Well. What a day...
It is no coincidence that all three of our victories (plus that 13-0 run in 1:10 vs. Utah) were through putting the bubble style of play at the core of our game. Returning to what has been successful for us helped us generate our own energy and a cohesion that sustained us even through their runs. We bought in, Pop lit a fire under the team's collective asses in the shootaround, and had a strong response to the listless previous game.
After the previous game, Pop called the team soft, a description he brings out now and again after particularly uncompetitive efforts. We needed a jolt to shift our mentality. Pop was his ornery, one-word version in the pre-game interview, and it set the tone for how the team had to respond in this game:
Just as DJ deserved the criticism last game, he deserves compliments in this one. He shot 9 on team-high 18 attempts to lead the starters with 21 points. It's how he's able to get his points that stands out now, too:
This was a stat stuffing kind of night, and when he gets going he has these contributions across the board. It passed the eye test, too. He was the sole plus starter because even though everyone but for DeMar was buying in, they were all inefficient. DJ's relentless energy and pushing the ball stood out the most. He has to be more consistent, but his resilience in responding to a poor outing bodes well. I really liked how vocal he was in getting guys to move off ball and do it quickly, leading the team to keep the flow going.
I've maligned LMA a lot but we frankly missed him and need his game. Without that 0-3 3rd Q he was 50% efficiency. I know it doesn't do to cherry pick stats to make them look a certain way, but bring it up to point out that a dip in efficiency in one Q didn't deter him. LMA looked more locked in for this game than any previously he played, was active, had a bounce to his step and not only made important shots for us (he and DJ were the only two starters in double figures) but also some key defensive stops as well. His strength and return to being an active final defensive stop - especially against that forever twat - which we missed sorely. Having him back showed just how much we missed him and no combination of Jakob and Drew could substitute for LMA. He spread the floor, he battled for rebounds, he passed the ball more, he came out from under the basket to contest more, and he was that last line of defense.
Lonnie clearly looked to be more assertive and despite an inefficient night, but he and DJ were the only starters who got to the foul line. He even finished with his left hand! While learning to be more comfortable and find ways of contributing in a half court set is important, Lonnie clearly thrives in the D to O transition downhill style we used so much during this game. It caters to his athleticism and speed and generates the kind of energy he and the team can feed off of. He was also tasked with the man D assignment on #2. It was a team effort, but slowing him down so teammates could double or force passes was a good experience for him.
Keldon had an off night for him but that it's considered that when he scores 9 and still finds other ways to contribute - tough D assignment also on #2 at times, he even got switched onto their C and held his own, plus leading the team in rebounds (11) and O boards (4) along with four assists. Some thunderous dunks, physical presence and a relentless drive helped keep our forward momentum.
DD was off in this game and his momentum seems at times to thwart the up-tempo team concept. When we are pushing our best running style, Patty and Rudy fair best with the young guys. DD sat on the bench for a long stretch when the young guys and a couple of vets went on a 2nd Q tear to get a 24-point lead. It was an absolute clinic of our best play on both ends. We communicated well, rotated and contested well, rebounded well (29, 7 on O), and pushed the pace time and again. While we were excited and animated at our play, there was DD on the bench with a towel over his mouth just watching. Not a good look. Maybe something's going on with him, but he was pulled because he was ineffectual in his slower pace, insisting on trotting the ball up the court, insisting on dribbling the ball up right or left waiting for teammates to start running our familiar half court sets. They didn't work. In came the subs and up went our lead. He returned with around five minutes left in the half, and once again slowed the game down. Lead slipped to 19 at the half with some out of sync play.
He was far more acquiescent in the bubble when he was the 4 and clearly had a complementary role. He took it to heart, perhaps too much so as if to make a point: there were times in the bubble when he refused to shoot, taking so few shots that it stood out. But maybe I'm reading too much into that. He still was the bubble's leading 4th Q scorer, I believe, so he picked his spots well, but also did it within the team concept. But he's the lone holdover right now, insisting on getting his points his way, in a way that he prefers, that slowed down methodical, sometimes plodding way that ends with late clock shots, or shots taken too early in the clock where not enough teammates touch the ball, over-orchestrating. Even LMA was blending in better even as he still got his long 2s in.
DD's shots were exclusively in and around the paint, and was the sole starter who didn't attempt a 3. We took a team record-tying 40 and made a team record-tying 20 which was wonderful and indicative of a team-wide effort in playing the bubble way with a concerted effort to take more 3s, but that he didn't take one is as much about his not doing so when he doesn't have to as much as his not really buying into the run and gun style, at least the last maybe two or three games or so. Jakob was the only other Spur who didn't take a 3, but as we know, unlike DeMar, this is not a shot he has in his tool kit. DD made some nice passes from the key out to the corners for others' 3s or driving and kicking out mostly to LMA.
But there's no arguing against the fact that when DD and LMA got the bulk of the minutes in the 3rd Q, our lead all but disappeared. He left the game with 2:40 left when we were only up by 6. We allowed 40 points, scored 22, and finished it with a one-point lead. That's not to say it was all on him, but our style of play was clearly different, clearly slower, and that allowed the opponent to keep pushing for stops and when they got them it only revved them up on O all the more which had us on our heels. It was a huge momentum swing.
