Film Study

Film Study: Warriors keep bringing the D

VIDEO: The Warriors talk about their Game 5 win

OAKLAND — Through the first five games of The Finals, the difference between wins and losses has been the Golden State Warriors’ offense. They have scored 114 points per 100 possessions in Games 1, 4 and 5, but just 95.3 in Games 2 and 3.

The constant has been their defense, having allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers to score just 99 points per 100 possessions in both their wins and their losses. Cleveland had the postseason’s No. 1 offense through the conference finals, but it has been shut down by the regular season’s No. 1 defense in this series.

Kyrie Irving‘s absence over the last four games has something to do with that. Through the first three rounds, the Cavs’ offense wasn’t much worse with Irving off the floor (108.2 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was with him on the floor (108.9). But the extra load that LeBron James has had to carry obviously has taken its toll. Over the five games, the Cavs’ offense has been at its best in the first quarter and at its worst in the fourth.


Still, the Warriors deserve plenty of credit for making James work for his 36.6 points per game and for keeping what’s left of his supporting cast in check. It’s not like we can ignore what they’ve done defensively over the last eight months and put all of the blame for the Cavs’ offensive struggles on their injuries.

After another strong defensive performance in Game 5 on Sunday (particularly in the second half), the Warriors are one win from their first NBA championship in 40 years. Here’s a few ways they got it done defensively in Game 5 … (more…)

Film Study: The Roll of David Lee, Part 2

VIDEO: Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker and John Schuhmann recap Game 3

CLEVELAND — In early January of 2014, the Golden State Warriors beat the defending champion Miami Heat, scoring 123 points on 101 possessions. The Warriors weren’t an elite offense last season, but they chewed up the Heat’s aggressive pick-and-roll scheme in their only visit to Miami.

David Lee was a big key to the Warriors’ success that night. When the Heat took the ball out of Stephen Curry‘s hands with hard hedges, Lee was the guy who made plays and took advantage of the resulting four-on-three situations.

The San Antonio Spurs did similar damage against the Heat defense in The Finals each of the last two seasons, with Boris Diaw in the role of playmaking roll man. Diaw would get the ball from a trapped Tony Parker and keep the ball moving so that it eventually found an open layup or 3-pointer.

Lee was supposed to be the Warriors’ starting power forward again this season, but he suffered a strained hamstring in the final preseason game. Draymond Green took the job and never gave it back, finishing second in both Kia Defensive Player of the Year and Kia Most Improved Player voting. Lee came back to the fringe of the rotation (behind both Green and Marreese Speights) and played in only nine of the Warriors first 17 playoff games, receiving DNPs in Games 1 and 2 of The Finals.

The Cavs are defending the Warriors much like the Heat did, bringing their bigs out high to take the ball out of Curry’s hands on pick-and-rolls. They’ve also done a good job of locking and trailing on off-ball screens to keep both Curry and Klay Thompson from getting clean looks off the catch. That has put pressure on the other three Warriors on the floor to make plays and make shots.

Green coming up empty

Green can be a solid playmaker and has more range than Lee on his jumper, but has been ineffective offensively through the first three games, dealing with back pain since the middle of Game 2. He has shot 8-for-30, he has almost as many turnovers (6) as assists (8), and he’s lost confidence in his jumper, shooting 1-for-8 from 3-point range and passing up other open looks.

The Cavs don’t seem to mind leaving him open beyond the arc…



According to SportVU, Green has shot 2-for-16 on passes from Curry in the series, not exactly Dirk Nowitzki on the pick-and-pop. And his 15 drives to the basket have produced just 12 points for the Warriors, and more turnovers (2) than assists (1) from Green himself.

So Warriors coach Steve Kerr had no choice but to dust off Lee in Game 3 on Tuesday. Lee played 2:47 in the second quarter and 10:30 in the fourth, and he made a big impact.

Lee’s first pick-and-roll with Curry resulted in a dunk (for Lee himself), even though his pass off the roll was deflected Timofey Mozgov. But he didn’t really get going until the fourth quarter.

