Spurs' bench keys win over Bobcats
FEB 08, 2014 11:54p ET
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It didn't matter Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili remain out with injuries, or that Tiago Splitter didn't suit up with a left leg contusion and Marco Belinelli was out with back spasms. Just as they always do, the Spurs got it done with Duncan (16 points, 13 rebounds) and a stellar supporting cast in a 104-100 victory in Charlotte that gives the Spurs the best road record in the league.
1. The Spurs limped in and again limped out of an opposing arena with a win.
Throughout much of the second half, Spurs head coach Greg Popovich was playing two guys with masks on protecting broken noses (Matt Bonner and Nando De Colo) and three backups -- Jeff Ayres, Cory Joseph and Patty Mills. Still, Charlotte (22-29), winners of three of their last four heading before, had no answer.
"They don't put anybody in the game that doesn't know how to play and doesn't have a skill," Steve Clifford said. "They are as well coached as any team in the league. They have their superstars but they know how to put a team together."
Combined, the Spurs got 55 points from their bench on 18-of-29 shooting. The Bobcats meanwhile got just 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting.
2. Second-half defense let the Bobcats down
Owners of the fourth worst offense in the league, the Charlotte Bobcats have built this turnaround on defense under Clifford with the fourth best scoring defense in the league (96.9).
But that defense failed them Saturday night in the second half, giving up 63 second-half points including 35 in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't the Spurs starters torching them either. Tim Duncan only played 11 second-half minutes and Tony Parker was out there for 10. Instead of the usual suspects, it was Patty Mills and his running mates from the deepest bench in the league carving up the Bobcats. Mills on the night tossed in 32 points on 10-of-13 shooting to go with seven rebounds and four assists in only 25 minutes.
"I liked our effort, but at the end of the day what we didn't do was we didn't play with near the level of discipline we needed to -- too many mistakes," Clifford said. "In the second half, the things that were the big points of emphasis we weren't near locked into them the way we needed to be. Against them if you don't have all five guys tied together on every possession, you're going to give up the type of shots we did. It was a good effort, but we're going to have to play a much more disciplined game to beat a team like that."
Clifford pointed to Mills' four first-half threes as all being a simple defensive mistake. The first one he was left open in the strong side corner. The second, Clifford said, his post player didn't step into Mills and gave him a wide open, pull-up three in transition. The third and fourth were simple pick-and-rolls where the big never stepped to him, letting him step right into one. You can get away with that against some teams, but not against the defending Western Conference champions.
"I think we let him get to his strengths. He's been playing really well recently, and he's a hell of a shooter," Henderson said. "I think we just have to pay a little more attention to detail. It's not just him, but backdoor cuts, little small stuff that a team like that will take advantage of."
3. Is fronting Al Jefferson going to become the en vogue way to defend him? It worked for Boris Diaw and the Spurs.
Boris Diaw's return to Charlotte after his acrimonious exit midseason two years ago was filled with merciless booing for the entire first quarter.
Ultimately, though, Diaw got the last laugh and not with his offense but with his defense, drawing the tough assignment of covering Al Jefferson.
Jefferson put up 26 points and nine rebounds on 12-of-21 shooting from the floor, but over the final three quarters, the Spurs and Diaw did about as good of job on him as anyone's done in arguably the hottest stretch of his career.
Jefferson had 12 points in the first quarter on 6-of-8 shooting with Tim Duncan guarding him, but Popovich -- the best tactician in the game -- switched it up for the remainder, putting Diaw on Jefferson and frequently fronting him.
"Especially against the good teams, you're going to have to work to get it to [Jefferson]. Everybody has to be in the right spots, he's gotta work for position down there," Gerald Henderson said. "We were getting it to him in the first half, but they were playing him a bit tougher, so he was catching it a little further out which is better for them. But we just have to do a better job everybody of making sure that the gets the ball in a spot that he's most effective."
In addition to Diaw's strength, which he was able to use to keep Jefferson from catching it as low as he normally does, moving Duncan off of him helped clog up the lanes, Clifford said.
"Duncan's such an exceptional weakside defender and basket protector, so it also makes it harder when you're throwing it over the top because its more congested in the lane," Clifford said. "But obviously Al was terrific."
Jefferson said being fronted didn't bother him as much as he just missed some shots he normally makes.
"Boris keeps Al in front of him and he stays down on Al's pump fakes, which are the best in the league. Boris fronts him and doesn't let him catch it where he wants to catch it. Boris did a great job."
Much of the night Diaw did it by himself, too, as the Spurs rarely brought the double. He was getting help over the top but they never fully committed to bringing the double as so many teams do.
"If you're going to shoot a shot against [Diaw], it's going to have to be over top of him," Henderson, his former teammate, said. "He's a pretty good defender. You see he's guarding Al, then he's guarding LeBron in the Finals, so he's very versatile."
4. Kidd-Gilchrist was big on the glass and on defense again
It's no coincidence the Bobcats defense sunk with the departure of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to injury and rose right back with his return.
His energy, athleticism and toughness can't be quantified on a stat sheet and often go unnoticed by fans blinded by his deficiencies offensively, but Kidd-Gilchrist seemed to be everywhere in 28 minutes. He only had four points but his 12 rebounds including six offensive were key in keeping the Bobcats in it in the second half.
"Mike's just a high energy, defensive-minded player. He helped us big time on the boards tonight," Jefferson said. "To me, he's the captain on the defense -- the guy to set the tone."
What could be, what could be if only he could hit a jump shot.