First blood


Three close games have come and gone, and in each one the outcome has only been decided in the final seconds, in the final play. We look up at our opponents from the bottom of a shallow but very real 1-2 hole – but we know and we still believe that the Spurs can play much better, should play much better, will eventually play much better.

Reality dictates that the Spurs have so far been expertly dismantled by Lionel Hollins’ Grizzlies. What was once, during the regular season, a dazzling array of offensive weapons has now become formulaic, predictable grind that is largely dependent on the players individual skill and small stretches of smart passing by the Big Three. With their suffocating man-on-man defense, staying home on the sharpshooters at all times and leaving everyone else wide open, the Grizzlies have removed the threat of the Spurs’s fearsome triple, the keystone of our offense (2 of 15 tonight, down from the 21 attempted triples we average per game). To make matters worse, what few open triples we have had have been squandered, turning a bad situation into a fatal offensive drought.

Like a castle of cards, with the 3-pointer taken away, the second-unit that was responsible for the Spurs’s stellar bench production has struggled. Hill contributes with scrappy penetrations and quick hands, but his outside shot is off. Blair has given the Spurs what he always has, boundless energy, offensive rebounding and the occasional layup or putback, but he has still been relegated to the far end of the bench. Neal has struggled to finish either on triples or with his once-effective floaters, and the tall Memphis backcourt has exposed his defensive limitations. And Bonner, dear and lovable Bonner, who played with commendable effort in Game 3, simply cannot be paired up with either the starting Memphis frontcourt or Darrell Arthur. San Antonio’s bench, the jewel in the Spurs’ regular season crown, has been virtually stolen by a sweep of Shane Battier’s long arms.

Memphis has also taken away the Spurs’ running game, slowing the game down and bothering and bumping and annoying our guards into several turnovers when they have tried to stage a fast break. Parker in particular looked lost during some stretches tonight, picking up the dribble when he should have passed, passing when he should have shot, and committing turnovers that we have not seen from him since 2003. His four blocked shots speak of bad decision making, and in tune with every Spurs not named McDyess, his outside jumper has taken a vacation.

And what Memphis has not touched, chance seems bent on robbing from us. During the third quarter of Game 3, Tony Allen, whose role as a Ginobili stopper is largely based on giving hard fouls and failing to look innocent afterwards, fell on top of the Argentine. Manu pushed himself to his feet and immediately grabbed a hold of his elbow, the one hidden beneath a bulky blue and black brace, wincing. For the rest of the game, Manu shot his free throws with one hand, his trusty left, while his right arm stayed bent. He converted most of them.

I believe that no one was able to quite understand what happened to McDyess, our only reliable answer to Zach Randolph’s single-minded strength. His arms were stretched and high, looking for a rebound, and then he came down and bent over, hurting and showing it. Later on it was said that a muscle strain on his neck caused his hand to go numb, and he recovered by the time he reached the dressing room. His absence forced Popovich to use Bonner during crunchtime, giving the Randolph-Gasol tag team a clear advantage in the low post that will surely be capitalized in Game 4 if McDyess cannot play.

For three games now, the Spurs have played Memphis’s game, following Memphis’s rules. It is a slow, abrasive, inside-out style that was once the trademark of these very Spurs, irritating, dangerous. It is a style that the Spurs have left behind, almost a negative copy of the free-wheeling modus operandi responsible for their regular season success. If they are to win three of the next four games, it is also a style that the Spurs must overcome.

Memphis might have taken away some of the Spurs’s weapons. Do they have any other arrows in their quiver?

  • tradeTP

    This has been our MO for the past few seasons. Good 3% in the reg, dwindles in the playoffs. We dont adjust and just sit on our high horse. Pop is notorious for this and I THOUGHT that with his pressing the issue on offense this year that he would be a little more reluctant to play the “loyalty” cards per usual.

    Pop is NOT A BIG GAME COACH. In Fact, hes not really a good coach. He has been able to step into a system at the perfect time and manage a good core with ZERO ego issues. NEVER ONCE HAS HE ADJUSTED TO WIN. He simply plays his core and the veterans.