Pivot and pass

On the first Curry/Lee pick-and-roll of the fourth quarter, Mozgov was out at the 3-point line to contain Curry …


Curry gets rid of the ball quickly and (with Iman Shumpert out high to defend Thompson), and the Warriors have a three-on-two situation …


James Jones slides into the paint to stop Lee, who pivots and finds Andre Iguodala wide open in the corner …

20150610_curry_lee_1-3 (more…)

Film Study: Dellavedova and Shumpert lock and trail Splash Bros. in Game 2

VIDEO: Matthew Dellavedova explains how he played defense in Game 2

OAKLAND — It may be time to declare that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense is, indeed, very good.

The Cavs became the lowest-ranked defense (20th in the regular season) to make The Finals since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. Yes, they were improved after making a pair of trades in early January. But they still didn’t reach the level (top 10) achieved by 34 of the 37 last NBA champs.

There was marked improvement in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but still some doubts, considering the level of competition.

And those lingering doubts were erased in the Cavs’ 95-93, overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 2, the first Finals win in franchise history. The Warriors, who ranked second in offensive efficiency in the regular season, scored 93 points on 106 possessions, a rate of less than 90 per 100.

Stephen Curry had what was basically the worst shooting performance of his career. Klay Thompson had a strong start, but shot 5-for-15 after halftime. And nobody else could pick up the slack for the Western Conference champs.

The Warriors shot 8-for-35 (22.9 percent) from 3-point range, their fourth worst mark in 99 games this season. But just as important as the shots they missed from the outside were the shots they didn’t get on the inside.

Only 20 of the Warriors’ 83 shots on Sunday came from the restricted area, down from 31 (of 88) in Game 1.

Warriors Game 2 shot chart

Warriors Game 2 shot chart

The Warriors may be the league’s best 3-point shooting team and a three may be worth an additional point, but their shots at the basket still yield more points per attempt than their shots from beyond the arc. Limit their layups and you’re in decent shape defensively.

Timofey Mozgov has been a great rim protector for the Cavs, but for Mozgov to be able to protect the rim, the Cleveland guards have to put in work on the perimeter. If he’s helping them too much, he can’t be the rim protector that he’s supposed to be.

Against any offense, one of the guards’ biggest responsibilities is fighting through screens. Against the Warriors, it obviously becomes more important.

The Cavs’ guards do not want to go under screens set for Curry and Thompson, because that will give the Splash Brothers space to shoot. But if they get caught up in screens, Cleveland’s bigs must commit to the ball and the defense will be compromised.

So Matthew Dellavedova (the primary defender on Curry) and Iman Shumpert (Thompson) have been charged with locking onto their guy, trailing him around the screen, and getting back in front of him as quickly as possible, so that the helping big can recover back to the paint. (more…)

Film Study: One-on-one with LeBron

VIDEO: Stu Jackson breaks down how the Warriors guarded LeBron James

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors went with the “Don’t let the other guys beat us” strategy in Game 1 of The Finals. And though it almost backfired, it ultimately helped them pick up a 108-100 overtime victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

LeBron James scored 44 points, but J.R. Smith shot 3-for-13, Iman Shumpert shot 2-for-6, Tristan Thompson scored two points, James Jones could only get one shot off in 17 minutes, and Matthew Dellavedova didn’t take a single shot. All five of those guys went scoreless (in almost 78 combined minutes of playing time) after halftime.

It sounds weird, but James’ 44 points were good for Golden State, not just because it kept his supporting cast relatively quiet, but because those 44 points came on mostly tough shots. James’ true shooting percentage* in Game 1 was worse than that of the Warriors’ two leading scorers and his two primary defenders.

*True shooting percentage measures scoring efficiency. TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

Golden State’s defensive success — they held what was the postseason’s best offense to about a point per possession — was a combination of strategy and skill. (more…)

Small lineup hurts Cavs’ D

VIDEO: An all-access look at the Bulls’ Game 1 victory

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt had a difficult decision to make before Game 1 of the conference semifinals.

Kevin Love was done for the postseason and J.R. Smith was suspended for the first two games against the Bulls. So Blatt needed two new starters on Monday.

Iman Shumpert was the easy choice. And with the fifth starter, Blatt could have chosen to go big (Tristan Thompson), small (Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones or Mike Miller), or in between (Shawn Marion).

He went with Miller, which turned out to be a mistake. In Miller’s 16 minutes, the Bulls outscored the Cavs, 44-24. The score of the other 32 minutes was Cavs 68, Bulls 55.

The Bulls’ 44 points in 16:08 (to be exact) translates into 131 points over 48 minutes. And Game 1 was one of the slowest paced games of the postseason thus far.

