48 Minutes of What the Hell?

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I stole the title of this post from last night’s Daily Dime Live. DDLer Anthony asked, “…if the Spurs keep playing defence (sic) like this, will your blog be renamed ’48 Minutes of What the Hell?’”  It’s a good line, and befitting of the first 24 minutes of action between the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Warriors.

It was a boringly-normal game in some respects. Tim Duncan continued to push back rumors of death by posting a humdrum 10-12, 23 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 4 blocks. 33 minutes. All season highs.

But that pace. Oh, that pace. 103 possessions is positively unSpur-like.

Should we expect the Spurs to continue their foray into drunken bender basketball?

Yes and no.

The Spurs will run. More frequently than past seasons, for sure. In terms of his publicly stated commitments, I believe Popovich when he says he’s going to demand it from the Spurs. But some demands are more urgent than others.

The Spurs will still lead with defense. And Popovich won’t sacrifice defense for offense. Last night’s game was a good test case. The Spurs first half defense was, in the words of Tony Parker, “really bad.” But read the postgame tea leaves:

  • Gregg Popovich: “It’s all about our defense. We have to have a defensive identity. They scored 44 in the second half that’s what it was all about.”
  • Tony Parker: “We talk about defense the whole training camp and to start the season like that was not very good. Second half we did better and they scored only 44 points.”
  • Tim Duncan (on the second half turnaround): “We got a little more focused and closed in on them more so their shots were a little tougher and more contested.”

William Burroughs once described the great failure of politics in these terms:

Political conflicts are merely surface manifestations…To concern yourself with surface political conflicts is to make the mistake of the bull in the ring, you are charging the cloth. That is what politics is for, to teach you the cloth. Just as the bullfighter teaches the bull, teaches him to follow, obey the cloth.

It’s not hard to find application in these words to the mistake of preferring high-octane offense to stout defense, and I suspect this is where most minds turn while reading Burroughs.

High octane offense is the cloth. Gregg Popovich won’t abide any obedience to the cloth.

And, besides, what the Spurs are attempting is not nearly so simplistic as scoring more points.

The Spurs want to return to the defensive dominance that ranks Popovich atop the list of All-Time defensive coaches. In turn, Popovich wants to return the Spurs to the top of that list. Coach and team know enough to distinguish the matador from the cloth.

But the new wrinkle is this: play stout defense, and increase the offensive productivity.

On paper, the Spurs are well-positioned to pull it off. They have the backcourt personnel to push the ball. A healthy Tony Parker does this well-enough on his own, but group him together with Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, George Hill, James Anderson, and secondary break spot-up specialists Gary Neal and Matt Bonner, and the Spurs can score in transition with relative ease.

But more crucially, and perhaps the thing that accounts most for their desired offensive transformation, is DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan. All three are good to great rebounders. And all three bigs are excellent passers. They establish the break with long, pinpoint outlet passes. Duncan’s legs have put more demanding constraints on his floor-running, but Blair and Splitter are gazelles. (Perhaps Blair is more of a bull with light feet, but you get the point.)

The engine of San Antonio’s offensive transformation is not the product of having the right smalls — it’s San Antonio’s bigs who allow the Spurs to push the ball.

So, do I think the Spurs can upgrade their offensive production while simultaneously returning to the defensive roots? In a word, yes. Popovich is about the business of doing something brilliant this season. But if push comes to shove, the Spurs will settle down and charge straightaway into the matador. If they can trample the cloth underfoot in the process, all the better. But that cloth, it’s no more than a secondary concern.

  • doggydogworld

    Matt Bonner is left crestfallen after being excluded from your list of gazelles.

    Very nice matador analogy, though. “Don’t obey the cloth” may become my new catchphrase.

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  • Pay Attention

    Look I know last night was a big time up and down game for the Spurs……but for Christ sake quit trying to act like the Spurs are a slow half court team. The Robinson/Duncan era has been over for years.

    To be truthful they’ve been pushing a really aggressive tempo whenever they can, at least whenever Parker or Ginobili are on the floor.

    This piece is like 3 years late

  • Pop-a-vich

    Yeah, it really bothers me, does pushing the pace for the Spurs this season would do GOOD or BAD???

    DRIVE FOR FIVE!!!
    Go Spurs Go!

