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07 May 2005

Exclusive Interview with Spurs Coach P.J. Carlesimo

You read that right, folks. Four months ago this was just another crappy sports blog in a sea of other crappy sports blog. No longer my friends! I have made the leap to "serious sports journalist." I will now use the following terms without discretion: "momentum," "scorer," "energy player," "little things," "clutch player," "fundamentals," "Derek Jeter is a Yankee" and my personal favorite, "rhythm team."

I must give credit where credit is due. Matty da Blade, San Antonio Spurs Blog's Official Intrepid Field Reporter (SASBOIFR), went deep into the heart of the infamous San Antonio Chinatown area for this exclusive report:

MdB, SASBOIFR: "Good luck tomorrow."
P.J. Carlesimo: "Thank you."

Oh, that's not all folks. MdB closely watched P.J. as he ate his won ton soup appetizer, and it was readily apparent to all that P.J. is ready for this series. He'll have a hard time locking down Dwane Casey, but he's prepared for the challenge.

Tune in tomorrow where I'll reveal which Spurs jersey P.J.'s son, grandson or nephew was wearing! Only hear at http://www.nbaspurs.blogspot.com!

Now on to my preview of the fast-approaching Spurs/Sonics series. You may recall that while I grew up in San Antonio, I now live in The Emerald City (that's Seattle, people). So I am understandably conflicted. (Actually, I'm not. I just added that for drama. It's a literary technique that all serious sports journalists use. San Antonio Spurs Blog knows drama. (Buh buh!))

I have sort of been putting this off. I am confident in my "prediction," if you will, but there's a certain something I want to say that, well, will certainly drum up some comments that I'll feel forced to respond to. So I've been considering my options. Also, no matter how many Spur's advantages I point out Seattle fans can simply point to this and this.

As you may already know, Seattle beat SA in the only two games where both teams were at full strength. So what do I have to say to that? Any clever retorts?

Well, no, not really. Personally, I don't put much stock into those two games. That, of course, is easy for me to say. But both those contests were in the first twenty games of the season, and both Parker and Manu started the seasons off slowly. At that point the Spurs had nothing to prove and they often take lesser teams lightly. Plus, the playoffs are just different. Last year the Spurs lost 3 of 4 games to MEM during the regular season and swept them in the playoffs. That's just the first of numerous examples.

Seattle was missing key player/s in the other two matchups, both Spurs blowouts. Again, not much to take from those games in my opinion.

Kenny Smith loves to say "The playoffs are about matchups." I initially wanted to agree with him, but, like with most cliches, I have trouble believing it. For example, Dallas had nobody who could guard either McGrady or Yao and TMac was very successful at curtailing DAL's best player in Nowitzki. Yet HOU still lost. DEN's defense matched up with SA's offense very well; better than any other defense in the WC. Yet DEN was clearly outclassed.

Cliches are just soundbites; they try to homogenize and oversimplify and are thusly rendered nearly useless in a game with as many variables as NBA basketball.

But hey, individual matchups are fun to talk about, so maybe I'll drop the bomb later.

The Sonics, despite their first round matchup against SAC, are a half court team. In fact, they average 91.5 offensive possessions per game, 27th in the NBA. The Spurs are immediately above them with 91.7. Don't let the slow pace fool you, SEA is a great offensive team, 3rd in the NBA in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). They have three guys capable of big games in Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic. They have four guys who shoot better than 37% from 3 (the above and Luke Ridnour(?)).

SA, of course, is by far the best defensive team in the league. Teams just don't get many easy baskets against Pop's team. It's important to note that SEA, more than any team other than PHX, lives and dies by the 3. They average 8.1 makes on 22.2 attempts (36.5%) and 3s account for 24.6% of their points. This doesn't bode well for SEA because SA makes it a point to limit 3PA. In fact, SA only allowed 10.7 3PA per game (SEA averaged 14.8 attempts against SA), 18.3% less than the team second in that category. This is doubly impressive when you consider the Spurs had the second highest margin of victory (which should lead to more 3 attempts). They rotate defensively better than any other team in the NBA and they also run at shooters aggressively. Their perimeter defenders play in opponents faces, begging them to penetrate towards the paint where the Spurs were second in the league in blocked shots.

