Wed Jan 05 11:00am EST
It'd be unfair to say that DeJuan Blair(notes) is experiencing a sophomore slump; after all, the Pittsburgh product has been a frontline starter and valuable contributor for the San Antonio Spurs, helping Gregg Popovich's squad post the NBA's best record through the season's first 34 games. But the numbers tell us that his per-minute production has been down a tick from his wonderful rookie season.
A look at Basketball-Reference.com shows that Blair's field-goal and True Shooting percentages are way down; that while he's hitting free throws at a much higher clip, he's also making nearly two fewer trips to the line per 36 minutes than last year; and that he's grabbing a lower percentage of available offensive and defensive rebounds than he did a season ago. (He's still doing well on the glass, though — DeJuan ranks 15th in total-rebound rate among players averaging more than 15 minutes per game, according to Hoopdata.com.)
It's not like Blair has struggled mightily — he's posted five double-doubles and has put together some nice stretches, including a three-game December swing in which he averaged 13.7 points, 11 rebounds and 2.7 steals in wins over the New Orleans Hornets, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. But he just hasn't seemed quite as beastly as he so often did during his first campaign in black and silver. We haven't seen nearly as much of what Dick Stockton once brilliantly referred to as "DeJuan Bear" as we might like.
During the second quarter of the Spurs' defensive struggle with the New York Knicks on Tuesday night, though, Blair unleashed the beast on Ronny Turiaf(notes). And the Brickers' normally affable center didn't seem too thrilled by it:
International readers ("Int'l read'rs"): If the clip above isn't rocking for you, hit the jump for a YouTube version that might work better, via free trade agreements or whatever.
After Blair swung in from the mid-block and banged on Turiaf's melon, the two faced off and appeared to exchange pleasantries, leading an angered Turiaf to lean in with a shoulderblock/beardbump that earned him a technical foul. Both the whistle and the vitriol are pretty rare happenings — Turiaf has only received 16 techs in 321 games over the course of a five-plus-year NBA career, since he's mostly just smiling and dancing and loving life.
Far rarer, for sure, than Turiaf getting posterized, which happens to him fairly frequently as a result of his drive to protect the rim, even to the detriment of his own reputation. And while MSG play-by-play announcer Mike Breen is right that it's hard to tell whether or not Blair said anything to goad Turiaf into getting physical, I think we can all agree that Ronny's aggression was a generally fair response to Blair's vocals on "2 Hard Living."
Whatever the cause for the strife, Turiaf would get the last laugh, as Blair's Spurs dropped just their fifth game of the season in the Garden despite DeJuan posting 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with eight rebounds and a steal in just 17 1/2 minutes of burn. The performance continues a recent stretch of quality play that started with the 17-and-15 that Blair put up on the Los Angeles Lakers last week. Let's hope it lasts. I don't know about you, but I need more DeJuan Bear in my life. I'm pretty sure it's the only thing that'll make me forget about Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake as Yogi and Boo-Boo.