It’s no surprise that Blatt was sacrificing defense for offense with the decision to start Miller. For one, the 35 year old isn’t very mobile. And secondly, big vs. small seems to be a defense or offense proposition for the Cavs no matter the specific personnel on the floor, as their no-Love numbers prior to the Bulls series spelled out.


The Cavs’ defensive issues in Game 1 weren’t all about Miller. There was also evidence of LeBron James being uncomfortable playing power forward defensively and just simple miscommunication. And it all was on display in the first six minutes of the first quarter.

Possession 1 – The hard hedge

After a baseline screen, Jimmy Butler has the ball in the corner, where he gets another screen from Joakim Noah, who’s being defended by James.

James hedges hard to keep Butler pinned in the corner…


Noah sees this and slips the screen, cutting toward the basket. Butler gets him the ball and Miller comes to help from the opposite corner…


That leaves Mike Dunleavy all alone and he hits a three to open the scoring.

Possession 3 – The switch

Noah slips a side pick and roll with Butler and then gives him back the ball on the move. Shumpert had been icing the pick-and-roll (getting between the ball-handler and the screener to keep the ball on the side of the floor), so he’s trailing the play. So James switches onto Butler…


Butler isn’t able to get the ball to a rolling Noah, but he gets by James on the baseline, gets Shumpert to help, and also draws the attention of Timofey Mozgov, so that Pau Gasol is wide open in the paint…


Butler actually gets the ball to Derrick Rose instead, and Rose hits another three for the Bulls.

Possession 8 – The mismatch

On this play, James has to pick up Butler in transition, and Miller gets caught on Gasol as a result…


Noah eventually gets the ball to Gasol for an easy bucket.

Possession 10 – The offensive rebound

The Cavs’ initial defense was fine on this possession, but two bigs are better than one when it comes to rebounding…


Noah reaches over James for the offensive board, which results in a Butler jumper.

Possession 11 – The retreat

When Noah sets a screen for Rose on a secondary break, James switches. And when Gasol sets another screen, Mozgov doesn’t switch…


… and Rose steps into a wide-open three.

The Bulls’ lead eventually ballooned to 16 points early in the second quarter. The Cavs came back to tie the game, but never got over the hump.

They allowed 99 points in a slow-paced game and were much worse defensively when James was at the four than when he was at the shooting guard (for less than two minutes with Mozgov, Thompson and Marion all on the floor) or small forward (when they allowed 20 points in about 14 minutes).

Miller’s foot speed was certainly an issue. But so were the Cavs’ lack of size, James not being comfortable defending screeners, and miscommunication.

Blatt will likely go with a different starting lineup in Game 2 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), but there is no obvious solution. Smith will give the Cavs more offensive firepower when he returns in Game 3, but (unless Marion turns back the clock) only Love provided Blatt with the combination of floor spacing on offense and defending bigs on defense. Love obviously isn’t a great defender, but he allowed James to play his more comfortable position on that end of the floor.

Film Study: Missing Korver

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In a game between the league’s two best teams, the Golden State Warriors were, by far, the better of the two, beating the Atlanta Hawks 114-95.

And that’s been the case all season, really. While the two teams were just a half game apart in the standings entering Wednesday’s game, there was a big difference statistically. The Warriors led the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, while the Hawks ranked sixth offensively and fourth defensively.

The Warriors’ lead in NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) over the Hawks (5.1) was larger than any No. 1 team has had over the No. 2 team in the last 37 seasons (since turnovers started being counted in 1977). The next largest margin (4.6) belonged to the 72-win, 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.

Both offenses looked great in the first meeting between these two teams, won by the Hawks, 124-116. The difference on Wednesday was on the end of the floor where the Hawks shot 36 percent.

A lot of that open shots that didn’t go in the basket. In fact, you can tell the story of the two head-to-head meetings by just looking at the shooting numbers on uncontested jumpers.


Kyle Korver’s absence on Wednesday was definitely felt in that regard. Korver has shot 52.5 percent, with an effective field-goal percentage (taking the value 3-pointers into account) of 75.6 percent on uncontested jumpers this season. Both of those marks lead the league among players who have attempted at least 100 uncontested jumpers.

But Korver’s impact on the Hawks’ offense goes well beyond the shots he takes. And it can be seen in a couple of pick-and-roll plays from Wednesday’s game.

