Spurs’ early struggles morph into historic night
A Tony Parker bucket to start the scoring, a late-game layup for Cory Joseph and two Patty Mills field goals sandwiched in between — these four scores all had one thing in common that was a rarity on Tuesday night in Cleveland. Of the 43 baskets the Spurs made against the Cavs, these four were the only ones that did not come via assist.
San Antonio dished out 39 dimes on 43 field goals, and every single active player registered an assist in the game, setting an NBA record that will never be broken (13 players from the same team registering at least one assist in the same game) until sometime down the road when someone allows rosters to expand to 14 active players … probably with Gregg Popovich coaching via Skype from a beach in a foreign country somewhere. (Though I’m not sure that’s his style.)
Anyway, there was more craziness. After scoring only 13 points in the first, the Spurs put up 109 points over the final three quarters and absolutely crushed the Cavaliers’ defense along the way. San Antonio has been full strength again for two games, and it’s outscored Mavs and Cavs by an average of 9.7 points per 100 possessions over the last couple of days.
The offense within the starting unit remains an issue for now, though, as it’s just having one hell of a time scoring at this point. That preferred group of starters is averaging a 91.5 defensive rating in its first two games back from all the injuries, which is just about on par with the numbers it put up over the first month or two of the season. That’s ugly.
But there are reasons for it — both hidden and obvious — and the Spurs have time to adjust. Whether they will or not remains the question.
San Antonio wants that Parker, Green, Leonard, Duncan, Splitter lineup out there to start games because it is their best defensive lineup hands down, and Popovich needs that. But this point-scoring black hole has been an unfortunate change from last season.
Last year, the Duncan-Splitter dynamic wasn’t a problem. Tiago appeared to have plenty of space to operate around the baseline off the ball and Duncan was knocking those mid-range jumpers down at will. This season, it’s been awkward. Duncan’s jumper has been on a roller-coaster ride, and Splitter just hasn’t had the kind of opportunities to score as he’s had in the past. He’s been rolling to the basket less and posting up more, which doesn’t seem to be the most intelligent course of action for a guy whose bread was buttered as a pick-and-roll center.
It’s kind of weird. Splitter is used (field-goal attempt, free throws or turnover) as the roll man on just 18.7 percent of his individual plays, per mySynergySports, which is down from 25.8 percent last season. On top of that, 21.5 percent of his plays come via post-up, which is up nearly five percentage points from 2012-13. And what makes it worse: He’s scoring at a worse rate in both capacities.
Regardless, the Spurs are in great shape as the somehow second seed in the Western Conference despite all the injuries. Not only is the starting unit back together, but the bench (the Foreign Legion) is finally in its normal rotation. Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli and Boris Diaw combined for 54 points against the Cavs, and it seemed effortless.
All feels normal again despite the little inconsistencies, but at this point, health is all that matters. There’s still plenty of time to warm up for what’s next.