This attention to 3PA has continued into the playoffs. DEN averaged 11.5 attempts during the regular season but only put up 8.4 in round 1.

The Spurs are no slouches on offense, either. They're currently ninth in the NBA and only 0.1 points per possession below 6th. They, like SEA, have 3 guys capable of high scoring games in Timmeh, Parker and The Sickness. SA doesn't rely on one certain method of scoring; they can hit some threes (6.2 per game), they can go inside to Duncan, they can run pick and roll with Parker and Duncan or they can let Manu or Tony create off the dribble. They are more multi-dimensional than they are given credit for.

SEA, to be quite frank, is an awful defensive team. 25th in the NBA. They're 23rd in the league in blocked shots and have only guy that can be considered a vertical inside presence. That's Jerome James, who averaged 1.39 blocks in only 16.6 minutes per game.

Ahhhh, Jerome James. 4.9 PTS and 3.0 REB during the regular season and 17.2 PTS and 9.4 REB against SAC in round 1. Is he a changed man? Has he turned the corner? Will he finally realize the potential of his God given talents? You probably heard the story: Adelman cuts James years ago during the preseason, hands him a garbage bag and tells him to find another line of work. Apparently James didn't remember any of that during the regular season, when he averaged only 5 and 1.3 against SAC.

But James dug deep, feng shuid his couches and centered his Chi for the playoffs. In a sick way, I've enjoyed watching this guy the past couple of years. So I know that he has a load of offensive talent and noticed that he definitely played harder against SAC. I even caught him rotating on defense once. It was amazing! Up there with that whole Ivory-billed Woodpecker thing.

But, call me crazy, I am going to go with the 268 games of evidence that says he sucks. He played well in five games against a team who's only inside defensive presence was a one-legged Brad Miller (Skinner played less than 10 minutes a game in the series), who averaged all of 1.2 blocks in 37 minutes of play during the regular season. What happens when, sometime in the first quarter, James gets by The Solid Slovenian but then gets his shot blocked by TIMMEH!? How does he react when he quicks up two quick fouls trying to guard a post player (something he didn't have to do agaisnt SAC) like Duncan? Can McMillan even leave him in after defensively misplaying four consecutive pick and rolls? Will Jerome disappear for the rest of the game, like he did for 250 of his 268 career regular season contests? Or will he, with a determined air, adjust his trash bag cape and get back to work?

SEA lacks inside presence and lacks good perimeter defenders. Their best guard defender is probably Antonio Daniels, who, though I love as a player, cannot guard two guys at once. Which is what he would have to do when Ginobili and Parker are on the court at the same time.

Does a team that ranks 25th in the league in defense have a realistic shot at taking down a team like the Spurs? How often has a team that bad at offense or defense made it to a conference finals? Like I said when previewing the DEN series, it has taken, up to this point, a tandem the quality of Shaq and Kobe to take out a Duncan led Spurs team.

SEA fans seem to be hanging their hats on the individual matchups and the belief that Ray Allen is "hot." (He did average about a bazillion points against SAC.) Pardon my french, but give me a fucking break. Bruce Bowen is one of the top 3 perimeter defenders in the NBA and will funnel Ray into Tim and Rasho all day. Oh, he's also so far in Allen's head that he probably knows when Ray's next manicure is scheduled.

Oh, but what about Rashard? He's a good player and definitely is more of a matchup problem than Ray. And yeah, he's four inches taller than Ginobili (who, by the way, will certainly start over Brent Barry). But when you have the interior defense the Spurs have, all the perimeter defenders have to do is not allow the three. Funnel, funnel, funnel. Make him hit a running 16 footer. Make him shoot over Rasho and Timmeh. If he gets good post position double off of Reggie Evans or Jerome James. Or just simply put Bowen on him. Teams love to try to post up Bowen, which never made much sense to me. Bowen is an expert at making the entry pass near impossible. Carmelo had trouble just getting the ball, let alone doing anything with it.

