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Nothing but positives for Bonner

Last modified: 4/5/2012 12:00:00 AM
BOSTON - If you ask him, Matt Bonner will tell you he's the same player he's always been.

"I pretty much do the same thing, always, every game," Bonner said. "Shoot it if I'm open, that's about it."

That's exactly what Bonner did last night when a loose ball wound up in his hands with 46.5 seconds left on the clock and his Spurs holding a two-point lead over the Celtics. The Concord

native drained the 16-footer, which proved to be the game winner as San Antonio hung on for an 87-86 win between two of the league's hottest teams.

"It was being in the right place at the right time," Bonner said, before adding a touch of his dry humor. "And the laws of probability. I missed my previous 93 shots, at least in my head that's what it felt like, so I knew that one was going in."

In truth, Bonner had only missed four straight shots before sinking the critical one in the end. He finished the game with a double-double (his first of the season) with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two assists, a steal and a blocked shot as the Spurs (38-14) won their ninth straight and handed Boston (30-23) only its second loss in the last nine games.

"(Bonner) had some good looks in the second half that didn't fall for him," San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich said, "but he ended up hitting a pretty big shot."

"It's just Bonner being Bonner," San Antonio's Tim Duncan said. "Just a great play."

It's also Bonner being Bonner to humbly downplay his big shot at the end of the game, just like he downplayed the developments he's made this year. While his season averages (7.0 points per game, 3.3 rebounds, 0.9 assists) are nearly identical to the averages he's posted during his seven-year NBA career (6.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.8 apg), those numbers don't tell the true story of Bonner's season.

Those who have watched San Antonio closely this year have seen a change in Bonner, who turns 32 today. Spurs fans (at least those posting on online message boards) have noticed a more assertive and effective player on both ends of the floor. Media members covering San Antonio have seen the same thing, as has Popovich.

"His role is the same, but he's having a good season, he's expanded a little bit," Popovich said. "He's playing better defense, and he can put the ball on the floor now and drive it a little bit, so he's become more valuable to us."

The improved defense was certainly on display last night as Bonner guarded a range of players from center Greg Stiemsma to small forward/guard Sasha Pavlovic, and finished with those 10 rebounds (eight of them on the defensive end). He didn't show much of his new offensive diversity, instead doing most of his damage on jump shots in the second quarter. He drained back-to-back 3-pointers from the right wing around the 8:00 mark of the second and then hit a six-foot bank shot off an offensive rebound with 5:56 to go in the quarter.

The Spurs held a 21-18 lead when Bonner entered the game for the first time with 3:34 to play in the first. He didn't go back to the bench until there was 5:14 to play in the second, by which time San Antonio had a 53-38 advantage, giving Bonner a plus/minus rating of plus-13 for that span. This is a stat that's usually associated with hockey, but as the basketball world searches for more advanced and telling statistics, the plus/minus rating has come into roundball vogue, and Bonner's production shows up in a major way on the plus/minus lists.

Coming into the game, Bonner had a plus-269 rating. Not only is that second on the Spurs (behind only the plus-286 from point guard Tony Parker), but it's also the 13th-best rating in the entire league. Bonner's rating was better than those for Blake Griffin (plus-250), Carlos Boozer (plus-241) and even Kevin Garnett (plus-242).

"People tell me I'm full of crap, but I really haven't looked at any stats or anything like that the entire year. I'm just concerned with wins and losses," Bonner said. "I'm comfortable with my role on the team and I just want to go out and execute it."

In truth, this is what the plus/minus measures - how effectively an individual plays his role on the team. Bonner's gaudy plus/minus rating doesn't mean he's a better player than the likes of Griffin or Garnett (we know he's not), it just means the Spurs run very efficiently when he's on the floor.

"He spreads the court, he allows penetration and usually he'll hit a decent number of 3s" Popovich said.

Sure, it helps that Bonner is on one of the NBA's best and deepest teams. Most of the time he's on the floor, he's with a unit that has superior talent to the opposition, and is therefore more likely to be on the positive side of plus/minus. But in one advanced plus/minus study that adjusted for minutes played over a two-year time span, Bonner still ranked No. 48 in the league (an adjusted plus-4.07 over the last two years). Another study showed that it didn't matter which teammates Bonner was on the floor with - in the 20 different lineups that Bonner has played with, the most for the Spurs, only six of them have a collective negative plus/minus rating.

Bonner was deeply involved in crunching numbers during the NBA lockout and collective bargaining process as a vice president of the NBA Players Association. But he simply wouldn't bite on any of these advanced stats, insisting time and again that all he cares about is wins and losses.

"It's just getting more comfortable in my role," Bonner said. "It's knowing what's expected of me night in and night out and what I need to do to help the team win."

(Tim O'Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com.)


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