How the Spurs Can Avoid Elimination with Three Lessons From Captain American: Civil War
It seems not that long ago when the San Antonio Spurs, through a heroic display of selflessness and teamwork, exorcised the most powerful basketball player on the planet from the city of Miami en route to capturing the 2014 NBA Championship. Just yesterday, too, it seems Marvel's Avengers came together to save the people of Sokovia from Ultron, adding a key free agent—Scarlet Witch—in the process.
Just like the Avengers, the Spurs find themselves embroiled in a civil war between the old guard and the new, between passing and isolation, between size and small ball. For the Spurs to keep their best-ever season alive and win Games 6 and 7, there are three key lessons they could learn from Captain America: Civil War.
1. Trust your best guys. The days of the 2014 "beautiful game" Spurs are over. I'll miss them, for sure. It was awesome to see five guys effortlessly whip the rock around to create wide open threes. But the passing just doesn't seem to be there anymore. Per Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, the Thunder have more assists (71) than the Spurs (69) since Game 1 but on 370 fewer passes.
The Spurs have moved to isolation and mid-range shots, and the good news is that they have two offensive superstars who happen to be very good at that. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge should be the focus, the same way that Captain America and Falcon separate themselves from the rest of the group to rescue the Winter Soldier. The problem is getting these guys going in "clutch" situations (5-point game with 5 or fewer minutes left), where the Spurs are shooting 35% for the series and 25% in the last two games.
2. Don't forget about the old guy. Tony Stark has seen better days: his movie franchise is over, and he almost singlehandedly destroyed the world by creating Ultron. But he's still a crucial part of the capture of Baron Zemo. Similarly, Tim Duncan hasn't been a scoring threat for quite some time, but the Spurs need him to combat the big Adams/Kanter lineup that Billy Donovan has rolled out these last two games.
Duncan will set tough screens that will allow the Spurs to exploit Kanter's defense. He'll get some of the rebounds that David West and Boris Diaw can't. (OKC had an astounding 32.9% offensive rebound percent the last two games.) And he'll provide valuable rim protection and shot disruption. (Speaking of Tony Stark, I liked those bionic legs he made for the crippled War Machine. Do you think he could whip up a pair for Duncan?)
3. Use your role players wisely. Everyone's favorite parts of Civil War were the Ant-Man and Spider-Man appearances because they used those characters in just the right amount. They didn't upstage the movie; they contributed only when they needed to. Well, the Spurs' second most-used lineup on Tuesday was an all-bench Mills/Ginobili/Anderson/Diaw/West squad that posted an abysmal -77 net rating in 5 minutes. (Mills, in particular, doesn't have his stroke—he's shooting just 16.7% from three.)
And with Donovan staggering Westbrook and Durant's minutes, Danny Green—30.7 minutes per game—needs more time on the court guarding either of the the Thunder's big two. If Gregg Popovich really wants to test his bench, why not try to get 4 or 5 minutes of 3-and-D out of Jonathan Simmons? Or have Boban Marjanovic try to snag a rebound or two?
The narrative of this series has been largely focused on officiating. Yes, Dion Waiters invented an offensive foul in Game 2, and, sure, the officials swallowed their whistles on Tuesday night on Adams's moving screen and Leonard's intentional foul.
But, the Spurs and their fans can't let this series be about the referees. After all, the referees are only human. The Spurs, they're the super heroes.