  • Tim in Surrey

    As I said in a previous thread, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to the pace of the game. Since Jim O’Brien has coached the Pacers, they have been one of the fastest-paced teams in the league. In the offseason, they gave up Troy Murphy, one of the slowest players in the league, and added Darren Collison, quite possibly the fastest player in the league, as their point guard. The Pacers love to run, want to run. Holding them to 44 second-half points, especially on a night when everyone was hot (even Roy Hibbert was burying 20-footers, for Christ’s sake!) is a pretty good effort.

    Although it’s a stylish metaphor, I disagree about the bull and the cloth. Everybody likes to say that effective defense wins championships but in fact it is the combination of effective defense with effective offense that wins championships. The best defensive team in the league last year was Charlotte (at least by several reliable measurements). They had a lot of problems on offense, though, so they didn’t make it very far in the playoffs.

    You have to have both.

  • NL

    All season highs. Nice.

    I feel like every time I hear a SportsCenter highlight the new records or haven’t done that since become more narrowly defined.

    No Spurs has ever had a more than 20 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals in an opening night game at home since blah blah blah.

  • Gebo

    All of the nice comments about Tiago Splitter’s game are putting the cart before the horse. He is not yet a good to great rebounder. He is not yet an excellent outlet passer. He has zero rebounds and has made zero outlet passes in the NBA. He is potential. He is projected. He is possibility. I hope the best for him, because we need him to be a good ball player. Sorry to see Matt Bonner go down and out. Has anyone heard about the severity of the injury?

  • rangerjohn

    “It was a boringly-normal game in some respects. Tim Duncan continued to push back rumors of death by posting a humdrum 10-12, 23 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 4 blocks. 33 minutes. All season highs”

    ok so all season highs is kinda unnecessary. reminds me of the boston fans on opening night against the heat chanting “MVP” while paul pierce was at the FT line.

  • LasEspuelas

    What you are saying in other words is that the Spurs game should have an overall medium pace. On offense they should attack quickly. On defense they should force the opposing team to slow down. It seems to be almost related to fast break point differential.

  • Daniel

    Pushing the pace is a good thing. The Spurs have an excellent team and the faster pace they play with against inferior teams, the more likely they are to win.

  • mailboogie

    One of the reason we had so many possessions last night was the number of turnovers and steals. Defense was great in the second half. Along with the fact that almost 60% of the Indiana shot fell in the first half. They were taking shots in 1o seconds or less. The best part of the Spurs game was the defense in the second half. An unknown rookie played an excellent second half on defense along with Manu. Granger was limited to 5 points in the second half. These 2 did a job on him. I was watching Anderson when he was guarding Granger and he slipped the screens and worked hard to stay in Grangers face. Indiana is a much improved team with their new additions and the carry over from last seasons team.
    The Spurs defense is going to be tough when it needs to be. They stopped the Pacers in the second half. They were getting in the face of the Pacers. They were using their hands and getting steals. 15 steals is a huge number.

    The offense wasnt bad either. 122 points on 29 assists. Tony had 9, Manu 4 and several players had 3 ea. Shooting %, 3pt %, FT % and rebounds were great numbers for the game. I would say several teams will be watching to see what the Spurs are doing this season.
    Now if the seats in the AT&T center were a little more hiney friendly, I would be really happy.

  • Greyberger

    “Look I know last night was a big time up and down game for the Spurs……but for Christ sake quit trying to act like the Spurs are a slow half court team. The Robinson/Duncan era has been over for years.

    To be truthful they’ve been pushing a really aggressive tempo whenever they can, at least whenever Parker or Ginobili are on the floor.

    This piece is like 3 years late”

    Except the Spurs were close to slowest-paced in’07… and ’08… and ’09!

    Only in 2010 did our pace climb out of the bottom five. And I’ll tell you why. The Spurs offense will run when there are opportunities. And it’s not like Tim’s outlet passes are something new, nor is Manu or Tony’s aggression on the fast break.

    No, the Spurs are slow paced because their defense is slow paced – it doesn’t force many turnovers, it doesn’t extend possessions by fouling, and the main goal is to deny good looks for the opponent. The result is a D that forces opponents to go deep into the shot clock.