Play 1 – Iguodala helps off Bazemore

First, here’s a Shelvin MackAl Horford pick-and-roll on the right side of the floor early in the second quarter on Wednesday. We see Andre Iguodala on the weak side, where he’s guarding Kent Bazemore (hidden in the left corner). Iguodala has his eye on the ball, focused on Horford’s roll …


Here’s the play, where Iguodala helps off Bazemore to alter Horford’s layup attempt…

VIDEO: Play 1 – Iguodala helps

Play 2 – Holiday helps off Bazemore

Second, here’s a Jeff Teague – Horford pick-and-roll from early in the third quarter, with Justin Holiday guarding Bazemore near the top of the 3-point line …


When we roll the play, we see Holiday leave Bazemore all alone in order to help on Horford’s roll. And Bazemore can’t make him pay.

VIDEO: Play 2 – Holiday helps

Now let’s rewind to February …

Play 3 – No help off Korver

Here’s a play from the first meeting that was similar to Play 1 above. Dennis Schroder and Horford run a pick-and-roll with Iguodala guarding Korver, who’s parked in the weak side corner …


As Horford rolls, watch Iguodala turn his head a little bit to see where Korver is. He’s not there to help on the roll and the result is a dunk for Horford …

VIDEO: Play 3 – No help off Korver

Pretty simple stuff. When the league’s best shooter is on the floor, he’s going to make things a lot easier on his teammates. The Hawks use Korver in a lot of different ways to draw the defense’s attention. Here are a couple of examples from a November game against the Jazz …

Play 4 – Setting a screen

On the last play of the half, in semi-transition, Korver sets a sideline screen for Teague …


Instead of switching onto Teague, Joe Ingles is looking to his right, to fight through a potential screen for Korver …


So Teague just goes right to the basket. Watch the play here.

Play 5 – Switch = mismatch

In the middle of the third quarter Korver (blue 26) runs off a baseline screen set by Paul Millsap (blue 4), who’s being defended by Enes Kanter (red 34) …


Instead of waiting for Alec Burks (red 10) to fight through the screen and giving Korver a second to shoot, Kanter switches out on him. That creates a mismatch underneath that Millsap takes advantage of. Watch the play here.

With Korver on the floor, the Hawks’ offense has scored 110.9 points per 100 possessions, a rate that would rank No. 1 in the league. With him off the floor, it’s scored 97.4, a rate that would rank 29th.

The Hawks have a great ensemble cast. Everybody in their starting lineup can shoot and they share the ball like no other team. But Korver’s individual impact is huge and he was sorely missed on Wednesday.

Film Study: Spurs on a string

VIDEO: Through the Lens: Finals Game 4

MIAMI — The 2014 Finals have turned into a thorough beatdown. The Miami Heat have won a game by two points, while the San Antonio Spurs have won games by 15, 19 and 21.

They got help from LeBron James‘ cramps in Game 1 and had a flukey shooting performance in Game 3, but were still the better team through the first 144 minutes. And Game 4 was their most complete performance yet.

Except for a couple of ugly quarters, the Spurs’ offense has been humming all series. On Thursday, they were just as good on defense.

James scored 28 points in Game 4, but 19 of those came in the second half, when the Spurs had the game well in hand. They held the Heat to just 36 points on 43 possessions in the first half and basically shut down James’ supporting cast … until James Jones hit four straight shots in garbage time. It was Miami’s worst offensive game of the postseason.

The Heat are the best finishing team in the league. In the regular season, they led the league by shooting 68.0 percent in the restricted area. Through the first three rounds, they were shooting even better than that at the basket and they were solid in the paint through the first three games of The Finals.

But in the first half on Thursday, the Heat had almost as many turnovers (7) as points in the paint (8), where they shot a miserable 4-for-15.

On a string from the start

The first possession of the game foreshadowed exactly what was to come for the next 48 minutes. It was five guys on a string helping each other, closing off the paint, recovering out to the perimeter, keeping the Heat from getting an open shot, and, eventually, forcing a turnover.

