Posted on: April 17, 2011 6:54 pm
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The Hidden Possession that Doomed the Spurs

From PlaymakerOnline.com

It’s tough to win a playoff game without your 2nd leading scorer and emotional leader and the Spurs learned that first hand on Sunday when they blew a lead in the final minute to give the Memphis Grizzlies their first ever playoff victory 101-98.

For a stretch, it seemed as if the Spurs were going to be able to “steal” game 1 without Ginobili. San Antonio controlled much of the 2nd half and, despite going down by seven points in the final minutes, found themselves up by four thanks to two Matt Bonner three-pointers and two George Hill free throws. But a hidden possession that you won’t see on any highlight reels is what doomed them.

Up by two points with less than a minute left, San Antonio played to drain the clock. Tony Parker held the ball near the half court line and then waited for a screen from Bonner than didn’t come until there were a few seconds left on the shot clock. Instead of running the offense, getting in motion, making passes, getting into the paint, or doing anything that had worked for them all day, the Spurs settled for a mid-range jumper and missed. And then this happened:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcWV4...layer_embedded

Shane Battier made his only shot of the quarter to give Memphis the lead for good and sucked the air right out of the building. George Hill missed an ill-advised three-pointer on the next possession and the Spurs had to foul when Memphis grabbed the rebound. Richard Jefferson had a wide open look to tie the game that he was sure would go in, but rimmed out to seal San Antonio’s fate in their playoff opener.

Even without Ginobili, San Antonio went right after Memphis in the paint as they attempted a ridiculous 47 free throws. But you won’t see anybody talk about the disparity in free throws as a reflection of the referees because the Spurs were determined to be physical in this game. The only problem was that the players, Tony Parker in particular, were unable to set up any three-point-play opportunities. Parker was particularly frustrated because a lot of the shots he was attempting just weren’t going down the way they normally do.

The negative of getting to the free throw line that much is that San Antonio was unable to establish an offensive rhythm throughout most of the game because of how physical they had to be against the Grizzlies. During stretches in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th quarters the Spurs really had a nice flow going and Tim Duncan capitalized. He scored 16 points on 8-13 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds in 36 minutes of play.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8Hvj...layer_embedded

As for the Grizzlies offense, San Antonio threw everything they had at Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and both did a good job of drawing fouls against Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair. The two finished with five fouls each and Gregg Popovich was in danger of having to send in Tiago Splitter if either had fouled out. Gasol and Randolph each shot extremely well from the floor too, going a combined 19-25. Gasol only missed one shot from the floor. They combined for 49 of the team’s points and 23 of their rebounds.

Gasol was getting quality shots to go, but Randolph was getting friendly rolls all night. All San Antonio can hope is that McDyess and Blair can stay out of foul trouble and that the defense they play doesn’t result in so many baskets on so few attempts.

Down 1-0, the pressure is going to be on Manu Ginobili to come back for game 2 on Wednesday night. He will have had almost a full week to recover by then and the only evidence of his elbow injury will likely be a protective sleeve. During the game, Sean Eliot said that he expected Ginobili to come out for game 1 to galvanize the team and the crowd, Willis Reed-style after reports indicated that Ginobili wasn't in as bad a shape as his "doubtful" status would lead most to believe.

Game 2 is a must-win for San Antonio. But after Memphis got such friendly rolls in the opener, shooting 55% from the floor and only winning by three, the Spurs know what they need to win their next game and go to Memphis with the series tied. They need Manu Ginobili back.

PlaymakerOnline.com
Playmaker Magazine: The Source for Sports in Texas
Posted on: April 13, 2011 3:48 pm
 

Kobe's Words Come Back to Bite Him

From The Daily Six Shooter at PlaymakerOnline.com:

When Oklahoma City finally beat the LA Lakers at the Staples Center, Kobe Bryant dismissively asked Kendrick Perkins, “Are you happy about this win?” He asked as if to demean the victory, like the Lakers weren’t trying hard and the loss didn’t mean nearly as much as the win meant for the Thunder. After the Spurs B Team pushed the Lakers to the brink with four key players riding the bench and LA losing Andrew Bynum to an injury because he had to play for a win and not rest his injured knee, I wonder how Kobe would respond if asked…

“Are you happy about that win?”