    There are other team traits that probably come from Pop that contribute to a slow pace. The Spurs favor getting back on defense and limiting fast breaks over crashing the offensive boards. Avoiding turnovers is a high priority for the offense and keeps the game slower.

    The slow pace is natural considering what the Spurs emphasize. I don’t think it will necessarily hurt us or help us to be a faster paced team as long as those priorities don’t go by the wayside.

  • RaiderEd

    Last night looked like a typical Spurs-Pacers game. Pacers scored early but played no “D”, Spurs clamped down in the 2nd half but the Pacers continued to play no “D”. Spurs looked like mid-season form. Especially Timmy at the FT line. (CLANG!!)

  • Hunter

    Beautiful. these are the numbers i would like to see every night.(thouch 4 more points for anderson blair) but we still looked great

  • Jim Henderson

    Tim in Surrey
    October 28th, 2010 at 8:57 am

    “The best defensive team in the league last year was Charlotte (at least by several reliable measurements). They had a lot of problems on offense, though, so they didn’t make it very far in the playoffs.

    You have to have both.”

    Actually, Charlotte was tied with Orlando for the top in defensive efficiency last year (Cat’s offensive efficiency 24th – and a 1st round exit). And Orlando was also 2nd in offensive efficiency and went on to the ECF’s. Clearly you have to have both (offense & defense), but over the current NBA era (last dozen years) higher defensive ratings have shown to be more highly correlated with winning titles than higher offensive ratings. Almost all title winners in the last 12 years have had top-ten defenses (many in the top five), and top-fifteen offenses (many in the top-ten). Our defense needs significant improvement to contend. After the first game, against a non-playoff team, we’re 16th in defensive efficiency, and 3rd in offensive efficiency. That’s not going to get it done against the better teams in the league. How about we just play like the second half the whole game? We’d certainly be in a bit better position as we approach a tougher part of our schedule in the next ten days.

    For all of you that missed it, Tim’s reference to “all season highs” was obviously just being funny. How did you guys not get that?

  • Searching for Slava

    Burroughs also tried to shoot an apple off the top of his wife’s head.

  • rob

    @Tim in Surrey

    I agree with everything you said. Spot on IMO.

    And the Spurs almost executed to a tee what you said. I like the combination of fast pace and root established play the Spurs executed last night.

    I’ve always thought they could do both and not predicate their style to just one aspect or style of play.

    It was an experiment last night and it paid off with a win. Push the pace and then slow it down. Developing that into perfection will take some time…but it was a thing of beauty to watch last night.

    I’m sure they’ll be bit in the rear a few games this year…but once they do perfect this new era of Spurs basketball…teams won’t have the convenience of knowing what they’ll be attempting to do all the time.

    And in time this year with all the new faces to have to implement in the game…the defense will get better while the offense will continue to improve in it’s new found athleticism and proven vets.

  • Bankshot21

    I just don’t see how people can see last nights game in anything but a positive light. It was the 1st game that meant anything and the defense stepped up when it had to. Would a amazing defensive effort from the jump be prefered? Of course. But let us not forget these are NBA players. When they’re as hot as they were for maybe even the 1st 3 quarters there’s nothing you can really do but tip your hat.

  • B.D.

    Deja vu.

    I swear this basic notion was posted at the beginning of the 09-10 season.

  • Hurm66

    Great title for this post. Very funny. I was watching last night and couldn’t believe it either.

    Manu continues to be the lifeblood of the team. Those 3′s were just killers.

    Anderson can shoot. Good.

    RJ looked upset at his mistakes instead of confused and frustrated and scared. A good sign.

    Timmy is Timmy. Greatest. Power. Forward. Ever.

    TP had some moments, but looked a smidgen slow against Collison. Not in peak form yet, but was solid.

    A good start to the season, but certainly some “what the hell” moments in that first half.

    122 points. Wow.

  • Shawn_b

    Keep saying DEFENSE but keep taking OFFENSIVE first guys?

