Spurs Bounce Back, Game Four Keys

Nobody envisioned the defending champs would go down without making this a series. Returning home following two decisive losses, where New Orleans made San Antonio appear old and slow, raising at least a few doubts about its longevity in this postseason, the Spurs responded. Gregg Poppovich made two noticeable adjustments, moving Bruce Bowen off Chris Paul to defend Peja Stojakovic and starting Sixth Man of the Year Bruce Bowen. Both paid dividends, but neither deserve credit for the win.

Putting Bowen on Stojakovic is admitting that nobody will stop Chris Paul, the key is containing his supporting cast. Taking away his weapons, forces Paul to create his own shots, minimizing the easy opportunities he creates for others. As expected, Paul played another awesome game, dicing up the slower Tony Parker for 35 points. However, Paul took 25 shots, a total he eclipsed only 7 times all season, and he failed to reach double digit assists (9). Less opportunities for those around him, Stojakovic in particular, who was held to eight points on 2-7 shooting, both personal lows for this post-season.

Ginobli dominated in his first post-season start, slashing his way to 31 points and six assists. We can argue the merits of starting versus providing a spark off the bench, the biggest advantage from starting Ginobli is that he was on the court for almost 40 minutes, 10 more than he averaged the first two games. The Argentine changes the game when he is on the floor, the Spurs need him in this series, and for the rest of these playoffs. If starting him means more total minutes of impact, then Pop has to start him.

While the Bowen change improved the team defense, New Orleans still managed 99 points, in line with its performance in the first two games. The difference in Game Three was San Antonio’s offense. Parker exuded the same confidence he showed against Phoenix, not hesitating when the defense gave him shot opportunities, driving to the basket hard, forcing the action rather than waiting for it to come to him. He matched Ginobli with 31 points, adding 11 assists.

Tim Duncan did not break out with big game after he was virtually non-existent in the first two games, he did all the little things – the fundamentals. New Orleans insists on doubling down on Duncan, in Game Three he adeptly drew defenders and passed off. Defensively, he stepped up, notching 13 boards and 4 blocks, standing up to David West and Tyson Chandler, who each outplayed Duncan in the Big Easy.

San Antonio feeds off Duncan, the entire team looked more comfortable as he looked more comfortable. Overall, passing was crisp, shot selection was better, and the Spurs played a consistent 48 minute game. Another overlooked stat, the third quarter. In the first two games, New Orleans blew the doors off San Antonio out of halftime, on Thursday night, the Spurs won the third and won the game. Playoff games are won in the second half – though Boston proved last night, they can be lost in the first half. Coming out of the half weak killed the champs the first two games, and may have saved them last game.

This is not a series until San Antonio can win Game Four. Unless Duncan can manage one of those 30+ point, 20+ rebound performances, where the team jumps on his back, Parker and Ginobili have to step up to the occasion, play with confidence, shoot well, and get to the basket. I’ll reiterate, as I have all year, they are the champs until beaten.

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