Throughout the decade the San Antonio Spurs created a model of truths that were as infallible as the swallows returning to Capistrano every year. The Spurs would win a championship every other year. Tim Duncan would be an untarnished pillar of excellence. And the Spurs would always, always triumph over the Utah Jazz at home.
However, as time passes, these truths are crumbling. With last year’s first round playoff defeat, the Spurs did not win a title in an odd-numbered year, and the odds are against them winning a title this year. After losing at home 105-98 to the Jazz, the Spurs reign of home dominance over Utah is over, with the Spurs losing both their home contests, and getting swept in the season series against the Jazz.
The first truths correlate directly to the declining Tim Duncan—5-15 FG, 4-6 FT, 10 REB, 4 AST, 3TO, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 6 PF, 14 PTS.
Of Duncan’s five field goal makes, three came on putbacks, and one came on a slipped screen late in the fourth quarter when Carlos Boozer hedged against a pull-up three and Utah’s weak-side failed to rotate. Only one of Duncan’s shot makes, a quick right hook from the right box over Mehmet Okur, was of his own creation.
Even Duncan’s elbow bankers, once a staple of Duncan’s game, have failed him as TD missed both of his attempts, one from each wing.
Okur and Boozer’s strength, Boozer’s leverage, and occasional double teams made Duncan a non-factor.
Duncan’s one-on-one defensive excellence has always been somewhat of a myth as Duncan has always had trouble guarding quick players who can face-and-go. With extra wear and tear on his tires, this weakness was even more pronounced as Boozer feasted on a number of quick spins and short jumpers that either resulted in made shots or fouls on Duncan.
On their last confrontation with 30 ticks on the clock and the Spurs down three, Duncan could only desperately put his hand on Boozer’s back to try and stop a quick catch-and-roll. It was Duncan’s sixth foul, Boozer converted both free throws, and the Spurs were sunk.
While Duncan wasn’t the only player who had a go at checking Boozer, he was one of the main culprits of Boozer’s 31 PTS, 12-17 FG, 7-8 FT performance.
Of course this isn’t to say that Duncan’s a stiff, or that he didn’t contribute in other areas. His excellent pass work was par for the course, four assists that would’ve been more had his teammates not bobbled so many of his passes.
Duncan also dominated the offensive glass—nine offensive rebounds, three more than the Jazz had as a team.
But the days of Duncan simply setting up in the low block and willing the Spurs to 20 points on his own accord are over.
San Antonio must get stellar offensive play from other players to persevere, namely Manu Ginobili and their three-point specialists.
Ginobili was tremendous in the first half, instantaneously sparking the Spurs to a 33-9 run, with a 25-0 stretch within the larger run. Drives and finishes with either hand, ankle-breaking crossovers leading to step-back jumpers, look away bounce passes in transition, by the time the first half had ended, Ginobili was 5-7 for 12 points and five assists and the Spurs looked unstoppable.
Within that 33-9 run, the Spurs went 5-6 on three-point attempts, the majority of the looks coming off ball-penetration.
With Ginobili rocking and the three-point shooters rolling, the Spurs transformed a 12-point deficit into a 12-point lead.
But it wasn’t to last.
The Jazz were still cognizant to help off the shooters to prevent penetration, but the open looks that fell late in the first and early in the second stopped dropping. San Antonio shot 1-15 from downtown outside of their main run and had trouble scoring.
Ginobili continued to play well, but the Spurs couldn’t convert the open looks he created with his dribble drives.
The Spurs wound up shooting below 40 percent, their effective field goal percentage was below 50 percent, and that was all she wrote.
Tony Parker—7-16 FG, 2 AST, 2 TO, 20 PTS—missed five layups, frequently over penetrated, and was only truly successful when beating Deron Williams baseline and getting to the basket before Utah’s help could arrive. Defensively, Parker was chumped whenever he had to guard anybody other than Ronnie Brewer.
George Hill played well on both ends—6-12 FG, 2-5 3FG, 2 AST, 2 TO, 16 PTS—and has the talent to be an All-Star. He’s long enough to envelop point guards while challenging two guards, and he can both slash and shoot. It’s no wonder Gregg Popovich raves about him.
Richard Jefferson knocked down a pair of threes, but was mostly an afterthought on offense. He was consistently late closing out on Andrei Kirilenko’s jumpers, and was a non-factor on either end. Troublesome for the Spurs, he’s played that way all season.
DeJuan Blair is a rebounding machine, but his lack of athleticism was evident when he was stripped and then blocked by Boozer on the game’s opening possession.
Keith Bogans missed all six of his shots, had two layups blocked, dropped a pass out of bounds, failed to box out Kirilenko on a putback, and was a thorough disaster.
Antonio McDyess looks too old and too slow.
The Spurs lack athletes in their frontcourt which hurts them against opponents with quick opponents up front. And with Duncan not the same as he used to be, it’s more imperative for the Spurs to convert their open threes if they want to beat good teams.
Perhaps in future tilts with teams like Utah, Denver, Dallas, and the Lakers, San Antonio will hit their jumpers, score enough points, and prevail against all comers. But if those outside shots aren’t falling, it’s a question mark if they can simply dump the ball to the post and ask Duncan to bail them out with a 30-point performance.
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