Courtside: Raptors-Spurs Report
Not surprisingly, against a dominant defensive San Antonio team, the club was not able to score at will as it did against Milwaukee on Friday night (a game which I missed in its entirety, by the way, not that I’m bitter or anything).
The Spurs remain one foe that Toronto consistently struggles against. The Raps have now dropped eight of their last nine against the perennial contenders.
With Tim Duncan 100 per cent healthy after struggling through the worst season of his career last year thanks to plantar fasciitis, San Antonio has to again be considered a top threat to win another championship. And you can bet the Spurs arrived in Toronto in a foul mood, after losing to the Cavs at home Friday night for the first time since 1988.
Duncan did his thing yesterday, completely taking over the game in the third quarter with 13 of his 26 points. He only played 29 minutes, but was amazingly efficient, sinking 10-for-15 from the floor and an uncharacteristically good 6-for-7 from the line (after missing 10-of-19 on Friday). It’s obvious how much better he’s feeling this year. Those quick spin moves in the low post were far too rare last season. Once that patented bank shot starts coming more frequently, look out. Duncan will justify his late-first round, early-second round selection status. Don’t worry.
The Spurs got capable secondary scoring from Tony Parker, despite the fact he’s still not at full strength after suffering an ankle sprain last week. Parker was also efficient, scoring 19 points (10 in the fourth quarter) on 8-for-15 shooting from the floor and 3-for-4 from the line. He also added four boards. There’s little chance Parker can duplicate last season’s ridiculously good 54.8 per cent mark from the field. That’s unheard of for a guard. But the early returns suggest that Parker is capable of averaging 20 PPG for the first time this season and he should get even better whenever Eva finishes nursing him back to full strength. As you can well imagine, it’s hard to be Tony Parker these days.
Observations from the game:
- It seemed like FIBA Day at the ACC. Both these teams are loaded with international talent and are the models for the future of a sport that is definitely becoming more global by the year. On San Antonio, you’ve got Duncan (Virgin Islands), Francisco Elson (The Netherlands), Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto (Argentina), Parker (Belgium) and Beno Udrih (Yugoslavia). For Toronto, international flavour includes Andrea Bargnani (Italy), Jose Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa (Spain), Rasho Nesterovic and Uros Slokar (Yugoslavia) and Pape Sow (Senegal). And that doesn’t include Anthony Parker, who’s an Illinois native, but has been starring in the EuroLeague for the last six years.
- For once, Toronto got out of the gates with solid defence, limiting its opponent’s FG percentage to something acceptable in the opening quarter. The result is a 23-7 run late in the quarter and 25 points and lead at the end of one.
- The defensive breakdown occurs later, however, and San Antonio shoots 50 per cent overall, bouncing back nicely after a subpar effort against Cleveland. The second quarter is especially poor as the Spurs are sinking everything. Oberto, who’s a surprise starter at centre in the early going for the Spurs, is money in 24 minutes, sinking 5-for-6 for 12 points while adding nine boards. He’s available on your waiver wires, but will start getting attention if he keeps getting more minutes and putting up near double-doubles. I thought Elson would be the Spurs’ starting centre, and he’s playing well off the bench, but Oberto looks like he has control of this competition right now.
- Raps are shooting the lights out early on, sinking 47 per cent early in the second quarter. Unfortunately, that fades over the rest of the quarter and remains cold in the third. They wind up at 42.1 per cent, scoring just 94 points.
- While we’re talking about shooting, here’s a positive sign: Calderon drains his only shot and is now 8-for-11 for the young season. He’s not shooting as much, but is picking his spots well and it’s showing. If this keeps up, expect him to start getting 15 minutes or more per game and to possibly emerge as a useful fantasy option later in the season. Don’t forget how injury prone T.J. Ford is. Calderon may yet become a very important player for Toronto.
- On the downside, Nesterovic was just 1-for-4 from the field. No one is expecting him to contribute much offensively, but part of his limited fantasy value lies in the fact he won’t hurt you in the FG percentage category (51.5 per cent last season). So far this year, however, he’s struggling at 38.1 per cent. He’s been getting over twice the amount of touches he had with the Spurs, but so far it’s not paying off. I was a bit disappointed that Rasho didn’t come up with a better effort against the team he spent the past three years with. In fact, he struggled badly enough to have his minutes cut pretty significantly. I’ll give him this: he’ll get you a block or so per game, but the number that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is how many shots he alters with his presence. Chris Bosh also helps tremendously in that area, giving the Raptors two players who can change a game defensively. That’s definitely going to help the team this year.
