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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Spurs Put on a Clinic, Silence the Jazz

The Western Conference Finals have turned into the movie Groundhog Day. The script is simple: a close first quarter followed by San Antonio taking a big lead over Utah in the second quarter and never being seriously threatened the rest of the way. Tuesday night in Game Two the result was a 105-96 San Antonio win. The Jazz scored 17 second quarter points on 7-18 field goal shooting, just slightly better than their 16 second quarter points on 7-20 field goal shooting in Sunday's Game One. Tim Duncan had another stellar game: 26 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, five blocked shots, two steals. He has now had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in 11 straight playoff games, the second best such postseason streak since 1976-77; Shaquille O'Neal once did this in 12 straight games. Tony Parker added 17 points and a playoff career-high 14 assists, though he did have seven turnovers. Manu Ginobili also scored 17 points, while Fabricio Oberto had 14 points on 6-7 field goal shooting. San Antonio shot .556 from the field and 13-26 (.500) from three point range, so this game was pretty much a complete failure for Utah defensively; the Jazz neither contained Duncan nor limited Ginobili and Parker nor shut down the Spurs' three point shooters. Granted, the Spurs are an outstanding team and it may not be possible to stop everything but in order to win you have to control something. It was hard to tell what exactly Utah's defensive game plan is.

On the other hand, San Antonio is using the same blueprint that worked against Phoenix in 2005 and this year: make the opponent shoot contested shots, don't give up open three pointers and don't be overly concerned if one player has a big scoring night because that won't kill you. Amare Stoudemire's high scoring games did not lead Phoenix to victory over the Spurs and San Antonio has already withstood a career-high 34 points from Deron Williams on Sunday and a 33 point effort from Carlos Boozer in Game Two. Boozer also had a game-high 15 rebounds but the Spurs won the overall battle on the boards, 44-35. Utah shot just .439 from the field and 3-11 (.273) from three point range. Williams finished with 26 points and 10 assists this time but 10 of those points came in the fourth quarter, most of which the Jazz spent trailing by at least 10 points--Groundhog Day again, as this is very reminiscent of how the Spurs shut down Steve Nash in the first half of the decisive Game Six and he improved his stat sheet aesthetically in the fourth quarter when the game was all but out of reach. Don't be fooled by the fourth quarter lead that San Antonio blew in Game Four of their series against the Suns, because you can count on one hand the times that a Duncan-led team has blown a double digit fourth quarter playoff lead--and you'd still have enough fingers left to include Nash's two MVPs. Since then the Spurs have built big leads in Game Six against Phoenix and both games against Utah; naturally, those teams made runs in the second half, but San Antonio remained in control throughout. Good NBA teams are going to make runs when they fall behind by big margins but if the Jazz want to avoid being swept they better figure out a way to avoid falling behind by double digits in the first half.

While Duncan's numbers are consistently excellent, his impact is actually even greater than his statistics suggest. On offense he must be constantly double-teamed or he could score 35-40 points easily; this extra defensive attention creates driving lanes for Parker and Ginobili and wide open three point shots for San Antonio's perimeter shooters. On defense, Duncan not only blocks shots and grabs defensive rebounds, his presence causes players to rush shots or even dissuades them from shooting at all once they venture into the paint. Call it the "Bill Russell effect." I believe that it was Hall of Famer Bob Pettit who once described Russell's impact by saying that his shotblocking was such a threat that it would cause players to start missing even the open shots because they were so busy looking for Russell that they could not concentrate on the goal.

Utah is an excellent home team, so the Jazz may very well get back into this series by winning Game Three--but so far it looks like TNT's Charles Barkley fell for the "banana in the tailpipe" (to borrow Greg Anthony's favorite Beverly Hills Cop reference) with his prediction that Utah would come back and win this series. He based that on Utah's performance in the second half of Game One but he should have known that that was fool's gold. Scoring a lot in the second half but still losing is like these NBA teams that fall out of playoff contention by the All-Star break and then win some games in March; that tricks some people into believing that they have turned the corner when in reality they may have just played better because all of the pressure was off. Utah must come up with a sensible defensive game plan--and be able to execute it--to have any chance in Game Three. It is reasonable to assume that Boozer and Williams will continue to put up good numbers and that Utah's role players will shoot better at home, so a Jazz home win is certainly not out of the question--but I expect this series to be 3-1 in favor of the Spurs by the time it shifts back to San Antonio.

