I usually do my scouting reports prior to each game and look at areas where the San Antonio Spurs need improvement and areas where they need to continue to exploit mismatches against their opponents.
But after Monday’s “heartbreaking” (said by Tim Duncan) loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, I think this series has been analyzed to death on my end and our team here at Project Spurs.
Through the three straight losses, it’s always the same story: Not enough fire from Tony Parker (credit the Thunder defense), too many turnovers, a disappearing bench that was regarded as the best in the NBA, and the woeful second quarters.
The Thunder have been able to defeat the Spurs in any kind of format through these last three games. In game three, the Spurs turned the ball over 21 times, and they lost. In game four, the Spurs didn’t turn the ball over as much, but still played an awful second quarter, which the result was another loss. In game five, at home mind you, the Spurs once again lost control of the ball for another 21 turnovers, Russell Westbrook took a bunch of shots like the Spurs wanted him to do, and they still lost.
I’m not sure if Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is going to show much film from game five. It’s apparent the Spurs know their biggest enemy right now is themselves. They’ve talked about not playing a full 48-minutes in the locker room; they’ve talked about not playing carefully with their turnover problem. A veteran team like the Spurs know when to put a loss on themselves, it’s been like that for three straight games now.
“Championship Teams Win on The Road” – Gregg Popovich
After game five, I wanted to hear and try to understand the team perspective of the Spurs after the emotional loss. Let’s start with coach Popovich.
“Well, the confidence level stays high. We're one of four teams out of 30. We're here for a reason, and I'll be on them, and I'm very sure they'll come out ready to go. You know, championship teams win on the road, and Oklahoma City just did that. So they've proven they're a championship caliber team.”
Popovich already set the bar for how this team will be regarded when or if their season ends. If they can’t pull out a must win on the road, then even with the 20-game winning streak and all the superb season play, were they really that good?
“We have to go do that,” continued Popovich, “If we can't win on Wednesday, we're not a championship caliber team. It's as simple as that. You look at anybody who's won championships, and they've won on the road as the process goes along. It's what you do. And they just did it. So we need to do the same thing to hold serve.”
Never has there been more pressure on number nine
Before game five, I compared Tony Parker to Spiderman. In my piece, I wrote about how Parker has been given the most responsibility this season of the Spurs finally becoming “his” team. He’s now the captain behind the ship, players look at his guidance and leadership as way to success. If Parker’s having inconsistent games like in game five, then will he ever be ready to fully be the leader of the silver and black?
I know the Thunder have done a fantastic job trying to take him out of the series, but as our own Trevor Zickgraf wrote, Parker is almost submitting to what the Thunder defense is doing to him. It’s similar to how he played below his ability in last year’s playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies where Mike Conley was the one being regarded as the Parker stopper.
Here’s what Parker had to say about game five, he too mentioned winning on the road as something championship teams MUST do.
“You have to win on the road if you want to win a championship. We have a great challenge in front of us and it is going to be hard but I know we have a good team that can do it.”
Game six could truly be a pivotal game in Parker’s career. Is he truly the leader of the franchise today and is he ready to be regarded as a true “MVP” candidate? He can’t have another inconsistent game when his team needs him the most and the season on the line. There is no other excuse, Parker must shine tonight. Let’ say Parker has another sub-par game and the Spurs lose. Is Parker’s name being mentioned once again in trade rumors this offseason? This is his main chance to lead the team and if he doesn’t shine or lay it all on the line, do the Spurs need to start looking for that superstar leader of their future?
Never has there been more pressure on number nine than tonight.
“I’m not submitting to nothing.” – Stephen Jackson
If there’s one player who gives the Spurs and their fans hope that the Spurs will go all-in tonight, it’s Jackson. There’s a reason the Spurs were glad to have acquired him at the trade deadline for Richard Jefferson. Jackson doesn’t have the word “quit” in his vocabulary.
As I walked into the Spurs’ locker room after game five, the first player to talk with us (the media) was Jackson. “I’m not submitting to nothing,” Jackson said proudly. He was as strong and eager as ever; he is the only guy who I’ve seen when the Spurs played in Oklahoma City continue to not let the emotion or momentum of the game deter him. Jackson is the emotional leader the Spurs so desperately needed last year, and finally have this year.
“In a nut shell, we have to go win one on the road,” said Jackson, “There’s not really nothing else to say. We just have to get one on the road. They (Thunder) played like a championship team and won one on the road and we have to return the favor point blank.”
Jackson said these words with such conviction. He is not one who will just lay down and hand the series to the Thunder, he’s going to give it his all and he’ll be in his teammates ears to make sure they don’t begin to get mentally weak tonight.
“It’s win or go home.” - Manu Ginobili
“Do we have another choice? It's not that we have a Game 8 or 9 to recover, so it's either win or go home. So we have to. It's our job. So nobody is going to feel sorry about ourselves, we've just got to go compete. We know it's hard to beat them there, but it's what we have to do. We've got to step up and play the best game of the season.”
One of the last reasons the Spurs and Spurs fans should feel confident returning to San Antonio is a possibility, number 20 is going to lay it all on the line, and he, along with Jackson will put this games on their backs if they have to.
Ginobili is the most fearless player on the Spurs’ roster at attacking the basket, taking a wild shot, throwing a ridiculous pass threw someone’s legs, or willing to make a block or steal that could swing a game. Ginobili is one of the Spurs’ road warriors, and they’re going to need him tonight to possibly carry the scoring load once again should Parker struggle or play inconsistently.
