Where does one even begin with the San Antonio Spurs? The epitome of team basketball, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and head coach Gregg Popovich have demonstrated exquisite chemistry to a level that is rarely seen in the NBA. This season’s beat of the drum has been no different.
Winners of their last eleven of twelve games, it’s just the same old business routine for the Spurs. Year in and year out, they exhibit impeccable ball movement out on the court (they are second in the NBA this season in assists) and the ageless wonders such as Tim Duncan continue to look as if they are stuck in their prime for eternity.
It’s a mix between the young and the old in San Antonio’s starting lineup. You have Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, both of which have seen their fair share number of championships in the heart of Texas. Outside of those two, the rest of the starting three are pretty young. Shooting guard Danny Green stepped out of his shooting slump two nights ago, knocking down six-of-eight three-pointers. Then, just when you think the Spurs couldn’t possibly cause any more damage in the league, they go out and sign big man LaMarucs Aldridge. Coming off his 24-point outing against the Rockets, he will be ready to go against the Bucks, a team he’s played well against his entire career. To wrap things up, the Spurs have yet another rising star in Kawhi Leonard. What’s not to like about this guy? Arguably the best D and three guy in the league (and the only one with corn rows), Leonard is one of Gregg Popovich’s best hidden treasures, helping them win the Finals a couple years ago and an all around terrific basketball player. He will be one of the captains after the Big Three are all gone, and he shouldn’t have any trouble in doing so.
However, one of the members of the Big Three will be absent tonight. Tony Parker did not travel with the team to Milwaukee, as his discomfort from his sore hip is enough to keep him out of the lineup. Instead, the Bucks will get a heavy dose of Patty Mills. However, one has to expect other players to pick up the load that is lost with Parker out of the lineup. That could be Mills, a player who averages a little over eight points per game. However, it could also easily be Tim Duncan. Duncan is coming off his first scoreless game of his career. Yeah, of his career. That’s insane. It will be safe to say he will have no intentions of having that happen again. Look for him to be a workhorse down low in the paint tonight against Greg Monroe.
Looking at the stats this season, it is truly incredible to see just how many categories the Spurs dominate. They are second in assists, second in three-pointers, sixth in rebounds per game, seventh in points per game and boast the best defense in the entire league. Popovich preaches a strong effort on defense, as it is one of his signature traits of his legendary teams. However, taking a glance at the defensive rating rankings in the NBA, Milwaukee has beaten two of the top four teams in that category (Cleveland and Golden State). Now, I’m not saying that signals that the Bucks are going to be victorious tonight, but hey, anything can happen.
So how do the Bucks pull off the monumental task and knock off its third mighty team of the season? First, they are going to have to be alert on defense at all times. That means following the off-the-ball screen action, rotating on defense, and getting hands in the faces of shooters at all times. San Antonio seemed as if they were the human with the feather and the Bucks were the cat, as Milwaukee was absolutely clueless on defense at times. As we hinted at earlier, the Spurs rank second in the league in assists. They use that crisp and quick passing to catch the defense off guard and that’s exactly what happened in the two team’s prior meeting this season. One second the ball will be zooming around the perimeter on a supposed swing, the next second it’s zipping down low to Duncan in the post. It truly is a treat to watch, but the Bucks have to be ready for anything.
Second, Milwaukee needs to put together a full four-quarter game. So many times this season have they let their game be missing-in-action for one period and frankly, against a team with the pedigree and seasoned veteran leadership of the San Antonio Spurs, that cannot happen, otherwise disaster will strike. If the Bucks want any chance of sneaking out with a victory, they are going to need to play in consistent waves. The Bucks have been playing well as of late, even dating back to their first two losses on the road trip in Dallas and Oklahoma City. In the most recent game in Minneapolis, things began to head south on the Bucks right out of the gates. However, instead of crumbling and breaking, the Bucks rallied and righted the ship, paving the road for a tremendous comeback in the second half and ended up winning the game by double-digits. That same mentality will be needed tonight against the Spurs. No matter how bad it may get, keep the composure and concentration.
The Bucks are lucky to have O.J. Mayo for tonight’s game. He escaped suspension from the NBA following his actions in Minnesota, where he had to be constrained by teammates from running at a referee. Instead, he got tagged with a $25,000 fine. Milwaukee will be happy to benefit from the three-point shooting Juice will be able to provide, especially against a team like the Spurs.
Tonight’s going to be a tough game. The Spurs could easily run away with it quickly and not look back. However, it could also go the complete opposite way. Milwaukee could continue their strong play. John Henson showcased his offensive talents in the win against the Timberwolves, including going on an 8-0 run himself. Khris Middleton has been red-hot his last ten games, averaging 21.1 points, including his two 30 plus point efforts. To win tonight’s game, the Bucks will need consistent shooting as well as efforts off the bench. Perhaps part of that effort comes from Rashad Vaughn, who has shown his ability to be an X-factor in crucial times this season. In his homecoming game in Minneapolis, Vaughn hit a big three that helped lead the Bucks back out in front. He did the same a couple weeks ago in Phoenix. In order to win tonight, the Bucks are going to need to be nearly perfect across the board.