Last season these would have folded us. We had the one dominant style of play that the starters catered to, and given that they were in the game at the most important minutes like late game situations, it often felt like we knew the result was inevitable. Except for the Jazz game, we've been competing hard and using multiple weapons on both ends to push our pace and impose our game.
Our bench continues to be stellar, outscoring theirs 57-30. FIBA Patty led us with 8-12 from 3, leading the team with 27 points. He along with Rudy and even LMA took 3s off the dribble, something we have been not doing nearly enough of, but we can make it a bigger threat. Rudy was terrific, and when he's the small ball 5 we are very dangerous. Another line-up variation discovery that is proving fruitful in the bubble style is another weapon we can use. Jakob was back on the bench and there was far better cohesion with this group. He had a well rounded contribution rebounding, assisting, stealing, and one basket. But what a basket! Faking a hand off, spinning into the key for a drive and thunderous dunk! Two points is not two points. The whole bench erupted with Jakob contributing to the bubble energy. How about Devin and his focused play? He was the first player off the bench, and he stepped up. A steal leading to a dunk, a fast break finishing with a layup and foul along with a made FT, quick high release 3s. An excellent 17 minutes of work. He fits right in, makes smart reads, plays within himself, and contributes on both ends. Such a smart, capable player. We don't win this game without his impact on D and O.
In such a close game, we don't win without all the scored points, of course. It didn't help that the refs interfered so egregiously late in the game that it entered the realm of questionable intentions. Pop was absolutely livid, and it's no wonder. Patty was fouled, was at the line, was about to shoot FTs when the refs blew whistles to verify on replay whether it was in fact Patty who should be taking the FTs. Why? Because the opponent was insisting that DD was the one who got fouled. This even though the fouler who pushed Patty in the back complained that he didn't do anything, even though Patty went flying to the floor, even though the ref had already made the call! It was just trickery to try to influence the refs into DD taking the shots. Even if he didn't, the interruption took Patty, up until then shooting 100% from the line, out of rhythm so the effect was the same. I don't think the refs were targeting us exclusively. A read through any GB game thread shows fans of other teams bemoaning the reffing, too. It seems like the refs are in pre-season mode or something. Regardless, this was an egregious example of the refs allowing themselves to wilt to a home team's pressure rather than sticking with the call they made. In wanting to get the call right, they doubled down in doing the absolute wrong thing and the influence nearly affected the outcome. What's the lesson here? Whine enough and the wrong call will upend the right one? Well, if the outcome is the same, yes. I can't believe what I saw. After the game, Pop was still clearly seething in the post-game interview, making it clear he wanted to get the **** out of there. You can't have the refs impose on the game like that, essentially doing the opponent's bidding to boot. I hope some strong words are sent to the league about that play.
I know every game is counted the same in the W column, and perhaps I'm imposing my view on it, but I have a feeling this wasn't just any other opponent for Pop either. Make no mistake, he wanted us to win this one badly. He set the tone, he called good timeouts, and but for keeping DD and LMA in the 3rd Q too long, had solid and tight rotations. The guys who played as well as the ones who didn't were absolutely the right choices. He was animated pre-game in the shootaround, he was animated in the timeouts when some guys made the wrong plays, he was about as animated at the refs as you could be without getting tossed when #2 arm shoved Keldon away to create space and nothing was called, and in that final play with Patty shooting FTs. Patty said that he shouldn't have to rev the players up but that he likes doing it. I love that he's so spirited and fervent both the team and against outside influences. And I love that the guys responded so well, taking on his intensity and channeling it on the court.
It helped us overcome some late-game lapses: DD missed a weak layup attempt, Rudy missed a dunk then lost the possession by getting his D board deflected, Patty missed one FT. We stayed focused on the game, didn't let the external and self-imposed setbacks stay in mind, and executed the final play very well. I think Keldon was to be on #2 for the final shot, but they switched and we didn't miss a beat, shadowing # with quick feet, a wide stance body upright and arms busy. No pass could be made and the shot was well contested for the miss. For all the things that didn't go right for DD, this one was absolutely spot on. Ironic that DD was the strong defender forcing the end of game miss. Felt good. Keldon grabbed the final rebound for the win. Felt even better.
I like that we have many guys who can step up on any given night, and that we don't cater to a hierarchy nearly as much as we once did. I like that we're playing as and with a more united front. I like that we can better withstand opponent runs and counter punch when imposing our style of play on both ends. Still, we can still do some things better. Rebounding and securing the ball is one, contesting 3s is another, and everybody remaining committed to do their part in making the bubble style work stands out as well. So far, a great first response to a soft previous game: proper spacing on fast breaks, 20 3s, 26 fast break points, faster pace. Carrying the momentum to upcoming games and creating some good imprints for consistency to set in is the goal now. NOTEWORTHY ACHIEVEMENTS