I think some people are missing that Manu can guard Allen if necessary. He's another terrific perimeter defender that gets overlooked because, well, he doesn't roll enough ankles (he he he). Devin Brown, if healthy, can chase after Allen, too.

What's so baffling about all the SEA matchup talk is the fact that SEA matches up so poorly with SA. You're telling me Luke Ridnour is going to guard Tony Parker? Are you serious? The Wee Frenchmen will eat him alive, and when he does, who's going to challenge Parker's shot in the paint? DEN had Camby and Punkie and Parker still managed 18 points a game.

SEA fans love to say that they have a "lot of guys" that they can "throw at" Duncan. Congratulations. Every team says that during the playoffs. Unfortunately only one of those guys has any chance at guarding him. That's Jerome James. Who will get pick and rolled to death. Fortson's big, yeah, but he won't last 12 minutes guarding Duncan. Hell, he couldn't stay on the floor guarding the likes of Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson (19 fouls in 47 minutes). Reggie Evans is 6'-8" on a good day. Nick Collison is a nice player that I like a lot. But he's only 6'-9" and simply isn't strong enough (and foul prone as well). Potato might do OK. But that means Potato would have to play on the offensive end, which I don't think McMillan would allow.

Then there's The Sickness. And is Ray Allen going to guard Manu? Good luck. I have no idea how to guard him and have yet to see anyone figure it out. Oh, yeah, there's also this:

Player A
47.1 FG%
37.6 3P%
80.4 FT%
1.22 PTS per shot attempt (FGA + .44 * FTA)
4.4 RPG
3.9 APG
1.6 SPG
0.4 BPG
2.3 TOPG

Player B
42.8 FG%
37.6 3P%
88.3 FT%
1.11 PTS per shot attempt
4.4 RPG
3.7 APG
1.1 SPG
0.1 BPG
2.2 TOPG

Which one of those two players is the better offensive player? Hmm. Looks like Player A to me. Player A is of course The Sickness. Player B is Ray Allen. The thing I've been contemplating not saying is the following: Manu Ginobili is a better player than Ray Allen.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Ray has to shoot more because he's the focal point of the offense. Ray's job is to score. Ray has to take those tough three pointers. Defenses key on him. Blah blah blah. I bite my thumb at that shit. Every basketball player's job is to help the team win. And maybe if Ray was as concerned about winning as he was his next contract (or next manicure) he wouldn't take some of those horrible shots. Maybe he would notice that Radmanovic and Lewis are better 3P shooters than him. Or that Rashard Lewis is actually a better offensive player than he is. Or that he's only 3rd on the team in +/- (which is especially sad considering his backup is Flip Fucking Murray).

Ginobili, meanwhile, gets 16 points a game even though he's the third option on offense and the Spurs don't really even run plays for him (unless you consider giving him the ball 25 feet from the basket with 5 seconds on the shot clock and telling him to, uh, do something running a play for him). And he actually plays defense, too, which is a big reason why he's got a +/- of +15.5 (third in the NBA).

Yeah, Ray will get his points against the Spurs. He'll probably average 25 points on 22 shot attempts. He'll bitch about the refs and contribute little on the defensive end. But, hey, I'm sure somebody will give him his near-max contract. It might even be the Sonics, assuming they have enough money left after they overpay for Jerome James.

Spurs in 5.

Other picks:

PHX over DAL in 7
MIA over WAS in 6
DET over IND in 4

Previous picks (from "Quick Playoff Predictions" post on 23 April):

PHX in 4
SA in 5
SEA in 7
DAL in 7
MIA in 5
DET in 5
IND in 6
WAS in 6

Hmm. Got all the winners and only missed by 4 total games. What does that mean? Nothing, of course.

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All content copyright Matthew Powell 2005.