San Antonio Spurs 97, Houston Rockets 95: These games are always fun, even in the preseason

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AT&T CENTER — Two games into his career, two preseason games at that, Kawhi Leonard has already hit a game winning shot. Leonard his a step-back jumper with a foot on the 3-point line with 5.3 seconds left to give the Spurs a 97-95 win.

Nevermind that it doesn’t count in the standings, games between the Rockets and Spurs always seem to be entertaining. This one was solid throughout save for a few minutes in the third quarter that slowed to a pace that molasses laughed at because of an annoying number of fouls.

The Spurs started the game with a big man tandem of Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair as many expected. Blair aappeared more aggressive defensively on Wednesday night, possibly because he had Duncan to back him up or because Blair was simply in better shape than four nights ago.

One play in the third quarter typified Gregg Popovich’s reasoning as to why it is possible to play Duncan and Blair next to each other. Duncan and Blair set a double screen for Manu Ginobili that came more because of miscommunication than strategy. Blair rolled to the basket as Ginobili swung the ball to Duncan. Duncan fed Blair down low with a nice bounce pass and DeJuan whipped the ball out from under the basket to Richard Jefferson spotted up in the corner. RJ nailed the 3 and all was right in San Antonio for a moment.

The starters were everything that was expected. We’ve seen these guys together before. The second unit is where the intrigue and mystery lies. There’s also a helluva lot of fun there. For all intents and purposes, the second unit consisted of TJ Ford, James Anderson, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Gani Lawal. Matt Bonner didn’t dress for the game.

This Spurs second unit, even with (or in spite of) Bonner, has the potential to become a defensive force, at least when it comes to matching up with other second units. When James Anderson is on the floor, you know it. He has the activity to take center stage even when he shouldn’t be. He climbs trees for rebounds and defends two guys in an instant. Anderson seems acutely aware of what is happening around him, something not easy to come by for young players. When he’s defending a shooter in the corner, he knows the right moment to help off and stop penetration and when to get back and smother the player in the corner.

Teamed with Tiago Splitter who shows the footwork needed to defend the post and big men on pick-and-rolls, the Spurs second unit is able to change momentum quickly. In the third quarter, Anderson checked in at small forward for Richard Jefferson and changed the game. The Spurs immediately came alive and went on a run that helped them take control of the second half, even if the lead eventually evaporated when both teams emptied their benches.

The major concern for this second unit is who will score. While Anderson is an excellent defender for this second unit, it remains to be seen who will lead the charge offensively. While Anderson is aggressive and willing to take the shots, he hasn’t shown playmaking chops yet. In the second half, the Spurs fed the ball to Splitter in the post several times and made cuts off of him, taking advantage of his passing abilities.

This may make Varner’s opinion that Anderson should start and Manu Ginobili come off the bench more plausible. Anderson hit only one 3-pointer on the night but could slide into the two spot with the starters, leaving Manu to be the playmaker on the second unit. Ginobili returning to his sixth man role may give more balance to the Spurs’ lineups in the regular season.

If not, the second group may rely heavily on its ability to force stops and turnovers in order to get easy baskets in transition. TJ Ford has a knack for pushing the pace and could be primed to lead that charge. Either way, there are some definite variables that should be fun to keep an eye on as the season gets started. Until then, we have Kawhi Leonard’s game winner and the thoughts of what could be.

  • Kristen Mullen

    Manu can’t continue to carry the team in scoring when they have trouble off the bench.  He’s not going to be here much longer and as we saw tonight Manu himself was 1-8.

  • grego

    Calling it now. Anderson is Pop’s new favorite player. 

  • Anonymous

    Andrew, quite a few typos throughout… the byproduct of enjoying your rich, malty, seasonal ales during gametime, is it?

    I would also like to see Anderson start, at least for a stretch of games which hopefully do not come as the result of an MG injury. If his defensive potential is as good as we think it is, JA could be a nice asset with for the starting group. I wonder if Pop is still trying to bring Blair along, and that introducing JA to that group would be too much for Pop, but hey, they were gonna throw Caron Butler into that mix, so I say mix it up and see if both units benefit from the lineup change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=173600134 Ryan McShane

    Is it me or did Ganai Lawal push Scola down intentionally after he blocked him?

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Didn’t realize the typos until I got home. I wrote up the recap on my iPad, so that most likely was the reason. Can’t blame the booze, I’m stone sober when I’m at the games.

  • GMT

    Oh, please. Manu always has occasional off shooting nights. This was just one game. I think he should still start, though.

  • Anonymous

    Didn’t think about the fact that you were actually in attendance. Just kidding anyway, I love 48MoH.

  • http://radsci.uthscsa.edu/index.php/User:Nima Nima K.

