “The Spurs don’t ‘rely’ on the three. They are the same as the other teams that had a dominant low-post scorer for years.

    Then why do they have the nasty habit of going back to the well clank after clank? It is then that hey have to concentrated on posting up Duncan primarily until some one can get lose and slash the paint for the high % shots then maybe after that success go after the 3 again. Sometimes they just don’t seem to know when to stop that nonsense even if they’re open ala Baonner when he ain’t hitting his shots and looks to pass of right away or dance with the ball and even worse try to go in to the paint as if he going to get himself an easy two just to miss or get blocked. That my friend is reserved for those that have been there done it many a times such as an RJ, Manu, Tony, or even a Neal.

  • Kintaro

    Haha, don’t forget that Boston presented Perkins with an offer, only for Perkins to turn it down! Yea, the Spurs always have luck signing guys looking for a big payday.

  • Titletown99030507d

    @ITGuy,

    “It’s crazy trying to figure out why Pop doesn’t play TS more.”

    I think he has a soft spot for Blair and Bonner. He feels obligated to them. That’s the only logical answer I can give you. Because its not about performance. Those Blair stats some people are harping on are no better than TS and with TS you get a wall of defense waiting for you at the rim. Not to mention on the other end some crafty little moves around the rim with good results.
    I’ll never get it either. I wish I could be a nanobot and cruise Pop’s little mind and see why he does this and what he really thinks about TS.

  • Titletown99030507d

    @,JTEX,

    “I’m not sure if when the regular season is over they can try to pick up a quality big man available from a team out of the playoff picture. If they can the should seriously consider it. ”

    And what would your starting line up and bench lineup be after you pick up this quality big man?

    You have one already he’s 7 foot and sits the bench more than he should. But I’d like your opinion as to what line ups would look like after this quality big man is here.

  • Fitzbert

    Why is Splitter still on the bench when Bonner or Blair are not playing well?

  • Titletown99030507d

    @MSteele,

    “What a load of absolute trash. This game meant absolutely nothing to how our season is going to pan out. …”

    I have to disagree. Playing any games at this point of the season unless Timmy absolutely doesn’t play for the sake of rest or whatever they need to be playing at a higher level even against the Hawks. You need to put teams away if you can if not, at least decisively by the end of the game. Not by 5-7 points late in the fourth. Do you think elite teams are happy winning by 2 or even loosing by 2? No.
    When you get to the playoffs I’ll take that 5 point win hell even a 1 point win. But know now is the time for the sake of the psyche of the players and team to win big before the playoffs arrive or they will be content for now to win passively and suffice. Not good when your rolling into the real showdown. Attitudes need to be developed now. Win and win with their feet on their throats. That’s what champions do. No mercy.

  • Titletown99030507d

    @Fitzbert,

    “Why is Splitter still on the bench when Bonner or Blair are not playing well?”

    Beats me? But 4 posts up is how I answered that one.
    Some people like maybe for the grand total of 2 or 3 on this blog hate for me to bring up the TS word. So you may read my post from above and I’ll spare them writing about TS again. Are you guys happy? By the way you’ll probably get a response from TD=BestEver on this one. He hates Bonner (on the court) but likes Blair a lot. Me I care for neither on the floor.

  • Kintaro

    The Memphis loss puts them one loss ahead of NOLA. Now if NOLA can win some games then my dream playoff seeding can come true.

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  • Bankshot21

    I hope NOLA losses out. Lol.

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