CLEVELAND -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich leaned against a wall inside Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday before his team’s 117-103 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and laid out concerns regarding Tim Duncan's absence from the starting lineup.
“Well, he’s our base from which everything else emanates,” Popovich said. “Everybody else knows how to operate based on where he is and what he does. That’s my biggest concern with the game really is him not being there for everybody to move around because he’s the center of what goes on defensively.
“Timmy’s not the most amazing athlete in the world, but he still protects the rim very, very well, and as I said, provides the center of the universe for us down there.”
That universe came crashing down for the Spurs against the Cavaliers, and will continue to do so as long as Duncan remains out of the lineup with a sore right knee.
Don’t think so? Well, the Spurs were allowing 39.2 points per game in the paint leading up to Duncan’s most recent outing, Jan. 22 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Over the past three contests with Duncan out of the lineup, the Spurs gave up 45.3 points in the paint, and stumbled to a record of 1-2.
“Timmy is highly missed in that regard,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “He’s a paint presence for us. Obviously, LaMarcus [Aldridge] and D-West [David West] tried to do the best they can. LaMarcus got some early fouls, which hurt us. D-West could [only] do so much. They crashed the offensive boards, which gave them some open, easy baskets at the rim and free throws.
The second quarter told the majority of the story.
San Antonio connected on just 5 of 16 attempts and scored 19 points in the quarter. No Spur hit more than one field goal in the second quarter; San Antonio was outscored 29-19. Meanwhile, Cleveland connected on 63.2 percent of its attempts in the frame. In the paint, the Cavaliers outscored the Spurs 16-2 with rookie Boban Marjanovic in the lineup due to Aldridge leaving the game at the end of the first quarter after being called for three fouls.
Marjanovic played seven minutes in the second quarter, the most among San Antonio’s bigs headed into intermission.
The Cavaliers took advantage of the situation and shot 68.4 percent in the paint. On 28 drives to the basket, Cleveland scored 33 points, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“It doesn’t have to do with one player,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored a team-high 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting. “Everybody should be on the same page. We are missing [Duncan]. He’s a great basketball mind. He knows this organization inside and out. We’ve got new guys on the floor that don’t know the plays sometimes or even defensive schemes for us. We’ve just got to keep moving on. Everybody has to get better.”
The severity of Duncan's condition isn't yet known, but Saturday marked his fourth absence in San Antonio's past five games. The Spurs held Duncan out of the team's 120-90 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and he also missed the Jan. 21 win over the Phoenix Suns before returning to the lineup the following night for a 108-95 victory over the Lakers.
Popovich has divulged little information regarding Duncan’s condition, but it’s clear the forward -- who basically serves as San Antonio’s defensive coordinator on the hardwood -- is missed tremendously.
“Starting out the game, we’re on the road, you can’t turn it over. We turned it over a couple of times and got them going, and then combined it with some really poor communication defensively,” Popovich said. “Too many errors. They jumped out on us in the first half. We played it much better in the second half, but the first half on the road, that communication has got to be good and it wasn’t there. So the defense really let us down in that regard. On the boards, Tristan [Thompson] was great. He murdered us like he always seems to do. So a combination of the boards and poor communication on D was our demise early.”
“Just communication-wise, a couple of little things here and there could have changed the whole game where if we rotated here or communicated there, it could have changed the pace, the tempo,” he said. “We could’ve got a couple of stops and we could’ve been in the game. Even though people think [Duncan is] quiet, he’s a great communicator. By action, he leads this team with blocking shots and being a paint presence for us. ... They pretty much got most of their second-chance points off offensive rebounds. A lot of second-chance plays for them, which really hurt us.”
Aldridge admitted Duncan “makes us better,” while adding “we definitely miss him a lot.”
West, who filled in for Duncan in the starting lineup, said the power forward is “a big part of it because he knows the system and he’s really familiar with it.”
Aldridge said, “He makes the game easier for everyone out there."
That’s why the Spurs need Duncan back in the starting lineup ASAP.