I’m not sure if Ginobili will start or come off the bench, but if we learned anything in game five, it’s that he’s going to be playing a ton of minutes. If the Spurs as a team can stay successful when Ginobili goes to the bench for break, they’ll have a good shot at winning. But if they struggle like they did in game five anytime he walked off the floor, a six game series might be all she wrote for the Spurs.
As Ginobili said, it’s win or go home time for the Spurs. They’re all healthy at the same time, which has been rare through their stretch of playing together. Ginobili and Duncan will be a year older next year, will this team miss the opportunity at a title because of another bad series, or will they be able to give it their all and try to force a game seven?
As Kevin Durant said after game five on the Spurs, “We can’t get too high, this team is not going to lay down.”
The Spurs need to start Captain Jack tonight! Have your "emotional leader" on the court from the beginning!
I can't say Neal has laid down. Below what we've needed? Sure. But he's still got some fire and is willing to pull the trigger. I'm still not keen on playing him big minutes, especially at the point, but I don't consider him one of the faltering bench players. Splitter is still nursing a wrist injury and it shows. Those "soft" hands are turned a bit to stone on some possessions, leading to turnovers. I am not calling him a bust. He still hasn't had a healthy, full training camp with this team. Green and Bonner on the other hand. . . I mean, we kind of expect Bonner to falter in the playoffs due to past performances, and Green is still so . . . well, green at this level of competition that I'm not shocked. It is shocking how quickly they fell off after playing decently to well in the previous two series. Add Pop's (probably correct) decision to limit Blair's minutes (again, he has a history of playoff no-shows when the heat gets turned up), and this 10-deep team is back to a 7-man rotation that looks painfully human when Parker isn't dictating the game on offense.
All that being said, when we pressure the ball on D and keep the ball moving on offense, we cut into leads and build leads. But we have been unable to do that for 48 minutes, even in the first two games. When you watch the game tonight, look to see when Parker gets into Westbrook's jersey. If it is at the time line, good things happen. If its at the arch, well, you're gonna have a bad time. Watch the motion offense in the first 8 seconds of the shot clock when we have the ball. Is someone holding the ball above the arch dribbling or waiting for one single cutter? Bad news. Is the ball moving side to side? Is someone able to drive to the paint? Are at least three players moving off the ball for screens and cuts? Then we look good to win this game.
@onewingzNot giving up on Green, Neal, Splitter and Bonner yet? Good for you. Coach Pop has spoken loudly. Manu has taken the place of Green in the starting five. Wrist of Splitter hurting still? Why use him? Another TP sefolosha encounter. Who will emerge better? The last 3 games showed it. The Spurs need and longer and bigger pg, clearly. Diaw in the middle? Disaster! Maybe its time to review history. I said then and say it again, the game of basketball is for big men. This should be a hurting lesson for the Spurs fondness of "small" players. You can;t play a 6'7" or 6'8" for a center. No way. Small market? Come on! If the Spurs want to contend, forget the alibis. Mr. Buford, sign longer, younger and more aggressive players NOT bonner, green, blair, neal or splitter. Its all the team can afford? Hello, Goodbye!!!
@rtesoro440 Green I am giving up on, which is timely considering he's a FA after this season and earned himself some money on a new contract with a weak front office next year. Bonner is still signed for a while and is a proven commodity in the regular season. I thought he showed promise in the first two rounds, but yeah, he just can't take the increased pressure against a great team like OKC. Neal and Splitter I'm not giving up on, though by that I mean more long term. This series? Yeah, they are pretty much out. Not sure how you took my post as saying I thought they would contribute this series or that I disagreed with Pop benching them, as I clearly stated that the problem is that our 10-deep is now 7-deep, and not even that great of a 7-deep from seeing the last two games. My statements on those players were more as a, "yeah, but . . ."
The point of starting Manu at the 2 is to force Sefolosha to defend him and let Manu go against Westbrook, a matchup he should win if he forces the issue into the paint, though that didn't go well for Parker in Game 5. Diaw works well, but he is the center in name only - he becomes a stretch, small-ball 4 with Duncan playing the 5 in a lineup that is actually not terrible, if and only if that frees the guards to get into the lane and the remaining men on the perimeter take and make 3's.
So I still go back to what I said in my second paragraph - this team can win if they play aggressive D and get back to the O that got us here. The size of our second big on the floor hasn't been a big factor in this series, so that whole point of yours doesn't really apply. Neither does Buford's spending on bigs. Small market or not, unless you have seen some huge big man that could contribute better than Diaw for the MLE or less, then I don't think there is an argument against the front office here. Not like either of the teams left in the East have more than one great "big" big man, and in the case of Bosh, that's even stretching it.
But hey, if you want to be angry, if you can only enjoy the game when you can complain about it, and think that writing a check will fix your team's problems, I hear the Mavs are always looking for fans that like to bail on the team. :D
The pretender? TP is expected to lead and he let them down. Thunder coach Scott finally solved the Spurs puzzle by putting a longer, bigger man on TP. The role players melted. Green and Neal forgot to shoot the ball. Splitter is a bust. How on earth did he become eiroleague mvp? One, laast final chance for the Spurs to show to all and sundry who they are. Were they just lucky during the regular season?