Couple of things I can't get into over at the Five Things at FanHouse about tonight's game...
- Through this series, I've noticed an awful lot of Secret Formula To Stop The Hornets Of The Day. First it was, "Let Duncan work and we'll have no problem!" Then it was "Put Duncan on West and they're sunk!" Now it's "Put Bowen on Peja! Please?!" I get the idea here. Bowen is your best man on man defender, but he's physically limited at this point, and it's especially horrific against Paul. Peja burned us in Game 2, so let's stem the bleeding with Bowen on Peja. Here's the issue. The Spurs know that putting West one on one against Duncan is not a good idea. West's offensive versatility is just too wide for Duncan, who can't commit to the jumper without leaving the basket vulnerable to the drive. He can't commit to the drive without giving West the jumper which he's deadly at. So the Spurs in Game 2 committed Duncan to stopping the jumper by playing him tight, and brought the double from Bowen. And it was effective. I mean, they limited West to "only" 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. So that's not bad. I mean, they still got blown out, but they held West down. But look at the Hornets' spacing. West and Peja are almost never on the same side of the floor. The generally send Peja to the other side of the floor. Which means that the double on West, if they stick with it, is either coming from Parker off of Paul (read: suicide), Manu off of Peterson (read: more acceptable, but Manu's help defense isn't as good and Peterson was 5 of 5 last game, so you may end up getting burned on both ends), or sending the weak side paint defender, Oberto/KT/Horry to help (read: Tyson Chandler dunks all day). The point I'm trying to make is that right now, the Spurs are frantically moving 8 fingers around, trying to plug 10 holes.
- That said, I like San Antonio tonight. Why? Because at home, all those times when Manu/Parker/Duncan/Oberto/Bowen/Barry/Horry/Vaughn/Finley fall down end up with whistles. That's just the way it works. Plus, the Spurs have been absolutely frigid from the arc, and there's nothing like homecooking to get a few threes to fall. I don't see it in a blowout, but the Spurs just have way too much of that random ability to "just get it done." Plus there will probably be a game or two where the Spurs "figure out" the Hornets like the Mavs did in Game 3. I can see this series going a lot like that one. And tonight the Spurs are probably going to hit their shots. The reason it will be hard for them to win the series that way, is a fundamental playoff basketball concept.
- One of the things that separated the Spurs from pretty much every other team, and one that I wrote about before the playoffs began, is their ability to make you play their game. They dictate what you do. They decide which shots you get. That was always the Suns folly. They never forced the issue. They just took what the Spurs gave them and hoped the mid-range jumpers fell. But with the Hornets, it's different. The Hornets are dictating the Spurs' shot selection. No quick drives to the basket by Parker. No long slashes by Ginobili. No easy turnaround bank shots for Duncan. "Have as many threes as you want, role players!" is the line. What was amazing is that in the past, the Spurs role players would catch the ball and have a shot in the air before the defender even got close enough to think about getting a shot up. Now it's a dangerous combination of age and the Hornets' intensity sinking the Spurs. I noticed several times in Game 2 that Finley, Horry, or Bowen would catch the ball on the perimeter, and not be able to get the ball in the air in time, and would try the extra pass. It was the extra, extra, extra pass. The Spurs have such good ball movement, but the place where it's supposed to stop, isn't open, and if it is, the shooter isn't athletic enough to get a shot up in time. Part of that's age, and part of that is the Hornets closing out unbelievably well. The Spurs look absolutely flummoxed that there are actually guys closing in on them on the perimeter. They have a look like, "But, this shot's supposed to be open. What's going on?" There's a big movement in the Spurs blogs about having Brent Barry in the rotation more because of this. Barry will fire regardless. He doesn't care about who's guarding him. I don't necessarily think that's the way to go because if you go that route, the Hornets are going to go into fast break mode. And for a team that I once called "the best transition defense team in the league," the Spurs look horrid against the Hornets. They either worry about the wing shooter and Paul turns them around and makes them look silly, or worry about Paul and a big man gets behind them for the alley oop. I just don't like resting your hopes on old, inconsistent shooters that can't defend hitting shots like it's two years ago.
- Tyson Chandler is fouling out of this game tonight. Book it. The Spurs are going to feed Duncan, and Duncan got 4 calls on Chandler in Game 2 in New Orleans. In San Antonio? He may have three in the first five minutes. Ginobili will be more aggressive, fall down in mid air and Chandler will be frustrated. Melvin Ely had a solid game in relief, but he's going to be frustrated against a desperate Spurs team.
- Expect a ton of wing drives. The Hornets defense is pretty well set against a drive from the key, so the Spurs may have to find a weak spot on the wings. Chandler rotates very well horizontally, but he has a hard time turning.
- If Bonzi Wells steps up big tonight, that could be trouble for the Spurs. Again.