    My observations:

    1. Was it me, or does it seem the team is giving serious thoughts about Gani? The dude played alot of minutes tonight!

    2. Williams had a pretty good night slammin the ball over our defense. I hope we fix that hole.

    3. TJ did pretty well. He seems a much better backup than Quinn.

    4. I didnt see much of KL tonight. JA however was more visible.

    5. The 3 amigos carried the weight of the team, as usual. That’s not a good sign.

    6. I wonder why Bonner was sitting out. Pop’s testdrive of his 2nd unit perhaps?

  • DorieStreet

    No one’s giving it a thought—can this be Pop’s last year/wing ivt==put everyone on the floor the first 10-15 games of the season/set it up to see what the Spurs are post “Core 3″ are====

  • grego

    Manu took a lot of the last second shot clock shots. He was the bail out player. The offense was focused on Parker and Duncan in this game. Manu was more a facilitator. He’ll be fine. The team has quite a bit more versatility at the wings right now so the offensive load should be a lot more balanced. 

  • Anonymous

    Huh?

  • grego

    1 – They have to give serious thoughts about these guys because the preseason is limited. You want to see how they play with Duncan and some of the other guys. That’s why Bonner didn’t play. 

    2 – This is preseason. They were half efforts to take charges. The rotations and units in the game won’t match exactly. He’s not going to have it that easy in a regular season game. He might get a highlight dunk or two, but it’s not going to be this easy. 

    3 – TJ Ford is so any more times a better backup than Quinn. The guy was a star player in high school and a pretty good player in college. He did start in the NBA and hold his own for a while. He had the unfortunate bad luck of a scary injury that slowed his career though. 

    4 – Spurs know what KL can do. He’s going to be limited, offensively. That’s a given. Spurs needed to see what the other bigs/youngins could do. Anderson is a key core player. He needs to prove himself as he’s taking on the G Hill role. 

    5 – The 3 amigos carried the weight of the team, but a lot of Duncan’s points came in the first half. Many of them were easy points. The same with Parker as well. There’s a big difference between easy points and hard points. None of the big 3 made it over 25 minutes. It wasn’t a struggle. 

    6 – Short preseason. Need to evaluate the guys who might be cut or might actually have a role on the team. Duncan and Parker played. They take up minutes that could be otherwise used by another player. No other reason than that. Lawal or Hassel might make the team, but both definitely wouldn’t. Zeller is training camp material, but Pop rewarded him with real play time. He is 100% cut. 

  • grego

    Anderson is still more of a shooting scorer. He needs his shooting to slash still. He’d benefit from Duncan and Parker a lot. Manu would manage the second unit and help guys who can’t score as easily like Leonard (who needs more activity than jump shooting at this point). 

    With Anderson and RJ (who is shooting well again), that does help spread the floor for the first unit, especially since Blair helps collapse it down low. 

  • http://twitter.com/carlos_ew Carlos Escalona

    If Anderson can really step up i would really like a trade of Neal + Blair for Patterson and Cousin.The Rockets have a lot of PF,( Patterson,Morris ,Hill, Scola) Patterson doesn’t have the passes skills of Blair but he is a very good defender(yay!),he would fit very well with the team and Cousin would be a very good 5th Big that already knows the Spurs… Now for the Rockets they might like Neal as a scorer and with all the PF they have. Blair for Patterson doesn’t hurt them much.. maybe a second round pick to them too

  • Titletown99030507d

    Wow! I prefer Joseph over TJ. TJ thinks he has to score evrytime he touches the ball not to mention he takes too long to decide where the ball is going. And he doesn’t play well with Splitter either. I like what I see from CJ.

  • Wbowers64

    Manu off the bench would provide the scoring punch they will need in the second group

  • Tim in Surrey

    Thanks for the onsite reporting, Andrew. Interesting stuff and I wish I could’ve seen it. It sounds like Pop may be planning to use a young, fast, (smallish) bench mob this year after all–which would suit me just fine. The traditional wisdom is that teams like that (e.g. George Karl’s teams) tend to do very well in the regular season but underperform in the postseason, where the length of your bench is less important. However… that stereotype is countered in this case by the fact that the Spurs have two superstars-in-decline, who will be able to greatly increase their productivity in the postseason–especially if their minutes are limited until then. So I’m looking forward to this development.

    How did Lawal look, though? I never thought he had much potential in the NBA but a) I’ve been wrong about that sort of thing before, b) Georgia Tech’s magically atrocious guards were supremely skilled at making their talented big men (Lawal and Derrick Favors) disappear, and c) he played in one game for Phoenix last year, so who knows how much he has developed. Is there anything there at all, or did Pop just need a fifth player so that he could sit the Red Rocket?

