SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs suddenly have turned into the Houston Rockets.
Through their first 17 playoff games, the Spurs took 30 percent of their shots from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line), the most inefficient area of the floor. That rate is higher than the league average (27 percent) for the postseason.
But in their last two games (Game 6 of the conference finals in Oklahoma City and Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday), the Spurs have attempted just 12 percent (19/162) of their shots from mid-range, a rate that’s very Rockets-like. Since Game 2 of the Oklahoma City series, the Spurs have attempted 27 3-pointers per game. And on Thursday, they shot 13-for-25 from beyond the arc. They also shot 24-for-35 (69 percent) in the paint, their second-best percentage of the postseason.
All 10 of Tim Duncan‘s shots were from inside the paint. He made nine of them to lead the Spurs with 21 points. Tiago Splitter shot 5-for-6 in the paint. When their teammates were able to get them the ball, the bigs were able to finish.
“It’s where my shots come,” Duncan said Friday. “We have a lot of shooters and I’m not going to stretch the court in that respect. Every once in a while I get a jumpshot from 15 to 18 feet, but mostly my effective range is in there right now. I’m going to pick‑and‑roll and try to get to open spots and try to take advantage of the rotation if they’re trapping.”
The Spurs committed 22 turnovers in Game 1, 14 of the live-ball variety. The Heat’s rotations were on point most of the night, but the Spurs were also very sloppy, failing to connect on some simple passes. But they executed well enough to score 110 points on 95 possessions. And much of that execution resulted in layups for their big men.
Pick, roll, and finish
- NBA.com/stats video: Duncan rolls and finishes over Allen
Duncan’s final basket of the game, one that gave the Spurs the lead for good, was a simple pick-and-roll with Manu Ginobili on the left sideline. Chris Andersen stepped out to contain Ginobili, and Dwyane Wade gave him just enough space to deliver a pocket pass to the rolling Duncan…
And when Duncan made the catch, the only person between him and the basket was little Ray Allen. When a team is faced with this …
… the Spurs either have a layup or a wide-open Danny Green in the corner. Duncan chose the layup.
Four of Splitter’s five layups were pick-and-rolls, with him scoring over a smaller Miami help defender. San Antonio is smart, putting a guard in the weak side corner, so that it’s his man – a Miami guard – who’s rotating over to help on the roll man. That makes it easier for the Spurs’ big to finish over top.
“That’s by design,” Shane Battier said Friday. “We know it. And if we’re sharp in our rotations and meet the roller early, it can mitigate some of that.”
Drag, swing and drive
- NBA.com/stats video: Parker drags, Diaw drives, Duncan finishes
Layups don’t necessarily come one pass after the pick-and-roll. And the Spurs are the best team in the league at keeping the ball moving until the open shot can be found.
Duncan’s first basket of the second quarter was a result of a drag screen from Boris Diaw, which Tony Parker used to pull Rashard Lewis out to the sideline and give him a long distance to recover back to Diaw…
Diaw drove past Lewis’ close-out, drew Chris Bosh‘s attention, and fed Duncan under the basket.
- NBA.com/stats video: Duncan seals Bosh and scores
Duncan’s second bucket of the game was a result of a pick-and-roll, but wasn’t him scoring over a guard. Instead, it was him refusing to let Bosh get back into position.
Bosh came out high on a Parker/Duncan pick-and-roll out of the corner…
When Bosh recovered, Duncan got his body between his defender and the basket and pushed Bosh out to the foul line. The Big Fundamental executed a perfect seal.
It was just a matter of getting him the ball. Green’s pass allowed Bosh to get back between Duncan and the basket, but Duncan still had good enough position to get a good look.
Around the front
- NBA.com/stats video: Ginobili finds the passing angle
The smaller Heat mostly front the low post, forcing their opponent to make difficult passes. This scheme works very well against the bigger Pacers, because the Pacers are bad passers.
But the Spurs have guys that can find the right angle on entry passes. One of those guys is Ginobili.
Here, Duncan got a cross-screen from Kawhi Leonard, but Lewis was still able to beat him to the block.
A more timid passer would swing the ball to the other side. Ginobili found the proper angle…
He’s good. Know where he is.
A couple of Duncan layups where just a result of a lack of recognition from Bosh. The Spurs’ first basket of the game came when Bosh had his head turned after getting back in transition. And another in the third quarter came when Bosh was on the weak side block and was astoundingly slow in recognizing Duncan’s cut to the basket.
The Heat defense certainly could be better. They need to be more aware, they need to pressure the ball to make those passes more difficult, and their help defenders need to meet the roll man farther from the basket.
“It starts with ball pressure,” Battier said. “I thought they had a lot of straight-line passes into the paint, which is really death for us. If you put two on the ball, you have to affect the tempo and the timing of the pass. We didn’t do that well enough. And B, we have to trust the rotator.”
“We have to do some things better, more committed, five‑man against a very good passing team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra added. “They’re well schooled. Some things that we need to adjust on. That’s what we’ll figure out in the next couple of days.”
The Spurs’ could certainly execute better, too. Their offense was a feast-or-famine situation in Game 1. And they won, because the fourth quarter, when they shot 14-for-16 (6-for-6 from 3-point range), was mostly feast. They may not shoot as well in Game 2 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), but they can certainly cut down on the turnovers and keep Miami from easy baskets on the other end of the floor.