Defense is out of style. That was so 2007. Boring.
That sure felt like the prevailing theme of last nights game against the Orlando Magic. The first half was played at a frenetic — yet efficient — pace. Orlando’s starters were pouring in the majority of their points (50 of 58 points) while the Spurs bench was, once again, keeping the Spurs in the game.
The Spurs were playing unselfish ball and assisted on 65 percent of their field goals in the first half. Tim Duncan had 15 points, seven rebounds and got the line a staggering 10 times. Timmy’s right hand man, Tony Parker, provided 15 points, seven assists and one three-pointer. Richard Jefferson was held scoreless for the first half. Actually, he might not even have played. He only took three shots and grabbed one rebound. I probably made more of an impact on the game than RJ did at that point.
Interesting stat: At the end of the first half, the Spurs starters combined for a minus-37 while the bench mitigated that with a plus-26 of their own. Kawhi Leonard, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite players, was enjoying another widly underrated first half. Leonard’s game is rather arcane — he isn’t blessed with athleticism, crazy three-point range, a smooth handle (although his handle is certainly above-average) or passing vision. I really hope that doesn’t detract from his skills, skills that are very hard to ascertain but can make more of a difference in a game than flashy plays.
Mar 14, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; Orlando Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu (15) takes a shot over San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first half at the AT
Leonard’s first half line: 10 points on 3-4 shooting (2.5 points per shot), two steals and two three-pointers. Leonard didn’t make a significant impact in the second half, but he made an absolutely savvy pass with about 4:16 left in the game. The play predicated on a simple set: a pick-and-roll between Manu Ginobili and Duncan. The defense collapsed, forcing Manu baseline where he was forced to feed Timmy in the low block. Timmy made a nice pass to Kawhi, who was spot up behind the three-point line.
Jameer Nelson made a nice effort in chasing him off the three-point line but overcompensated. Leonard gave him a nice ball fake, took a couple of calculated dribbles until he got within about 18-feet of the rim before Ryan Anderson stopped his dribble. Anderson’s costly mistake — leaving Parker wide open in the corner — gave Leonard the passing angle. Boom. Tony three-pointer, his second of the night. Spurs went up eight and never looked back. Kawhi could’ve taken the ill-advised three and could’ve taken the wide open mid range jumper as well. But, instead, he waited for the defense to collapse and found TP for the most efficient shot in basketball. Savvy.
The Spurs staved off an initial 10-3 rally from a desperate Orlando team to begin the third quarter. Then RJ came alive. He dropped in a couple of wide open three-pointers and played with some actual aggression. Because of RJ’s initiative; DeJuan Blair and Danny Green benefited by finding holes in the Magic defense. At one point, Jefferson had scored or assisted on 10 consecutive points. RJ finished with a modest 11-5-2 line with awful percentages (.200 FG%, .286 3P%). But, I’m choosing to view his aggressiveness as something positive. I’m willing to stomach a couple of misses here and there as long as RJ is consistently aggressive. Please. Don’t break my heart again.
As I mentioned before, there wasn’t a lot of defense. The Spurs and Magic combined for 233 points and 47 assists on 88 field goals. Both teams took care of the basketball. Their true shooting percentage (an all inclusive metric that includes free throws, three-pointers and two-pointers) was .619%. When two teams combine for that obscene percentage you know either a) quality offensive basketball was the culprit b) awful defense or c) the Charlotte Bobcats were in town. For offensive purists, this was a fun game. For hopeful Magic fans, this might’ve been the last time we’ll ever witness Dwight Howard in a Magic jersey. Oh, and that Howard character had another good performance. 22 points on 9-16 shooting (.563 FG%), 12 rebounds, two steals and three blocks to be exact.
Player of the game: Tony Parker
Mar 14, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) drives the lane against Orlando Magic guard DeAndre Liggins (34) during the first half at the AT
Wow. This year, Parker never ceases to amaze me with his MVP caliber play. Last night, Parker demolished Nelson — who was a headache all night on the offensive side — and company to the tune of 31 points on 12-21 shooting (.571 FG%), 12 assists and constant forays to the rim (TP was also 5-5 from the line). Tony has been on quite a run in the month of March and his 30+ point effort was his third consecutive. Apparently subtracting Tyson Chandler from the New York Knicks has had residual effects on his game. Parker is averaging 26.8 points per game and 7.2 assists per game during March while shooting at an incredibly efficient rate for a point guard (.635 FG%) — well, actually anyone for that matter. Parker controlled the pace in the first half; the only blemishes on his line were his three turnovers and minus-five rating. The second half was more of the same, except that Tony didn’t record a single turnover.
I don’t even know how to desribe his season (22.0 PER). Whenever someone mentions him in the same sentence as LeBron James, I don’t even flinch. I’ll readily admit that I was apart of the “trade Tony Parker” crowd. I always felt — given the talent of Manu and Timmy and the fact that the Spurs system doesn’t need Parker to succeed — that he was expendable. And I didn’t really like him personally. Now? I’ve completely switched my philosophy. Yeah, he’s played that well. Thanks for proving me wrong TP.