    Ive said this for YEARS now. Why do you think we are so putrid on offense and continue to look like a second rate high school team? What adjustments did he make so far in the playoffs? We look unprepared, unenergetic, AND WE CONTINUE TO PLAY THE WRONG PLAYERS…. DOESNT THIS SEEM TO BE A THEME ANY TIME WE ARENT EQUIPPED WITH THE BEST TEAM ON PAPER?

    I applaud Gregg for his service of getting high character players, but for every home-run hes had a strike out. AND he does not understand how to adjust. If we get booted this round or next he should go.

  • Fred

    I think there’s a silver lining in Dyess’ injury. Pop would be force to re-evaluate his decision-making with regards to our line up. Which means, evaluating Blair and Bonner’s impact on the court. And, as many Spurs loyalists have been saying all year, their positive impacts are negated by the negatives. I hope Pop sees (and our other coaches) that we can’t win this series with Bonner and Blair having the bulk of minutes, we should give Tiago a try, to say the least.

  • DorieStreet

    Except for that lethargic Spurs 1st half effort last night, the games have been close, so a run-away and hide scenario for a game 4 win I don’t se happening. It is going to be execution–hitting the open shots, making nearly all the FTs and eliminate TOs on offense and missed assignments on defense.

  • SAinSLC

    C’mon. You can’t be serious. Babe Ruth was a home-run king, but he also led the league in strike-outs. What’s your point with that comment? It’s a fact that if you never swing for the fences you’ll never hit a home run. If you’re afraid to fail then you’ll never/rarely have any success whatsoever.

    He’s not a big-game coach? Really?! How do you explain game 7 against the Pistons? Was that just the players playing, or was there a bit of coaching in there? He never adjusts? How do you explain Steve Kerr coming off the bench after not playing at all to lead us back to victory? He’s been able to step into a system at the perfect time? Pop is the mastermind of this system. He is the system.

    I understand being frustrated with our current predicament, I think we all are (I definitely am), but don’t make a fool of yourself by saying Pop is “not really a good coach.” He’s a hall-of-fame coach. Maybe you know something all the rest of the basketball universe doesn’t? I doubt it.

    Coaching is not at fault when your PG has his head so far up the dark side of his moon he doesn’t seem to remember what the game of basketball is. Some things fall on the coaches, but a blanket statement of Pop isn’t really a good coach is just rash and emotional.

  • manufan

    I have been called bad fan,moron, and idiot for pointing out coaches mistakes regarding players and their rotations. You just cant win with Matt Bonner playing significant minutes in the playoffs. He is the end of the bench NBA guy. At the beginning of the last period last night Matty B missed open three that was designed for him and at the other end Artur scored on him , plus free throw. That was six point swing and instead of being down 2 we were down 8. Talking about momentum changing plays. It is really funny when Pop is forcing playing time for certain players even if they hurting us, and justify that by “not loosing his head”. Well, what about Tiago’s head. He is 26 and he was last year MVP in the second best league in the world. It must be really really hard for him to sit on that bench behind damn Matt Bonner. I say Pop needs to bench guys that are not playing up to their capabilities and tell them WHY they got benched. It starts with 3 times all star point guard Tony Parker. And all that bad game management and poor execution, it falls all on the coach. Have you ever seen Pop come after the game and say that he made poor decisions. Guy is way to much ignorant for that. I just say that neither Pop or players care as much as we do

    And why Bonner and RJ got contract extensions is beyond my logic. They are not worth the money(12mill!!!) and playing time that they are getting. Tim is way overpaid, also (is this blasphemy also???).
    I am gonna go and say that since Sam Presti left this FO we made really bad decisions regarding player personal and they contracts. After last few playoffs failures we always identify our weaknesses but for some unknown reason never address them. How come we gave Scola to Houston but couldn’t get Battier when we realy needed him. And where is our back up center? Why did we get rid of Ratlif?. He was a must have and he was cheap.

    If we don’t get our shit straight RIGHT NOW we are gonna bounce out of this first round.