I was really surprised at the toughness that the undermanned and overmatched Spurs showed in LA last night. It was fun to watch Tim Duncan on the bench so into the game and cheering on his teammates as the Spurs held the lead in the 4th quarter and pushed the Lakers to the brink in the final minutes. It was also somewhat comical to see Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and the Lakers crowd pumped in the final minutes as the team made one last run to close out the game, as if they were doing it against the full San Antonio Spurs team and not one that resembled a summer league team or the Austin Toros of the NBA Development League.

This was a Lakers team that said that they were going to come out and play with a new determination because two wins would clinch the #2 seed in the West. So either the Lakers will be even more hindered than everyone thought without Andrew Bynum or the Spurs really are the best team in the NBA as a result of last night’s outcome. It’s likely a combination of both, but it’s certainly not the result anyone could have imagined before the game started.

One thing is for certain, Gregg Popovich looks like a genius for sitting his guys while Bynum gets injured and won’t be nearly the same guy he was when the Lakers looked unstoppable.

As for the playoff seeding implications of last night’s game, the Lakers clinched at least the #3 seed and can’t fall down to the 4th spot because of their win over San Antonio. They own the tiebreaker over the Dallas Mavericks for the #2 seed, so they just need a win or a Dallas loss to finish in that 2nd spot.

Meanwhile, Dallas has to beat the New Orleans Hornets tonight and hope Sacramento pulls off an upset when they host the Lakers tonight. It’s a stronger possibility than usual because the Lakers will be without Bynum in the 2nd game of a back-to-back set and it should be an inspired crowd in what could be the final Kings game in Sacramento ever.

Ironically, Jason Terry said that even though a Spurs win would help Dallas last night he wasn’t rooting for the Spurs, but San Antonio is sure rooting for the Mavs against the Hornets. A Hornets loss plus a Memphis Grizzlies win over the LA Clippers would switch their current playoff seedings, dropping New Orleans back down to #8 and bringing Memphis up to #7.

Memphis has given San Antonio fits this season and their size wouldn’t just be trouble for the Spurs, but any first round opponent. The Grizzlies are 9-4 in their last 13 games (should be 10-4 after beating the Clippers) and have lost consecutive games just once since the trade deadline. While there’s something dangerous about nearly every Western Conference team, the one consensus is that everyone would love to play a depleted Hornets team that is without David West. The Spurs have beaten a better New Orleans team in the playoffs in the past and would relish a chance to play them in the first round this year.


PlaymakerOnline.com
Playmaker Magazine: The Source for Sports in Texas
Posted on: April 12, 2011 5:44 pm
 

Spurs Should Play to Win

From The Daily Six Shooter at PlaymakerOnline.com:

With a couple of days rest, the San Antonio Spurs head off to LA to play the Lakers in a nationally televised game… and I think the Spurs should play the starters their regular minutes in this game and play to win.

With playoff seeding on the line for the Lakers, they’re going to get LA’s best. It’s worth the risk to go out and try to play a good game and get a victory to extend their current winning streak and carry that momentum into the playoffs. With two days off, an opportunity to sit his key guys tomorrow in the finale against Phoenix, and a short break after that before the playoff start, Gregg Popovich can go after this one.

He’s already shown a willingness to leave his players in at the end of a blowout to work on their games. He needs to look at this as an opportunity to get their offense ready for the playoffs. A loss would be a great lesson as to what they should expect from the Lakers should they play them and show them what they really need to work on and improve going into the playoffs. A win would be a huge confidence booster and would allow the team to take it easy against the Suns tomorrow know that they’re clicking heading into the postseason.

It’s a win-win proposition that I hope Pop takes into consideration when putting together tonight’s game plan.

PlaymakerOnline.com
Playmaker Magazine: The Source for Sports in Texas
Posted on: April 11, 2011 5:19 pm
 

Respectful Rivalry: Aggies and Longhorns

Originally posted at PlaymakerOnline.com:

After following the Texas A&M women’s team down the stretch in regular season and throughout the NCAA Tournament, it was satisfying to see them win a national championship, not just as an employee of Playmaker Magazine (The Source for Sports in Texas!), but as a Texas sports fan that had many Aggie fans invested in the team.

