48 Minutes of What the Hell?
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.