The possession started with a Mario Chalmers/LeBron James side pick-and-roll, with Kawhi Leonard sitting back at the foul line, where he can help on Chalmers, but also get back to James. Every other Spur was ready to help…


After Chalmers swung the ball to Dwyane Wade, he got a sideline screen from Rashard Lewis, and there was Tim Duncan, at the block, cutting off the paint…


Wade squeezed by Duncan under the basket, but had no shot on the other side of the rim, because Leonard sunk down to prevent it…


When Wade kicked the ball out to James, Boris Diaw rotated out from the corner. James saw it coming and immediately got the ball to Chris Bosh, but there was Leonard again, closing out…


Bosh attacked the close out and got by Leonard, and there was Duncan again…


And when Bosh tried to slip a pocket pass to Wade, Leonard had recovered and got his big mitts on the ball.

It was a supreme effort by Leonard, who was all over the place over a span of 15 seconds. But it was also an example of perfect synergy from all five Spurs. There was no miscommunication and no hesitation in their rotations. When one guy got beat, another guy stepped up and everyone else reacted quickly and appropriately. (more…)

Film Study: Spurs swing and attack

VIDEO: GameTime: Role players shape Game 3

MIAMI — The ball did not stick in Game 3. And the results were remarkable.

After his team lost Game 2 of The Finals on Sunday, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich remarked how the ball “stuck” too much in his team’s offense.

According to SportVU, the Spurs made exactly the same number of passes in Game 2 (337) as they did in Game 1, and on fewer possessions (88 vs. 95). But some passes are better than others, especially against the Miami Heat defense. When you say the ball sticks, you could mean that it sticks in one guy’s hands or that it sticks to one side of the floor.

In the first half of Game 2, the Spurs swung the ball from one side of the floor to the other with a pass just 19 times (on 46 possessions). They were passing, but they didn’t necessarily move the ball effectively. Here’s an example of a possession where the ball was passed four times, but stayed on the right side of the floor.

In the first half of Game 3, the Spurs swung the ball from side to side with a pass 30 times (on 44 possessions), which led to a relentless attack of the paint.

Monday’s Film Study noted the Heat’s ability to close out on shooters and force the Spurs’ into 23 mid-range shots in Game 2. On Tuesday, the Spurs attempted just eight mid-range shots, the same number as they attempted in their Game 1 victory.

When the ball is coming from the other side of the floor, closing out on shooters is tougher. The Heat’s weak-side defenders are generally in the paint, ready to help on a drive or cut. So when the ball is reversed, they have a longer distance to travel than if the ball is coming from the top of the key or the same side of the floor. They may get to the 3-point line, but their momentum keeps them from being able to stay in front of their man as easily.

And when the defender is coming from far way with that momentum, attacking those close-outs is easier. With the ball moving from side to side on Tuesday more than it did on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green went right at the Heat’s recovering defenders.

Here are a few examples…

Play 1: Swing and attack

The ball movement wasn’t crisp on the Spurs’ third possession of the game, in part because they were trying to take advantage of a mismatch – Mario Chalmers guarding Leonard. But once they saw that they couldn’t get the ball to Leonard in the post, the ball swung from the right side of the floor to the left. And when the ball came back to the right side, Leonard had just enough of a lane to the paint…


Leonard drew a foul on Chalmers on the play, but also could have hit Tony Parker for an open 3 in the left corner…


Play 2: Got him with the rocker

A few possessions later, the Spurs quickly swung the ball from the left side of the floor to the right, and then reversed it back to Leonard at the top of the key. With 16 seconds left on the shot clock, the Heat were already scrambling, with LeBron James having totally lost contact with Leonard and Dwyane Wade forced to switch out …


Leonard looked to swing the ball to Green, but James recovered well enough. Wade displayed some great awareness to see James on the baseline and know that he had to go guard Leonard. And because Leonard first looked to pass (and because Chris Bosh also hedged over), Wade was able to get in front of him. But a simple rocker move got Wade leaning to his left, and Leonard was able to get him on his hip, get into the paint, draw a foul on Bosh, and hit a nifty scoop shot.

Play 3: Green gets in the act

The ball stays on the right side of the floor on this play, but it’s another example of Leonard’s and Green’s attack-the-close-out mentality. After Parker gets a sideline screen from Tim Duncan and takes the ball toward the right corner, he reverses it to Green. Wade closes out and positions himself to force the ball to the sideline …


… but Green uses Wade’s momentum against him. He attacks that right leg and gets into the paint for a runner.