Surprisingly, me and many of my friends got a lot of backlash for rooting for A&M during the championship game and feeling happy about their victory. Among the things I heard:

“No one can call themselves a Longhorn if they root for Texas A&M in any game.”
“No. No. Very mad at you right now.”

I was surprised to hear this because the teams weren’t playing each other, but it brings up an important aspect of the rivalry rarely discussed.

I grew up as a Texas Longhorns fan. I was on one side of a significant line that exists among college football fans in the state of Texas: Are you an Aggie or a Longhorn?

The University of Texas and Texas A&M play each other in many other sports throughout the year, but this is Texas. Really, the only game that matters and the only one that people will talk about for years is the college football game. It’s a big deal. So big that you’d think that the two teams and fans would truly hate each other but, surprisingly, that’s not the case.

We all grew up surrounded by Aggies and Longhorns. If one couldn’t be friends with the other, then the number of people that you could socialize with, do business with, spend any kind of time with, would be severely limited. You live with each other and develop a certain aspect of respect for the other. You mock each other before and after the game, but it never gets ugly. Often the first people I talk to after a game are my Aggie friends.

In 1998, I got to see history at the annual game. Ricky Williams was 63 yards away from breaking the record… and he did it in the 1st quarter. I still remember the atmosphere. It’s all anyone was talking about and several people sitting near us in the stands were listening to their radios just so we could know exactly how many more yards he needed. Luckily, Ricky pulled off one of the best record-breaking plays in history to leave no doubt.

Texas went on to win that game on a final-minute drive led by Major Applewhite. But what most people don’t remember is that the game was inconsequential in the Big 12 standings. The Aggies had already clinched the Big 12 South title and a trip to the Big 12 Championship to face Kansas State. I don’t know why I remember this, but I remember a message posted on the jumbotron and an announcement wishing Texas A&M luck in the Big 12 Championship game. Nobody booed the message. In fact, there was a lot of applause and I imagine that a lot of Longhorn fans were wishing the Aggies good luck as they left the stadium that day.

A week later, I was so sick wit the flu that I could barely move. My family had to take me to an all-night clinic I was feeling so bad. But, since we’re all college football fans, we were keeping track of the Big 12 Championship. Kansas State dominated most of the game, but then A&M started to come back. I remember pulling up to the house and finding the will to rush to a television inside, despite my aches and pains, to watch the Aggies try to pull off the upset. And I know there were a lot of Longhorn and Aggie fans that were cheering when they won on an unlikely touchdown in overtime.

The bonfire tragedy in 1999 made the game secondary and brought everyone together. Texas A&M won the game in College Station that year, but even Texas fans probably wouldn’t have had it any other way. No game Texas ever wins will mean as much as that win meant for Texas A&M. The outpouring of emotion and tears flowing from fans and players alike after that game will certainly never be forgotten when the history of this rivalry is told.

In 2005, I was surprised to see A&M show some support when Texas beat the Aggies on the way to playing in the national championship game. It might have been something else, though. Everybody seemed to be really sick of USC despite the Trojans splitting the national championship two years before.

My family spent a few days in Vegas before traveling to LA for the game. We were, of course, decked out in our Texas gear sporting our burnt orange and received universal support from everybody, especially UCLA fans.

The coolest sign of support was from an Aggie in the stands at the Rose Bowl. If you ever see anything burnt orange on a Texas A&M shirt, it’s usually Bevo with his horns sawed off. But this time, what I saw was a maroon shirt in support of the University of Texas that said, “Gig ‘em Horns, Today Only.”

Of course, Texas A&M felt plenty of satisfaction the next two years as the Aggies beat the Longhorns in back-to-back games.

I’d been to a few games at Kyle Field before the 2009 season, but never to one where Texas played. My opinion of Texas A&M fans hit an all-time high that Thanksgiving night. During the game, Deon Beasley was involved in a collision in which he and another Texas A&M player were down with injuries. But Beasley was down for a really long time. It turned out to be far less serious than what we could tell from the stands, but I was amazed at how the crowd reacted. As players on both teams went to their knees in prayer, the 12th Man fell silent, to the point where the only thing I could hear from my seat was the flags waving at the top of the stadium.

