Green and Splitter to prove this Game 2 not like last year’s
The San Antonio Spurs have been a model of consistency since Gregg Popovich took over as head coach and the franchise drafted Tim Duncan. Duncan’s entire career can be defined by consistency. Just take a look the per-36 minute numbers of the newly-minted First Team All-NBA center from his rookie year and compare them with this past regular season. Even their playoff series show remarkable consistency.
Just like last season, the Spurs won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. Both at home and the second game featured a near-collapse that left fans wondering if the Spurs had been figured out.
That’s what everybody was thinking after the Spurs blew an 18-point lead in Game 2 and hung on to win in overtime, right? Spurs fans got that old familiar feeling? After dropping four straight to the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, are the Spurs primed to do the same in 2013?
Well, no. While the Spurs’ second half performance on Tuesday night was disappointing, where they were outscored 31-13 after holding an 18-point lead late in the third quarter, it’s a completely different animal from what happened in Game 2 of the 2012 Conference Finals.
With about five minutes left in the second quarter of last season’s WCF Game 2, Manu Ginobili found Tony Parker with a beauty of a behind-the-back pass in transition for a corner 3-pointer. Parker sunk the shot, giving the Spurs a 78-58 lead and prompting a timeout from the Thunder. At that moment, the Spurs looked as unbeatable as a professional basketball team could look.
From that moment on, it was a slow, painful downhill trek for the Spurs as they struggled to close out Oklahoma City in that game and lost the next four.
Shortly after falling behind by 20 points, the Thunder employed some of the dark arts that Popovich has been known to practice, unleashing the hack-a-whoever on Tiago Splitter. Oklahoma City sent Splitter to the line five times at the end of the third quarter, breaking the flow of San Antonio’s offense and draining the Brazilian, who finished 5-for-10 from the line, of any confidence and aggressiveness he had at the time. Splitter was visibly shaken at the time and never recovered during that series.
In Game 2 against the Grizzlies, Splitter hit his only two free throws and scored 14 total points on 6-for-8 shooting. Splitter was ultra-aggressive around the basket, almost daring the Grizzlies to send him to the line. Memphis didn’t and Splitter even eschewed his typical finish-on-the-other-side-of-the-rim reverse layups for a couple of dunks.
San Antonio needs Splitter to continue to play well down low, both on offense and defense, in order to beat the Grizzlies. Nothing from Game 2 this week indicates that Splitter will have a fall from grace like the one he had in 2012, when he averaged just 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds per game in Games 3-6 against the Thunder.
Like Splitter, Danny Green’s confidence took a hit in that Game 2. Averaging 45.7 percent shooting from 3-point range on almost five attempts per game in those playoffs leading up to the Conference Finals, some predicted Green was due for a bit of a shooting slump.
Green hit that slump, and he hit it hard. After that 20-point advantage the Spurs enjoyed against the Thunder, Green missed all four of his 3-pointers in Game 2. He went on to shoot just 18 percent from beyond the arc in Games 3-6, losing his spot in the starting lineup to Ginobili along the way.
Against the Grizzlies on Tuesday night, Green didn’t make any 3s during the late run Memphis made to force overtime. That’s not entirely his fault, however, as Green didn’t actually attempt a single 3. His lack of points from behind the arc at the end of Game 2 came as a result of the Spurs’ offense collapsing under the weight of Parker’s shaky legs. San Antonio’s offense goes as Parker goes, and with fatigue setting in on the All-NBA Second Team point guard, those open looks from the perimeter that Green thrives on were nowhere to be had.
“I think we learned a lot, especially our young guys,” Parker said on Tuesday night about last year’s collapse. “We can see the benefit this year. Guys like Danny and Kawhi [Leonard]. They’re playing a lot better and with a lot more confidence.”
Green should continue to play with confidence heading into Saturday night’s Game 3. He’s hitting almost 45 percent of his 3s again in this year’s playoffs and has yet to show the inconsistency from game to game that prompted some smartass to nickname him Icy Hot earlier in the season.
After the Spurs struggled to finish off the Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals last year, two of San Antonio’s key role players lost seemingly every bit of confidence they had and the following four games and made the Spurs’ fabled depth look like the shallow end of a kiddie pool. Splitter and Green were maligned over the summer for their performances in Games 3-6 of those Western Conference Finals and some still considered them questions entering this year’s playoffs.
After a showing in Game 2 of this year’s Western Conference Finals that superficially looked like a similar fall-back-to-Earth moment for the Spurs, some have wondered if San Antonio is primed to suffer a similar fate to 2012. Luckily for the Spurs, Parker’s fatigue and Tim Duncan’s foul trouble (Duncan played just 8:44 in the third and fourth quarters) were the culprits for the team’s close call. It also helps that the Grizzlies lack the game-changing star power that those Thunder did. The confidence and ability of San Antonio’s role players appears unshaken and they head to Memphis with a head of steam needed to erase last year’s disappointing finish.
Statistics provided by NBA.com/Stats