  • Marc

    Wow!!! that was really ugly… and quite frankly, the spurs deserve to lose the 3 games not only 2.. Lord! everyone was looking for a sweep or 5 games max. Some people were talking about the match up with D Rose in the finals…
    What makes me upset is the question: could Pop do anything to avoid these losses? And what makes me more upset is the answer.
    “His absence forced Popovich to use Bonner during crunchtime, giving the Randolph-Gasol tag team a clear advantage”…
    I have to disagree with you David; nothing and no one forced Popovich to use Bonner when he had other options. His stubbornness made him use Bonner and give Randolph-Gasol tag team a clear advantage.
    Bonner wasn’t, isn’t and will never be an NBA level player, he’s a Zone defense type of player and a choker on offense. What could Tiago do worse than Bonner? absolutely nothing. Can he do better? 100% Yes.

    Enough with Bonner, what about RJ? 4 shots in 35 min. Is there any more disrespect for this player? This guy had the Bucks offense on his shoulders, averaging i don’t know 20 pts per game? he had a very good shooting percentage the whole season, why is he not a go to player when everyone is not finding his shot, when everyone SUCKS big time. Me personally, i like this player very much and it’s killing me seeing his stats while i’m pretty sure in another team he would be a whole different player..

    Anyway we have to give credit for Grizzlies and especially Lionel Hollins for outsmarting the spurs and Pop in 3 consecutive playoff games.. they are a real strong team, very well prepared, they take advantage of every single player they have and the most important thing they respect their opponent; they really deserve the win.

    As for my beloved spurs, of course the series is not over yet, it’s just 2-1, but i just wish that all the available weapons and options are used. Or else TD has to keep fouling out and wear himself out (like in game 2) in order to stop the Grizzlies big men and we don’t know if this will give us a win.. Just hope for the best, GSG…


  • David Menéndez

    Hm. I don’t disagree with you, Marc. What I meant is that, based on his general strategy (Bonner as the first big man off the bench), then McDyess’s injury made him play Bonner when he wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s the “forcing” I refer to.

  • DorieStreet

    Tim’s contract is from way back when he was a top 5 player and the franchise wanted him to be a Spur his whole career. Other than him redoing his remaining year (is it possible under current NBA salary rules/CBA agreement?) don’t lump him in with Bonner’s and Jefferson’s situations. The franchise chose to resign them instead of looking elsewhere (like many fans called for) and it seems to now have been the wrong decision in both cases come playoff time.

    And Theo Ratlif is just a body filling out the end of a roster. He’s been on 7 teams in the last 5 seasons, stealing veteran’s minimum salary. His game left him when he was in Portland (the last team that had him on the roster for more than one full season). He cannot get out on the floor and provide a defensive presence despite his height–he can’t move.

  • superflat

    i, too, can’t forgive pop for this. basically, the griz are one of the few teams you could definitely play duncan and tiago against (at same time), because neither of the griz’s bigs are like odom, instead they’re classic big guys. bonner’s trying, but can’t hang with that, i cannot for the life of me see why pop doesn’t revert to 2005/7 spurs ball, or at least use splitter to spell duncan. truly bizarre, particularly after how well tiago played towards end of season. (other coaches seem willing to let even untried players into big games, even if only for a few minutes at end of quarter or whatever, why don’t we?)

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree with you on Tim. Have to disagree with you on RJ though, he played bad in the last game but he pretty much kept us in the first 2 games with his play.
    Just to point out, we couldn’t have signed any other small forward due to our cap situation, so he was the best option we had. He’s probably been the 3rd best player for us this series, but thats not saying much lol

  • Anonymous

    You have some good points but you mix it in with a load of trash. Agree with you on the Presti matter but you can’t keep a guy against his will, especially if he is being offered to run a franchise. Agree with you on poor decisions by Pop, Bonner’s contract and Tony’s play being subpar.
    Things I disagree with RJ’s contract (you were probably one of the people who asked for Gee, Green, Hairston… etc to get the start), best we could have had given our cap situation.
    Ratliff, you aren’t serious! You said he was a ‘must have’ don’t make me laugh. He’s a solid vet but at this stage of his career he’s just chasing a ring and collecting a paycheck. He isn’t really a contributer anymore.
    Tim’s contract?? You are joking right. Didn’t you watch the games in Portland, Memphis, Denver without him haha. Yea I’m just gonna take that as a joke. Reasons Tim deserves his contract 1) he carried this franchise for his whole career and won 4 titles, 2) he’s still one of the best big men in our game today, 3) without him we don’t win a playoff series, and 4) he’s already re-worked his contract to give us more flexibility. Show some respect for a guy.

