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The Palace Stands In Its Proper Place

Teams do not catch San Antonio napping. Teams do not frustrate Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich and Manu Ginobili mercilessly. Teams do not blow out the Spurs.

Henry Fuseli, Oath of the Rutli

That's the magic not of the Kings, but of ARCO Arena. 11,000 warm-blooded viewers in the building? It sounded like an earthquake. This wasn't a Beno Udrih win, or a Mikki Moore win, or a Brad Miller. It was a Sacramento win. Few things are unexplainable in this world; the magic these concrete ruins emits when evil visits, this is one of those mysteries.

Actually, it's not. The Kings won because the Spurs defense was terrible. Well, Bruce Bowen played Kevin Martin flawlessly and the doubles worked on Ron Artest for the most part. But Brad Miller isn't used to getting any breathing room against Duncan. Gregg Popovich created the Miller defense in the 2005-06 season -- you park a big (preferably Duncan) in Miller's lap in the high post. If Miller drives, you force him to the middle of the paint instead of letting Brad use you as a screen for help defense. Pop's Miller defense worked flawlessly in the '06 playoffs -- Miller was awful (9 pts, 3 reb, 2.5 ast, 40% FG). And it worked last year during the season, too -- Brad averaged 4 pts/game against San Antonio.

But for whatever reason, Popovich is afraid of Artest. (Memo to Denver, the Lakers, any team which thinks it may need an extra boost against the Spurs this spring: Ron might be available.) The Spurs incessantly sent doubles at Artest, which is almost useless: Ron's so ridiculously strong in deep that he has the same likelihood of scoring with two guys on him as with one. This isn't to say he's a god or something; he takes numerous ridiculous shots in the paint, and an extra hand in his mug does nothing either way. Double teams affect the skittish. Has anyone ever considered Ron Artest skittish?

So Popovich focuses the interior defense on Ron, giving Miller all sorts of space. What does Brad Miller do with space? He fires behind-the-back passes to John Salmons to seal the game. He hits Mikki Moore going to the rim repeatedly. He shoots 7 of 12 and doesn't register a single turnover. He opens up the entire floor (except the section The Rash has infected) for cutters and shooters and thumb twiddlers.

I kept waiting for the glass slipper to drop, for Pop to stick some Timmy back in Brad's craw. It never happened. That last assist (the hot dog pass to Salmons) was the best example of San Antonio's assertion Artest was the Rosetta Stone. They collapsed on Artest from about 10 feet, Miller cut to some space and hit Salmons. It wasn't a called play or a planned set -- it was Miller as point-center, his absolute strength on offense. Popovich used to ban Miller's point guard ways in these matchups. He shifted gears last night, and it (along with underwhelming performances from just about every Spur not named Fabricio Oberto or Darius Washington) cost his team the game.

Of course, much of the league caught on to Popovich's Miller defense over the past two years. Dallas executes it well; the Clippers have pulled it off a few times as well. Hopefully, all the league's coaches will take Pop's lead on this one to free up Brad some more. This team is what you saw last night when Miller is himself.