  • grego

    Bonner sitting is just so the bigs can get more time to play. Blair was pretty bad even though his numbers said differently last time, so he needed another game.  
    Spurs have to cut 2 more guys (to get to 15). I can see them being one of the two bigs in Hassel and Lawal. Zeller is for sure, so Pop played him to give him some real time. The other two were to see what they want to do before losing one of them or both (if they weren’t pleased enough). The one loop hole would be to put Neal on the IR until January when he’s ready to play and then you don’t have to cut Hassel or Lawal (so they get a longer trial period). I thought Lawal looked promising for everything outside of scoring. He did have a nice block and was active. I thought he did well with Duncan as his other big. He complimented him with his athleticism and seemingly bigger body (even though he’s listed at 6’9). I think he’s worth the shot since none of the other guys out there are much more of a known quantity. I thought Hassel was decent in this last game as well, but I’d give the edge to Lawal if I had to pick one. 

  • http://radsci.uthscsa.edu/index.php/User:Nima Nima K.

    I suspect they just might keep Gani. He is a temporary fix for our big man problem, especially if he can block like that consistently.

  • Anonymous

    I too think Lawal has the edge over
    Hassel and his play was a pleasant surprise for what is considered to be
    a lack in the post area of this team.  What I noticed about Lawal (and didn’t realize he possessed) was his quickness combined with what appears to be superior upper body strength.  He looks to be a good compliment to Splitter.

    Overall the upside of the players the team has this year compared to last is way above last year’s team with what appears to be a better compliment of competent youth.

    Perhaps this team with the combination of experience, athletic youth, and eventual building of knowledge and unity has the intangibles to create a better all around team than they had last season without making any trades.

    We’ll see.  Perimeter play seems to be set.  If Lawal can continue to grow and improve the Spurs may have found another diamond in the rough player at a position they were in dire need of filling.

    PG- Parker, Ford, Joseph
    SG- Ginobili, Anderson, Neal
    SF- Jefferson, Leonard, Green
    Post- Duncan, Blair, Splitter, Bonner, Lawal, Hassel
     

  • Thomasholdren

    He signed. And No Houston wont be that good. They have no one physical on that team. Glass jaw types. Scary good? List your playoff teams from the west

  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t necessarily call the players on the Rockets as “glass jaw”.  Lowry, Martin and Scola are as tough as any in the league.  With Dalembert, Jordan Hill comes off the bench.  In fact, Houston’s bench is as good as any in the league.  So….”scary good”?…compared to last season…I think they’ve made some great improvements and they were a decent team last year even without Ming or a dominant anchor in the post.

    What I mean by “scary good” is along with the Spurs and Mavs with the improvements of Houston…tough, competitive division.

    Teams I think make the playoffs from the west:

    Dallas, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Grizzlies, Blazers (even without Brandon Roy), Lakers, (and our favorite team)  SPURS.

    In what order?  I couldn’t say as of now.  Thunder may be on top this year followed by a close second Mavs. (Have to list Mavs there just because of being defending champs even though they almost retooled their roster for, IMO, no other reason than just to overhaul.) 

    I think the Clips surpass the Lakers in standing. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lakers drop as low as 6th to 8th if they don’t sure up their perimeter) 

    With the addition of CP3, Butler, and Billups….the Clips could easily become 3rd or 4th seed. (Long shot 1 or 2 seed).

    4th seed I think will be close in either Spurs, Griz or Rockets with the other two rounding out to the 5th and 6th seed. (Houston could surprise the rest with a possible 5th or 6th seeding
    depending on how well the team gels as a team.  And don’t credit out
    McKale in being able to get the most out of his players.  They did a
    nice job last season, with all due respect, should not have been a good
    season for the Rockets.) 

    7th and 8th seed I believe will be a toss up between Blazers and Lakers unless the Lakers pull another rabbit out of the hat with a trade that puts them back in the top 4.  While Blazers (if they can somehow make up for the loss of Roy) may just somehow take that talented team as high as 4 or 5.

  • Caleb

    “The guy was a…pretty good player in college”
     
    Gross understatement of the century alert!!!
     
    Regarding his SOPHOMORE season at Texas:
     
    “Ford was also the South Regional MVP while leading Texas to its first Final Four since 1947.[3] At the end of the season, the consensus First Team All-America selection won the prestigious Naismith College Player of the Year and John Wooden awards, and was named Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, ESPN.com and CBS SportsLine”
     
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._J._Ford
     
    The dude was an absolute beast in college!!!

  • http://radsci.uthscsa.edu/index.php/User:Nima Nima K.

    I think we just might be lucky in the PG position. Both CJ and TJ seem to be good players.

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/989236-3-reasons-tj-ford-is-the-perfect-backup-for-tony-parker-on-san-antonio-spurs 

    Knock on wood.