  • Humberto

    Good read, favorite line was “And Bonner, dear and lovable Bonner,”

  • Bruno

    If we had been playing like regular season, Ginobili would be 100% and Parker not missing layups and this series would be 3-0 to Spurs.

    I think is too late to put Tiago now, the series is 2-1 to Memphis, Spurs probably will lose next game, the guy is out of shape, too many days not playing.
    Let Bonner play more 30 minutes and think about 2013

  • Len

    Tiago getting his backside off the bench will not mean surrender but rather desperation. It will be like Kerr coming off the bench when the rest of the team could do little right. It is time for Tiago to get some burn. If not, this series will fall squarely on the shoulders of Pop, even more than Tony’s obvious blundering on the court.

  • Len

    In addition, Tiago has experience against Marc Gasol. I wouldn’t put Tiago on the crafty Randolph but Tiago can help against Gasol. As most of us know, he also sets great screens. He can’t do any worse than the playoff version of Boner.

  • spursalltheway

    I don’t think when people suggest we should play Tiago, he is going to come into the game, score at will, shutdown gasol and be Timmy circa ’03. But, given his sheer size and few sparkles duing his small playing time, I can see why people would want Tiago for a few minutes, so he can bump/bother the bigs out of their rythem a little and draw a couple fouls (apparently he’s good at this, even if he can’t his FT’s, this would be big since memphis has had foul troubles”). Obviously, theres a lot of different points to this argument:
    1) our guards, not our bigs, are our biggest problem (anyone put out a missing person pa for tony parker)
    2) tiago isn’t being played because he’s not good enough
    3) tiago isnt playing because it would give memphis confidence that were changing our line up
    4) tiago would come in for blair not bonner, since bonner is a seperate piece in the roation

    As I see it, Matt Bonner is in there to make 3 pointers, when he doesnt do that, memphis starts cheating off him more (and bonner hestitates to shoot so he can’t even take advantage of this) and floor spacing is reduced as well. In general, shots don’t fall as often in the playoffs, due to coaches being more prepared + nerves, so I think the positives of bonner are really starting to dwindle. Therefore, I believe we might have to reduce Bonner’s minutes if Tiago is actually capable of playing better D than him (im pretty sure he can play better D…). As for Blair, he barely played too yesterday, and he’s really an x factor, but I think Tiago would be smarter in this position. Blair has the tendency to gamble in general, whether it be for offensive rebounds, steals, etc so it can be a hit/miss. I’m just going to stick with our 4 time winning coach and hope tony parker returns from la la land.

  • Bruno

    Wow, u are a joke.
    More confidence than Grizziles have against Bonner/Blair?
    Pop 4 time champion, but how many in last 3 seasons?
    Think about, can really somebody be worse than Bonner?
    He only shots 3 when is wide open, play 0 defense, 0 rebound, 0 respect .
    Play Bonner is like play a guard without speed/score/pass skills.

  • spursalltheway

    Oh no, I said those are just some of the arguments being thrown around in this big debate about whether we should play Tiago. I know I didnt emphatically state it, but I actually think Tiago should play more and he would help. Other people (at poundingtherock) were comparing playing tiago to avery johnson changing his lineup against the warriors, so i just mentioned it.

  • TD BestEVER

    Sorry but I have to disagree about TD………. Look at what he did in the regular season on D……. top 10-15 in both blocks and rebounds…… that makes him a top 5 defensive big……. also look at his shooting %……it’s still 50% which means the only difference is playing time and shot attempts…….TD could still be an 18-10 guy if POP would just call his number a few more times….. AS long as TP is on our team it will not happen because TP doesn’t like to pass…… And as far as rebuilding, we can do that after TD retires……ALL we needed to do was STOP BEING CHEAP/SCARED……. There were trades and people available that could have out us over the top the last 3 years or at least put us back on top……but our FO is scared to shake things up…..And after TD is gone, with the restrictions they put on players, how in the hell do yall expect to lure any top talent to San Antonio……

  • Len

    It doesn’t really matter too much what the Grizz know or even think about the Spurs. It matters that Pop won’t play Tiago until he feels that there is nothing to lose. I question whether he’d play Tiago even then. And that is a mistake by Pop, a big mistake.