Texas won an exciting game that had plenty of scoring. With emotions running high on both sides, it was incredibly entertaining. I guess since it was the last home game of the season, they let fans down onto the field to take pictures and play around. My family seized the opportunity because it felt so old school, like the way they used to let fans leave through the outfield at the old Yankee Stadium back in the 1950′s. We had fun taking pictures and talking about the game. Even the Aggie fans felt good. A few Ags insisted on taking a picture with me. Afterwards, they wished us luck in the Big 12 Championship and expressed hope that we’d win another national championship.

So if Aggies can root for Longhorns in football, I personally don’t see anything wrong with Longhorn fans being happy for the Aggies and their latest national championship.


PlaymakerOnline.com
Playmaker Magazine: The Source for Sports in Texas
Posted on: April 7, 2011 4:21 pm
 

Mavs in Danger of Falling Further

From The Daily Six Shooter at PlaymakerOnline.com:

It’s a shame the Dallas Mavericks aren’t playing better. With the Lakers losing and Oklahoma City hot on their tail, instead of fretting over falling to the 4th seed in the Western Conference, they could be battling for that coveted #2 seed. Sadly, the Mavs struggles continued last night when Denver came into Dallas and pushed the team’s losing streak to four games. Not only has Dallas lost four in a row, they’ve lost nine straight to opponents that are currently in the playoffs.

It’s a disturbing trend made even worse by the fact that Tyson Chandler still isn’t back from injury and Jason Kidd took the night off to rest.

It certainly didn’t have to do with the way Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion or Jason Terry played. The three combined for 56 points on 60% shooting. But the rest of the team couldn’t help much on offense and that led to fast break points and more opportunities for the Nuggets in their victory.

While the losing streak started before Chandler went down with an injury, his addition will be big. He was a game-time decision last night and should be back for the Mavs game at home against the Clippers on Friday.

Dallas is only one game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder as the #3 seed in the West with games against the Clippers, Suns, Rockets and Hornets to finish the season. Before you consider the benefits of falling to the 4th seed to avoid the Lakers in the 2nd round of the playoffs, consider that their first round opponent would be the Denver Nuggets who have lost consecutive games just once since the all star break. More than seeding, the Mavs should be worried about winning down the stretch.
PlaymakerOnline.com
Playmaker Magazine: The Source for Sports in Texas
Posted on: April 7, 2011 5:05 am
 

What We Learned on the Night the Spurs Clinched

From PlaymakerOnline.com:

The combination of the San Antonio Spurs beating the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers losing to the Golden State Warriors clinched the #1 seed in the Western Conference for the Spurs. Not only that, the results of last night’s games reversed a trend that started back when the Spurs went on their losing streak last month.

For the 2nd straight game, San Antonio took control of the 2nd half and closed out a victory. Perhaps most impressive was that it was the 2nd of a back-to-back set and when the starters came out to rest, the bench not only held it together but increased the lead. George Hill is really becoming a force on that 2nd unit which the Spurs desperately need because the three-point shooters have struggled lately. San Antonio was particularly impressive with their ball movement and look like they are well on their way to getting back into a flow and riding a winning streak before the playoffs begin. Manu Ginobili stood out with 25 points and five assists with just one turnover in 29 minutes of play.

A few days ago in the Daily Six Shooter, we told you about a possible shift in the Spurs big man rotation. Gregg Popovich had given signals that Tiago Splitter would start to get more playing time and that DeJuan Blair would be sharing his minutes off the bench. So far that hasn’t happened, but a subtle change has been made. When Blair was a starter, there would be times where he’d get the ball in the low block and was allowed to go to work. For a while, he was successful. He had particularly mastered the art of the reverse layup. But at a certain point he started struggling to the point where he lost his starting job to Antonio McDyess.