  • Caleb

    “Have to list Mavs there just because of being defending champs even though they almost retooled their roster for, IMO, no other reason than just to overhaul”
     
    Actually it appears as though the Mavericks re-tooled their roster in response to the new CBA, and with future flexibility in mind…
     
    Mark Cuban:
     
    “If this were the old CBA rules, we probably would have kept everyone together. But the rules changed. If we were able to sign everyone to two-year deals, that would have possibly changed things as well, but that wasn’t in the cards either. What you are missing is that it’s not about the luxury tax. It’s about the ability to improve our team going forward. The reality is that in the new system, cap room will have far more value than it had in the past. I realize that everyone is all freaked out about how and where free agents and future free agents are going, but it’s not just about getting one guy.”
     
    http://espn.go.com/blog/dallas/mavericks/post/_/id/4681588/what-are-mavs-thinking-mark-cuban-explains

  • Anonymous

    LAL is not going to drop off precipitously unless Bynum has his customary injury… Personally, I’d prefer that come at the end off the season/playoffs (such is my love for the LAL fanbase). But when healthy he is hsndsdown the best center in the league, Pau remains the best offensive post weapon in the game. Blake and everybody will do much better under Mike Brown, who will push his team to improve on D and feed the bigs on O. If Peace gets his O back as the man off the bench, that team will be as good as any. I wish they’d have gone away, but they have not… don’t buy into sensationalized media storytelling.

    With Dalembert, Rockets are clearly trying to win now and should make the PO. Idk if Morris is an SF. Patterson is a keeper. They don’t need guard help in the form of a Gary Neal if they get good minutes from T Will, and use Dragic as a scorer not a PG.

    LAC, LAL, OKC, MEM, DAL, SA should all make it. I think POR will if they run, but the last 2 spots are up for grabs again. I’d say Miller will get DEN into the playoffs. HOU is close, Warriors are hurt severly at PG so their dark horse role goes to the Hornets (does Gordon become their b/u PG, do they sign Brooks in Feb?) Except for GSW, any of those teams can easily go .500 against our Spurs.

  • grego

    Yes, I should have been more accurate. He was super solid. 

  • grego

    He looks like what the Spurs exactly need (relative to what is out there/what they can realistically get). 

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  • paul

    we are all in agreement that you can’t play blair/duncan against gasol/bynum, zbo/m.gasol, or griffin/deandre jordan right?   

  • Anonymous

    Injuries, lack of chemistry, several things can happen between now till playoffs.  It’s why I wasn’t firm on who I thought would be in the playoffs or where their standing would be.  All I was doing is giving an opinion (as you have done) from what I see now as to what may transpire.

    Look at the Spurs last year.  On top.  Best record.  Then TD injures himself and can’t play in top form.

    Too early to call and all I was doing was giving an opinion to a question asked of me by somebody else.  Heck…Utah may make it into the playoffs depending on a variable of circumstances that may happen between now and then.  As far as LA…that’s left to be seen.  That drama queen organization always seems to be in the mix somehow.  They very well could rise to the top but as I see them now…they’re a team in disarray though they have some very talented players.

  • Anonymous

    I call B.S. on that P.A. spin.

    Cuban (I might be wrong) is the type of person who seeks a goal.  Spent the money to achieve that goal.  And now that the goal was achieved…doesn’t need to prove a point anymore.

  • Caleb

    I don’t necessarily disagree with your assessment of Cuban.

    However, even if it is a bit of PR spin, his assessment of the new CBA is correct (at least as I understand it)…

  • Caleb

    Um yeah – we watched the playoffs last year …
     
    Actually, it probably does not matter which frontcourt pairing is utilized (as currently constricted)…it will likely not be pretty against the matchups you list… 

  • CapHil

    Andrew,

    Just wanted to say I appreciate your insights into the game.  As a long-distance observer of the Spurs, it’s nice to read thoughts from someone who was in attendance.  Plus, your praise of my man Anderson puts a smile on my face.

  • Anonymous

    And we’ll probably lose against those teams. We may play well against the Lakers.

  • Bry

    This obsession with starting two 7-footers is a bit weird. We need to start two solid players (regardless of their height), and have somebody good coming off the bench. There is absolutely no point in freaking out about the league’s best front-courts. I would really like to avoid hearing everybody complain all year how we ‘need’ another 7-footer next to Duncan cuz we might face a good front-court in the playoffs. We will face a good team in the playoffs, and either beat them with our strengths, or lose the series. We lost against Memphis because Dice was overmatched and Conley bizarrely outplayed Tony Parker for the entire series. (Well, and also because Timmy was less than 100% percent and our leading scorer, Manu, had a broken arm). You beat LA by killing them at the point and from the 3-point line. You beat Memphis by shutting down their offense and tearing up their backcourt. That’s how the Spurs will advance in the playoffs, not by throwing in some talentless tall guy to ‘match up’ against other teams’ All-Star front-courts. 

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