************
Notes:

***ESPN's Mark Jackson said, "So many teams want to play like the Phoenix Suns. I'd want to play like the Spurs." This is an excellent comment, because even though the Suns and Warriors are much loved for their free flowing style of play the Spurs are actually just as good offensively and much better defensively. I can't understand what anyone could have against the Spurs' style of play: they play fundamentally sound basketball anchored by a great post player who is flanked by two great slashing guards and several good perimeter shooters. The Spurs get out and run and their passing against the Jazz in Game Two was a joy to watch.

***ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy weighed in on LeBron James' decision to pass to Donyell Marshall, saying that it is an "easy copout" to wait for the result of the play and then blame James. Van Gundy said that James made the right basketball play. Honestly, this "controversy" is ridiculous. The Pistons freely admitted that they blew the coverage and that Marshall was not supposed to be left open--which should be obvious considering that a three pointer could cost Detroit the game--but James is being criticized for passing the ball to the open man. It was bad enough when Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley started harping on this but now Stephen A. Smith discounts that Jordan made similar passes by saying that he first proved his greatness by making game winning shots and only later passed the ball. Huh? When Jordan shot the ball all the time at the end of games it was said that he could never win a championship that way. It could very accurately be said that James either has learned to trust his teammates much sooner than Jordan did or that this is simply a natural part of James' game (James insists that he has always played this way and always will); how is this a bad thing? I'll admit that James is not the end of the game closer that Jordan was or Kobe Bryant is but James did make game winning shots last year in the playoffs against the Wizards; that convinced me that he is neither afraid to take such shots nor unable to convert them. The great trust and confidence that he has in his teammates surely has played a big role in the overall development of the Cavaliers. Look how much this team has improved since he arrived and look at how he led Cleveland from down 2-0 to up 3-2 in last year's playoffs versus Detroit. James believes in his teammates which makes them believe in themselves--and him. That trust will serve James and the Cavaliers very well in the future. Jordan and Bryant both had to be convinced--in both cases by Phil Jackson--to trust their teammates with the ball in crucial situations. James should be lauded for his willingness to do this already. So far, his career has shown steady progress, from no playoffs to the second round to the Conference Finals (and possibly beyond). Let's wait at least until there is some sign of stagnation or regression before making pronouncements that James cannot win a championship playing the way that he does now. If the media want to go after superstars who lack rings then there are some guys who have been around a lot longer than James and won a lot more individual accolades than he has but still have no championships to show for it: former MVPs Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and Steve Nash, to name three. When James has logged as many years as they have let's see how many playoff series and championships he has won.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:09 AM

9 comments

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9 Comments:

At Wednesday, May 23, 2007 1:53:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

yeah the spurs beat the jazz I expected this to happen spurs great team but a part of me says they shouldnt be here because they wouldnt of beat the suns if stoudamire played everbody except yu knows it. theyll win in 5 or 6 games yahdayahda yadda aint nuthing major to it there a great team it will be a tough series against detroit

 
At Wednesday, May 23, 2007 1:54:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

lebron did the right move in the other game hell play better tonight detroit will win tonight and eventually close them out

 
At Wednesday, May 23, 2007 3:08:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

greg oden and kevin durant got sent to basketball siberia portland and seattle? that was bad for the nba but great for those two teams it was funny to see boston and memphis 2 teams who tanked games to try to get these picks just look like they just loved one the curse a gainst boston continues

 
At Wednesday, May 23, 2007 5:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The Spurs have been beating the Suns like a drum for the past several years so anybody who thinks he "knows" that the Suns would have won this series is mistaken. Amare had almost 40 in Game Six and the Suns still got waxed.

It would be nice if somebody other than me would tell the truth: Amare and Diaw are knuckleheads for being the only two guys in the entire playoffs to leave the bench during an altercation. Whether or not you like the rule, they were the only ones who lost their composure and violated it. The Spurs would have won, anyway--the biggest surprise in the series is the big fourth quarter lead that San Antonio blew in Game Four; it's more accurate to say the Spurs should have won in five than to say that the Suns should have won.

