Tim Duncan can still do the things that make him great. The Bucks did just enough to keep him busy for 48 minutes, but never enough to get past him in a 117-110 loss
Duncan finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks while demonstrating the polished pivot skills that the Bucks bigs haven’t quite mastered yet. He also finished with a game-high +/- rating of +18.
The main issue:
Defensively, the Bucks were a mess in the first half, but give credit to the Spurs. When they run the high pick-and-roll with Duncan and Tony Parker, they can do damage is so many ways: Parker keeping the ball, Duncan rolling to the hoop, or the Spurs’ ever-present three-point threats waiting on the wings (SA was 9/17 on threes for the game). When a third defender steps into help, Duncan rarely fails to make the correct ‘pass-after-the-pass’.
In fact, the Spurs connected for 19 assists on 28 first-half baskets while shooting 61% from the field.
Here are two screenshots from the Spurs’ first basket of the game. They send Tony Parker baseline around screens working counterclockwise in a play very similar to what the Bucks run for Monta Ellis or Mike Dunleavy. Brandon Jennings chases. Danny Green, who sits 6th in the NBA is three-point field goals, makes the pass from up top.
Monta Ellis ends up taking a few steps away from Green to cut off Parker’s penetration. Is that the right move?
If we go by the results, the answer is a clear ‘no’. Green hits the wide-open three-point attempt.
But it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t type of choice. If Ellis stays home, Parker could try a relatively resistance-free shot near the free throw line. If he probes further in, the help will have to come from Larry Sanders, which would leave Duncan open. (Marquis Daniels could potentially help, but he’s about to get pulled out by Kawhi Leonard, another three-point threat.)
There is no winning choice here. The Spurs are a good offensive team, and they’re going to get their points.
But personally, I wish the Bucks had let Parker have more space/shots and let everyone else have less. The drive-and-kick action scares me a lot more than Parker hitting a shot from 13-17 feet on the move. This play was actually an anomaly, as the Spurs used the pick-and-roll more than this type of movement. It does, however, illustrates the unpalatable selection of options.
For the Bucks, the problems came on the other end. When they were starting their offense by pulling the ball out of the basket, it slowed them down to the point where they depended on Jennings and Ellis to try jump shots. The pair wasn’t terrible (8/19 FG in the first half), but it’s also not enough to keep pace with a humming Spurs offense when the other three starters are Luc Mbah a Moute, Marquis Daniels, and Larry Sanders.
Those three are fine defenders, but when the defense isn’t working, they’re a steaming mess. Could a change be on the way?
Further pressure to make a change may come from John Henson. While he doesn’t fit seamlessly into the defense like Sanders or Ekpe Udoh, he’s a whirlwind of activity on the court. Henson scored 20 points on 10/11 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds.
Despite being a rookie, Henson is a better finisher in the paint than every other Bucks’ big. Sanders is better directly at/above the rim, but Henson has much more fluid moves when forced a few feet away from the hoop.
The Bucks made a garbage time run late in the game. Doron Lamb, Tobias Harris, Udoh, and Daniels came in with 1:28 left and cut a 13-point lead down to five with 12.9 seconds left. It got so bad that Gregg Popovich had to re-insert Duncan for the game’s final play, even though they play in New York today. But Duncan got the inbounds pass in safely and the Spurs hit a pair of free throws to close it out.
A single tweet that sums it up best
— Clutchiness (@clutchiness) January 3, 2013