- Speaking of Bosh, he showed why he’s an All-Star, scoring 19 points and adding 17 boards (five shy of his career high, set last year), despite being guarded by Duncan and having to defend him as well. He’s starting to get his conditioning back after missing half the preseason, and his minutes are rising. The shooting touch and FT accuracy will come, and the scoring average will shoot back well over 20 PPG soon enough. The early-season rebounding prowess is very promising, however. If Bosh can be a 20 and 12 man, I’d be damn happy.
- Toronto is hot from outside to start (3-for-6), but hits just 2-of-7 from that point on. Luckily, San Antonio is no better, starting 3-for-7 and finishing 7-for-19. Without Brent Barry, who hits all five from downtown, the Spurs wouldn’t have had any outside presence. Barry just killed the Raps with 16 points in 30 minutes off the bench, and next to Duncan’s third-quarter exploits, he’s the main reason San Antonio is victorious in this contest. Barry, 5-for-6 all told in the game, is one of those players who could probably be a useful fantasy player elsewhere but is just a spare part in San Antonio. He doesn’t even play every game, but seems capable of coming off the bench at any time and lighting it up like he did yesterday. The thing is, barring a backcourt injury, there’s no reason to own Barry given his limited PT.
- Toronto expected to have a major edge when the second units were on the floor, but it didn’t play out that way in the first half. All told, the Raps’ bench outscored the Spurs 32-31. Of course, without Barry’s 16, Toronto probably wins the game. Its bench will probably outscore that of its opponents most of the time. Garbajosa is the top man off the bench for Toronto, snapping his early-season shooting woes with a 2-for-4 game for nine points. He sunk his only three-point try and added two steals. Kris Humphries and P.J. Tucker, meanwhile, don’t even play, as coach Sam Mitchell shortens the bench for the first time this season.
- Raps have a late run, sparked by Bosh (who dishes out some nice passes), pulling within five with 3:11 to play. But the Spurs take over. One 8-0 run later, it’s game over.
- Ginobili is kind of quiet, but he nails all four of his free throws, drops three dimes and hits two key layups in the decisive run.
- Thanks to Duncan, San Antonio sinks 18-of-25 (72 per cent) from the charity stripe. This is traditionally a weak spot for the this club. Last year, the Spurs sunk just over 70.1 per cent, ranking 28th in the association. They’re 27th this year, but the numbers are down to 63.54 per cent. Come playoff time, this will be huge, so San Antonio needs to consistently get over 70 per cent and perhaps closer to 75 per cent if it’s serious about a championship this year.
- Fred Jones was phenomenal this preseason, but has fought inconsistency early in the season. Yesterday, he struggled badly from the floor, sinking just 3-of-9 and missing both his three-point tries. He did pitch in with four rebounds and a steal, but was not able to build on a big game Friday. With Toronto playing just three times this week, I’m again keeping him on the bench. If Jones doesn’t step up, he might be on my bubble to be cut soon.
- Ford came up big in the fourth quarter for the Raps, operating the offense so quickly. All told he scores 15, but shoots just 5-for-14 from the field as he seemed to get away from his sweet spot of straight up and down jumpers, opting instead for off-balance, more difficult shots. Ford’s strength is not in scoring off the dribble. He only managed five assists, but pitched in with two steals.
- Bargnani keeps looking a bit better each time out. He played a season-high 11 minutes and sunk 3-of-7 from the field, including the first three-pointer of his career. Bargnani also added his first FT on the way to a new personal best of eight points. As mentioned, Garbajosa shot better yesterday, but if his struggles continues, Bargani could replace him as the first big man off the bench. Look for him to be getting 15 minutes per game perhaps as early as next week.
- San Antonio has a tough schedule this week. They flew from home Saturday for yesterday’s game, and play again tonight in New York. That’s a gruelling three days. Good thing the Knicks suck.
- Okay, so the loss drops Toronto to 1-2. But after starting last year 0-9, it’s already progress to have a winning percentage that includes numbers besides zeros.
NBA EXPERT LEAGUE UPDATE
I’m off to a very good start in the expert fantasy basketball league, ranking second of 12 teams after the first week. I made one switch this week, dumping Bobcat centre Primoz Brezec, who’s going to be out for two weeks because of exhaustion (jeez, the preseason sure is tough, eh?) and may not get his job back upon return. In his place, I’ve added Golden State’s Andris Biedrins. Biedrins has taken over at centre and recorded a double-double in his first game. I’m praying he keeps it up with the Warriors playing four games this week. At the very least, he should help my FG percentage, which is abysmal to start.