  • Len

    Betsy, I think basketball is a game of matchups. Does Matty’s skill set really matchup against the Grizz? I don’t think it does as well as Tiago’s does. Tiago would make life alot harder on Gasol and some good hard screens might help get Tony on track.

    I don’t see Pop exploring all available avenues. And that really pisses me off.

  • Kenan

    “you’ve been saying it for years”

    …what, like, years we have won titles?

  • Kenan

    the comments here make it seems like we lost the series? 2-1 is not even remotely insurmountable. Expect more offense early in game 3 which leads to the biggest win so far of the series. game 5 tied 2-2 back to SA will have Memphis reeling a bit.

  • Xicano47

    As a die hard Spurs fan, I have to believe we can still turn this thing around. Next game is make or break. It would seem obvious that a starting point in constructing a strategy against the Grizz would be to consider why Hollins tanked the last two games to face us. The easy answer is that he knows his only strength is his big 2 (with a dose of Arthur any time Bonner comes in) and LA’s big two would have neutralized them. Everything else the Grizz do is based on teams focusing on those two. So when Dyce, Bonner and Blair can’t guard one of the two (Timmy has done a serviceable job on the other) they feed it in to them and they kill us. When we send help they kick the ball out and others hurt us. It’s just like we did for years with TD. It would seem self evident that at least one possible antidote is to see if Tiago can also do a serviceable job on the other big with Timmy. Yes, I know people say to look at our record this year with the rotation Pop used all year. Well, we didn’t play Memphis 82 games. Pop is playing right in to their hands with the rotation he’s used. It’s not Bonner’s fault. He is who he is and as has been said here before, there are some teams he does well against. Ditto Blair. Ditto Dyce (no, he hasn’t done shit against these guys, he only looks a bit better compared to B and B). Sure the games have been close but so what. We only get to lose 4 folks. Pop must adjust and fast and he’s too damn bull headed to do so because in his mind it admits error. What needs to happen is for TD, Manu and Tony need to confront Pop (in private, of course) and tell him this shit ain’t working. Do they have the cojones to do so? Don’t know, but if they don’t, we may soon join the Mavs in the halls of infamy. Triste.

  • Bruno

    Lmao, so u believe in that history “wouldn’t be fair to the group?”.
    Why punish Timmy/Manu making they play with guys like Bonner?
    Maybe this is their last chance,
    why Timmy didn’t receive the same treatment than D.Rob??

  • memphonious

    in other words, memphis is jockin. yall better just hope oj doesn’t begin to show up

  • Hassan

    Wow..the spurs are in trouble…although I back them completely as a true fan…the season is done…. I don’t see us beating Memphis 3 more times in 4 games. As much as I like the free offense I have been harping about the defense and the fact about we do not have enough perimeter or Front court defense(no offense to McDyess) but we need more bodies to help in the frontcourt defense and shot blocking/altering dept…

    I was asking for a Dalembert & any SF trade from Sac last season for the expiring RJ contract just for that reason. And Why didn’t our front office sign Tony Allen when he was free agent although his agent mentioned interest in SA on ESPN rumor update at that time….????

    Anyway we should play Tiago(7-12mins) now to get him some expierence in the playoffs for future season sake as I see it as the last hurrah next year(if there is a season) with Duncan been in last probable effective season…

  • Hassan

    Wow..the spurs are in trouble…although I back them completely as a true fan…the season is done…. I don’t see us beating Memphis 3 more times in 4 games. As much as I like the free offense I have been harping about the defense and the fact about we do not have enough perimeter or Front court defense(no offense to McDyess) but we need more bodies to help in the frontcourt defense and shot blocking/altering dept…

    I was asking for a Dalembert & any SF trade from Sac last season for the expiring RJ contract just for that reason. And Why didn’t our front office sign Tony Allen when he was free agent although his agent mentioned interest in SA on ESPN rumor update at that time….????