 
At Wednesday, May 23, 2007 6:29:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

the spurs played the suns 2 of the last 3 years got lucky this year. you act like it was a lock with amare and diaw and momentum that the spurs were going to win game 5 in phoenix yeah right thats why the spurs fans gave robert horry a standing ovation in game 1 of the utah series they know he won that series for them they would be at home if he didnt throw the cheap shot you dont live in reality man you the only one who think they were going to win no matter what they were in big trouble after that game im going for detroit or cleveland bad to win the finals because they dont belong there phoenix does

 
At Thursday, May 24, 2007 12:12:00 AM, Anonymous temp 0x00 said...

marcel,

Maybe Nash and the rest of the team should be blamed for failing to show up when it counted.

They still had a chance and they blew it.

Doesn't matter anyway, the best team won.

And Diaw and Stoudamire didn't have have to react like fools. If anyone is to blame for the suspension it's them, not Horry.

Personal accountability doesn't mean anything to you?

 
At Thursday, May 24, 2007 2:00:00 AM, Blogger marcel said...

why dont you hold your fav player kobe to any accountability temp rather than always makeing the excuse he plays with no good player even though he doesnt. nash didnt have stoudamire last year his second best player so they werent supposed to beat dallas who was full strength. they didnt have stoudamire in game 5 they werent supposed to beat the spurs in game 5 thats fact only people who think they are is you and david if kobe was in nash spot you would make every excuse and say how robert hory stole away there oppoutunity because you dont like nash and the suns you say this is fair even though in your heart you know it isnt

 
At Thursday, May 24, 2007 2:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

When Kobe's team underperforms relative to expectations get back to me. When he was on title contending teams he won championships; now that he is on a mediocre team he carries the team to the playoffs. By your reasoning (in a previous comment regarding Nash's MVPs), Kobe should have won the MVP in '06 because "nobody" (other than me; check out my preseason predictions that year) thought that the Lakers would make the playoffs. Kobe and the Lakers exceeded expectations in '06 and they were on their way to doing so in '07 before Odom, Walton and Brown went out at various times--the entire starting frontcourt.

Your comparison of the Lakers' downfall in the second half of the season to what happened to Phx in Game Five is seriously flawed. You can make up for being shorthanded in one game but not for 20 or 30 during a grueling season filled with travel and four games in five nights--and the Lakers were shorthanded even before everyone started getting hurt,with no All-Stars on the roster. Furthermore, injuries are something that a team cannot control, but Amare and Diaw were suspended for violating a longstanding rule that everyone knows about. Keeping your composure is part of being a championship team.

Why would I "blame" Kobe for the Lakers' record in the second half of the season? Jackson told Kobe that they needed him to score a ton to save the season and Kobe did just that for a month. If Nash could have scored a ton for just one game then the Suns would have had a 3-2 lead and played the Spurs in Game Six at full strength while Horry would still be out.

How can you look at the Spurs' domination of the Suns for the past three seasons, regular season and playoffs, and say that the Spurs got lucky? The Spurs have won three titles with Duncan, while the Suns have won none with Nash. I don't believe that luck had anything to do with it. Phx had a chance to win Game Five anyway and Nash shot 1-8 in the fourth quarter. Amare scored a ton in Game Six and the Suns lost. The Spurs can win fast games and slow games and they probably would have beaten the Suns in Game Five with or without Amare because that is what they do: win big playoff series. Nash wins regular season awards and fades as the playoffs go on.

All Horry did was get himself suspended for two games. Amare and Diaw's actions had nothing to do with Horry; they could have stayed on the bench like everyone else from both teams did.

If Kobe left the bench under those circumstances I would say that he should be suspended and that he cost his team by acting rashly. What I can't figure out is how Kobe got suspended for his follow-through on a shot (during the regular season) but Baron Davis did not get suspended for an intentional elbow.

 
At Thursday, May 24, 2007 12:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kobe team sucks becuase he wanted it like that he didnt want to win and play with shaq anymore he wanted to just be the man and get his 81 point games not care about anything else.

I dont feel soory for him boo-hoo everyody told kobe that you only win when you have two guys but his arrogant but thought he could carry a team by himself and disregarded haveing another great player and now he stuck in the same spot everybody said he was going to be a great player on a crummy team.

your kobe for mvp is a joke it is based on stats only not team winning you got the same mindset as him me me me im glad the voters equate how your team does because it is a team game not an individual won it's hard to get that through kobe's head.

the spurs are better than the jazz and will win the series in 5 games nothing rational about that. now you should be talking about two truly great players more d wade and lebron james they are great scorers and also unselfish team players and lebron wil win game 2 tonight

 

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