  • andy

    yes, what the hell. i agree with a lot of what’s been said, especially the root of championship contention, which is that defense needs to surpass offense. yes, we still need offense, but getting back to the spurs defense of old will be our ticket to the postseason. still, it’s one game.

    on a related but tangential note, do you think the spurs front office is probing the kevin love situation? since we’re pushing the pace, and he’s one of the best outlet passing bigs in the league (not to mention he seems to have developed range), maybe we could swindle khan into taking +/- whiz bonner for love?

    seriously though, i like bonner. who else gets injured in the nba and snaps a photo for friends, saying, “Pretty ugly, don’t you think? I came down on somebody’s foot. That’s what I get for jumping.”

  • Jim Henderson

    rob
    October 28th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    “It was an experiment last night and it paid off with a win.”

    But any style we use against Indiana should result in a win, and likely would have last night.

    “And in time this year with all the new faces to have to implement in the game…the defense will get better…..”

    But we still have no idea if our defense this year will ever be “good enough” to contend, regardless of what the offense does. And last night’s contest did not shed any light on that important unanswered question.

    Bankshot21
    October 28th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    “I just don’t see how people can see last nights game in anything but a positive light.”

    How about that we gave up 65 points in one half against a non-playoff opponent? How can anyone possibly see that as a positive?

    “It was the 1st game that meant anything and the defense stepped up when it had to.”

    The fourth quarter was a positive, but championship contenders don’t play for 12 to 24 minutes per game. And we’re certainly not good enough defensively to establish poor habits on that end of the floor. We clearly had an inauspicious start of the season from a defensive perspective last night. There’s no other way to look at it.

    The positive is that it’s only the first game of the year. That said, the sooner we start closing off these defensive lapses the better. We’ve obviously got a long way to go.

    The positives were almost entirely on the offensive end. In fact, this could be the best offensive team we’ve had in years, IF a couple of the rotation players prove that they can hit “big” shots in key moments when called upon.

  • Manolo Pedralvez

    The San Antonio Spurs, a run-and-gun team? Who would’ve thought.

  • rob

    Jim Henderson

    “But we still have no idea if our defense this year will ever be “good enough” to contend, regardless of what the offense does.”

    And after one game there is no way of telling just yet.

    And I can understand the “what the hell”. Blair got abused on the other end of the court by who…McRoberts? Who the heck is McRoberts in the scheme of great PF in this league to take to task what he did against Blair? The Pacers shot amazingly well from the perimeter even with decent close out D. Obviously not good enough perimeter D. I get that.

    But I also see this team (defensively) a work in progress with all the components yet to be refined to perfection. The raw material is there. Splitter, Blair, Anderson to develop into really good defenders. The trusted players already in place…Ginobili, Duncan, Hill being our best defenders as of date.

    I wouldn’t put too much into this game that lacked defensive stallworth during the entire game. Actually in the second half…the Spurs tightened up on D and held the Pacers to just 44 points. If you sumise 44 points per half…that’s just 88 points total for a game. Pretty good defense if you ask me.

    I have reason to believe the defense will get better as the season where’s on. They have the athleticism to be better than the last couple of years. It’s just going to take some time for the raw components to refine that role.

  • Mega Weapon

    Wow – my favorite sports blog dropped one of my favorite Burroughs quotes. It’s gonna be a good day… and, hopefully, a good season. Well done, 48MoH.

  • Jim Henderson

    rob
    October 29th, 2010 at 2:49 am

    “….. Actually in the second half…the Spurs tightened up on D and held the Pacers to just 44 points. If you sumise 44 points per half…that’s just 88 points total for a game. Pretty good defense if you ask me.”

    And this is what I said in my previous comment about that:

    “The fourth quarter was a positive, but championship contenders don’t play for 12 to 24 minutes per game. And we’re certainly not good enough defensively to establish poor habits on that end of the floor. We clearly had an inauspicious start of the season from a defensive perspective last night. There’s no other way to look at it.”

  • http://fundamentally-sound.blogspot.com Jaceman

    Just because the Spurs are defensive-minded doesn’t mean they can’t push the pace, in fact, I think traditionally Spurs like running with teams. However, defense does come first.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com/2010/09/02/death-of-tradition anonymous

    The first half was about getting everyones confidence going and pacifying egos of players. The second half was about pride and confidence in the team.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com/2010/09/02/death-of-tradition anonymous

    If the outlet pass is there and not to many are behind the receiver make the pass. Pull it back if things look too risky. It’s an option play.

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