Monday night wasn’t only an overwhelmingly dominant performance by the Houston Rockets. Monday night was a manifestation of every San Antonio Spurs fans worst fear.
Losing by 27 points to start the series isn’t a death sentence. What’s worrisome is how easily the Rockets could replicate their flamethrower performance from Game 1 even with less than half of their shots falling.
Attempting to find what adjustments Head Coach Gregg Popovich needs to make to salvage this series is absolutely ridiculous when Game 1 was an aberration in how this series will pan out. Aside from the generic “make shots” and “more defensive effort” analysis, any tweaks Pop makes will seem like an overreaction for a team that won 61 games and defeated these same Rockets three times during the regular season. As history shows and as we discussed after Spurs-Grizzlies Game 1, Pop won’t make series-changing adjustments until he has no choice.
That doesn’t mean we can’t play devil’s advocate for Game 2.
START DEDMON, BENCH LEE
There was a sentiment expressed on Twitter during Game 1’s disaster that playing Dewayne Dedmon shouldn’t be an option. That it’s “easy” to display emotion and fight when the team is down 30 points. That the way Dedmon went about things is anti-Duncan.
What San Antonio seemingly lacked during Game 1 was effort. When the Rockets swung, the Spurs retreated in unfamiliar fashion, as if they were surprised a rested Houston squad would throw their hardest punch so early. The few times San Antonio attempted to swing back, the Rockets countered quicker and harder.
Dedmon goading Nene into an ejection before eventually catching the boot himself was the only measurable amount of grit displayed by anyone wearing white jerseys all night.
The only thing “easy” that San Antonio did Monday night was retreat, which is truly anti-Spurs and not Duncan.
Tim Duncan didn’t have an issue challenging Pop on a miscue or broken play. Nor did Duncan worry about speaking his mind and destroying his laid back demeanor image by challenging a teammate. And Tim Duncan didn’t have a problem telling
future Spurs point guard an opponent to calm the **** down.
Dedmon doesn’t have anywhere near the resume or ability Duncan had, but there’s no reason he can’t takeover as the pulse of this squad.
San Antonio’s systematic qualities, paired with a robotic superstar leader that’s programmed to dispatch opponents effectively, means no one of relevance in the Spurs Death Machine has the ability to emote and command charge when things go poorly. As Popovich infamously said, “I don’t have 14 timeouts. You guys got to get together and talk.”
Enter Dedmon, who solves absolutely nothing in terms of the Spurs’ early offensive woes.
Nevertheless, he proved in his seven minutes during Game 1 that he has the ability to make the impact plays needed to give his teammates a boost while detracting from the opposition. It’s the same role Mario Elie played in the late 90’s when the Spurs failed to shed their soft reputation.
Not to mention, starting Dedmon would allow Lee to return off the bench with the second unit. Which brings us to our second adjustment…
DUAL POINT GUARDS
Finding the ideal lineup to maximize Kawhi Leonard’s offensive output while preserving his energy to clamp down defensively in the clutch still proves to be difficult.
Leonard can check James Harden sporadically throughout the game, but having him stick to Harden for 40 minutes is impossible for a multitude of reasons. And trying to guard the other members of Houston’s high octane backcourt when your second best defender only plays 22 minutes is a death sentence.
The Spurs need to find a small ball group that works effectively enough to play for extended stretches, which is difficult when every player is launching up bricks. But instead of looking for lineups where Leonard can play at the four, what about a different “small” lineup where Patty Mills and Tony Parker share the floor?
In 24 minutes during the regular season, the Parker-Mills backcourt tandem had an offensive rating of 111.5 with a net rating of 16.5. During the first round series against Memphis, those numbers ballooned to 181.3 and 72.4, respectively.
Having two point guards on the floor allows Patrick Beverley to hone in and abuse whoever his counterpart is, but would let the other guard roam somewhat freely as long as Leonard is on the floor. If LaMarcus Aldridge and Lee can atone for their disastrous first game, then a lineup of Aldridge-Lee-Leonard-Mills-Parker is feasible against a smaller, more athletic Houston five.
By the way, that Spurs’ 5-man lineup in the playoffs has an offensive rating of 180.1 with a net rating of 66.9.