    Anyway we should play Tiago(7-12mins) now to get him some expierence in the playoffs for future season sake as I see it as the last hurrah next year(if there is a season) with Duncan been in last probable effective season…

  • rrw

    It’s been interesting watching how the coaches have changed their strategies game to game. So far both teams have seemed to aggressively attack the other side’s main strength, so the Spurs are not getting open looks from three and the Grizzlies are losing the rebounding and inside battle.

    I’m a Grizzly fan, and I couldn’t be happier about the two wins, but realistically I think the Spurs will make a few adjustments and will win out. For one, I expect them to start hammering Conley. Conley has been steady throughout the season and this series, but double-teaming him occasionally or making him work harder on defense will start taking a toll on his legs and decision-making. If he sits due to fatigue or foul trouble, then the Grizzlies’ offense starts to sputter with the two rookies that come in behind him. Another option is for San Antonio to move their bigs out of the lane on offense, drawing the Grizzlies’ front-court out too. This would free up the paint for the Spurs back-court, and I think they could do significant damage without Randolf and Gasol clogging up the lane.

    Like I said, I’m a Grizz fan, so I hope that I’m completely wrong. But the intangibles that both teams have also favor the Spurs. The Grizzlies have hope and youthful enthusiasm, the Spurs have experience; I would put my money on experience in seven-game series. But no matter what, both teams are playing the grind-it-out style that I love watching. Win or lose, I’ll be able to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this series.

  • Colin Rigney

    Spurs would have won without the 6 turnovers from Parker and key turnovers from Manu that resulted in immediate baskets stunted a couple runs.

    I though the Spurs defense was a throwback in yesterday’s 2nd half. They really got after it on D. The offense was the issue in this game and that was the difference between winning and losing.

  • Colin Rigney

    “MVP in the second best league in the world”

    ……..does not translate to playoff hero. I would like to see him play as well but expectations should be low for any performance we get out of him.

  • Betsy Duncan

    GAH! Despite their comments to the contrary, I don’t think that our guys really believed that the match-up with the Grizz was as even as it has turned out to be.
    We’re still playing like it’s the regular season, fer goodness sake!
    I think that Pop has made the necessary adjustments, it’s the individual players who have not!
    We look panicked, intimidated, confused and down-right sloppy out there.
    Where’s all of this veteran ‘steadiness’ to hang our hats on?!
    I’m just not seeing enough ‘heart’ or focus from anyone except Manu, and Timmy (from time to time).
    I’ll be interested to see if our guys can respond with the requisite amount of urgency tomorrow.
    Oh, and putting Tiago in will constitute ‘waving the white flag’, in my view.

  • Len

    Welcome rrw. Always a pleasure reading objective analysis from a fan standing on the other side of the fence.

  • Betsy Duncan

    You misunderstood me, Bruno. The point is that it ISN’T the regular season, but we are playing like we don’t understand that the playoffs are a pressure-cooker situation and we are wilting/melting under the heat. And as I said in another thread, you play with the guys that got you that gaudy record. Tiago didn’t really contribute to that record. Why reward him now?
    Our players just need to get their heads into the next game. It’s really simple: execute the game plan and play like you mean it or want it!

  • Betsy Duncan

    I guess there’s no harm in letting the Grizz know that we’re desperate, I suppose. Although I completely disagree.

  • Betsy Duncan

    I agree, Len. Matt has been disappointing. He needs to be more aggressive and not so hesitant, obviously.

  • Colin Rigney

    He doesn’t just sit around and eat lollipops after games he doesn’t play! He is in shape and the dude is working out. Most players who don’t get 20 min/game in the league are usually made to do some kind of work out on the day of the game.

  • Colin Rigney

    We might get what we ask for with Splitter. I would advise to keep expectations low.

  • Colin Rigney

    I agree. We get it, people want to see Splitter…….and I would too for about 10-15 min. It’s like a freakin’ propoganda machine hearing some folks talk about him. I am saying that we should keep expectations about Splitter’s performance low here and hope he doesn’t get abused. If you watched any of his regular season match ups against the Grizz, you’ll see why. It won’t be Splitter that wins or loses the series if he plays.