Play 4: Taking what they give you

The Heat are trying to push the ball to the sideline on their close-outs. They do not want the ball in the middle of the floor, where layups can be had and passes can more easily be made to whoever is open.

We were still in the first six minutes of the first quarter when Parker and Duncan ran a standard high pick-and-roll. A quick pass put the ball in Boris Diaw‘s hands with Ray Allen sinking down to the right block on the weak side…


Two passes and 1.5 seconds later, the ball was in Green’s hands on the right wing. Allen closed out and, just like Wade, positioned himself to force the ball to the sideline…


Unlike Wade in the play above, Allen has help in the presence of Duncan and Chris Andersen, who are preventing Green from attacking that right leg. But Green still uses Allen’s momentum to get to the basket. He just goes the other way.

Where the title will be determined

Green set a Finals record with 27 3-pointers in last year’s series. And Leonard’s mid-range shooting has improved quite a bit since he came into the league. But the pair were a combined 12-for-12 in the paint in Game 3, because of how well the Spurs moved the ball from side to side and because of how well they attacked the Heat’s close-outs.

There’s a reason all three Finals Film Studies thus far have been about the Spurs’ end of the floor. The Heat have been solid offensively throughout the series, especially when James has been able to stay on the floor. They’ve scored at least 105 points per 100 possessions in eight of the 11 quarters in which his body didn’t shut down.

In order to win their third straight championship, the Heat will need to get more consistent stops. They’re trying to be only the fourth team in the last 35 years to win a title after not ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. And there’s a reason why only three teams have done it in that span.

Film Study: Heat switch and challenge

VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down Tony Parker’s woes in Game 2

SAN ANTONIO — The differences between Games 1 and 2 The Finals were on both ends of the floor. The Miami Heat were better offensively in Game 2, and the San Antonio Spurs were worse.

Both games were decided in the fourth quarter, and on Sunday, LeBron James was on the floor with the game on the line. That was the most important difference, and James’ ability to get to the rim in the first half and knock down jumpers in the second gave the Miami offense a boost. The Heat scored 82 points in James’ 37:36 on the floor (105 per 48) and just 16 points in his 10:24 on the bench (74 per 48).

But defense was just as (and maybe more) critical to the Heat’s 98-96 victory. The Spurs’ offense is rarely shut down completely, but if Miami can slow it down somewhat, it’s own offense should be enough to win a third straight championship.

In Game 2, San Antonio scored 17 points on 23 possessions in the second quarter and 18 points on 20 possessions in the fourth. Those had been the Spurs’ best offensive quarters for most of the playoffs, but certainly weren’t Sunday.

Afterward, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich blamed a lack of ball movement.

“We can’t put it in somebody’s hands and have them create everything for us,” he said. “It’s got to be a group effort and we didn’t do that.

“That puts a lot of pressure on everything else. It means we’re going to have to be perfect on defense, we can’t miss four free throws in a row, those sorts of things.

“You move it or you die.”

The lack of ball movement wasn’t just about the Spurs. The Heat’s defense played its part.

The Miami defense had issues in Game 1. A lack of ball pressure and slow rotations from the weak side allowed Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter to make easy catches in the paint and shoot 14-for-16, with 14 of those 16 shots in the restricted area.

The pair got another 14 shots in the restricted area in Game 2, but converted only eight of them this time. None of Splitter’s three shots were on straight pick-and-rolls like he was converting on in Game 1.

The power of the switch

One adjustment the Heat made was switching high ball screens for Manu Ginobili to prevent the roll man from going untouched into the paint.

Here’s Norris Cole, at the end of the first quarter, switching onto Splitter after he set a screen for Ginobili …


And early in the second quarter, here’s Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade switching a high ball screen…


Immediately followed by Bosh and Chris Andersen doing it…


Switching screens takes some of the bite out of the Heat defense, but also takes some bite out of the Spurs’ offense. Not only does it help prevent those open rolls to the basket, but by not sending two guys to the ball, it doesn’t give San Antonio 4-on-3 situations where their passers will usually find the open man. The adjustment was one of the reasons the Spurs didn’t turn the ball over as much, but also why they got stagnant at times. (more…)

Film Study: Spurs get good looks inside

VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tim Duncan, Game 1, NBA Finals

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

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

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.


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

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…


… and thread the needle for a Duncan layup. Duncan got another on a similar play late in the second quarter.

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.