While Blair is now coming off the bench, he’s still getting his minutes. The big change is that he’s no longer a secondary offensive option the way he used to be. Aside from the occasional wide open dunk set up by a great pass, Blair is primarily being utilized now as a rebounder and defender. As the playoffs have drawn closer, Duncan and McDyess handle all the offense among the true post players. In the last few games, it appears that Blair has settled into that role and we’ll see if he’s able to make it a success as the regular season nears and the playoffs get underway.

As for the Lakers, their three-game losing streak is something to take note of. In all three games, the coaches and players went in with the attitude of needing to win those games for a shot at the West’s #1 seed. The switch had been turned on. They were playing great basketball. And now, despite their best efforts, they’re losing. The look that Kobe Bryant had on his face after the last play against Utah a couple of nights ago was the look of a guy who’s taking a break before the playoffs.

And the road doesn’t get any easier for the Lakers either. LA travels to Portland on Friday and then hosts Oklahoma City on Sunday. Both of their next two opponents are locked into close battles for playoff seeds. Both are young, hungry, and looking to make a statement heading into the playoffs. And then they play against San Antonio in what will be a meaningless game for the Spurs, but could affect LA’s standing as the #2 seed if they don’t put a stop to their current losing streak before then.

Even though every team is virtually locked into the playoffs, there’s still some positions that are going to be settled and some drama that will play out before the regular season is up… and that’s why it was so big for the Spurs to lock down home court in the West on Wednesday night.
PlaymakerOnline.com
Playmaker Magazine: The Source for Sports in Texas
Posted on: April 6, 2011 4:33 pm
 

Bring Adelman Back and Everyone Else

From The Daily Six Shooter at PlaymakerOnline.com:

While the Houston Rockets haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings served as the unofficial nail in the coffin for Houston’s season.

Their 104-101 loss in Sacramento put them three games behind the Memphis Grizzlies and four behind tonight’s opponent, the New Orleans Hornets. Memphis has just four games left and New Orleans has five left. While the two teams play each other, neither has a very difficult schedule left.

Because of the way they’ve played and with two of their remaining games against the Rockets and Grizzlies, it seemed probable that Houston could catch the Hornets. But now it would take a near miracle for the Rockets to make the playoffs.

Now the question is whether Rick Adelman will be back next year and if GM Daryl Morey will field the same team that closed out the season at the beginning of next year or if he’ll use some trade chips to try and score a free agent. The thing about trying to score a free agent is… what hole would they fill?

The Rockets look like a solid team offensively with all the right pieces led by a point guard on the upswing in Kyle Lowry, a scorer in Kevin Martin, a savy vet post in Luis Scola, and young guys like Patrick Patterson, Chase Buddinger, and Chuck Hayes. What’s killed them down the stretch and kept them from being the hottest team in the league is their defensive discipline, but that’s a result of their inability to gel as a unit because the team, as it is, has only been together since the trade deadline.

Bring everyone back and Houston is a playoff team with potential to be a contender in the near future.

For more NBA coverage, check out PlaymakerOnline.com
Playmaker Magazine: The Source for Sports in Texas
Posted on: April 4, 2011 4:17 pm
 

Harrison Off to a Great Start for Texas Rangers

From The Daily Six Shooter at PlaymakerOnline.com:

What a great start to the season for the Texas Rangers. They had Boston’s number last year, but not like this.

Ranger hitters are off to an unprecedented historical start to the season. Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler each homered in the team’s first three games as Texas had no problems teeing off against the AL East favorite.

It used to be that that’s all that Texas had in the bag.

Prior to last season’s World Series run, Texas was entertaining because they could put lots of runs on the board, but they could never put together a winner because of their lack of pitching. Even with Cliff Lee back in Philadelphia, the Rangers are off to a solid start, especially Matt Harrison, who threw seven great innings yesterday giving up only one run and striking out eight. His last was the biggest, getting out of a bases loaded jam on a changeup.

It’s great to see a guy like Harrison produce results right away. Inconsistent as a starter and coming out of the bullpen last year, he earned his spot in the rotation in spring training, but was no guarantee to succeed. He really did an excellent job of hitting his spots and mixing things up to keep Boston off balance throughout the game.

For more MLB coverage, check out PlaymakerOnline.com
Playmaker Magazine: The Source for Sports in Texas
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com