5 things we learned from Round 1
1. Manu Ginobili is in playoff mode
This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s completely healthy, but mentally he’s locked in. I saw Ginobili when he left the podium after Game 2’s win over the Lakers, and he held his right hamstring as he went into the training room for some post-game treatment. I don’t think he’s 100 percent yet, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he’s playing.
Manu averaged about 11 points, five assists and three boards per game against the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, picking the exact right spots to come alive for the Spurs offense. Ginobili combined for just 14 points in Games 3 and 4, but both contests had such large margins of victory, his offense wasn’t really needed.
Ginobili was a question mark for most of the season and that status hadn’t changed entering the playoffs. I assumed more responsibility would fall on the broad shoulders of Kawhi Leonard and anything the Spurs got from Manu would be extra. Instead, it looks as if Manu is finding a groove and Leonard will be relied on to make plays on the periphery of the game. As other stars go down around the league, the boost San Antonio gets from Ginobili in these playoffs elevates the Spurs to another level.
2. Cory Joseph is a player
A few weeks ago, Gregg Popovich lauded Nando De Colo for his improved competitiveness. Then just as quickly as that competitiveness came, De Colo seemed to lose it. In stepped Cory Joseph, and his willingness to harass opposing point guards for a full 90 feet, comfort in taking the shots he knows he can hit with consistency (not unlike Kawhi Leonard) and ability to run the offense capably without turning the ball over made him an excellent backup for Tony Parker against the Lakers.
Joseph put up 4.5 points, three assists and 2.8 rebounds in about 14 minutes per game in the first round. It seems like every game he shows growth in a certain area, something not uncommon for a 21-year-old playing his first consistent minutes at the NBA level. There’s a chance Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was simply playing the matchups and we’ll see more De Colo in the second round. That remains to be seen. But what you can’t argue is that Joseph did nothing to hurt his chances of playing in the second round.
Considering how weak most thought the 2011 NBA Draft was with the lockout looming, for the Spurs to add and develop both Leonard and Joseph is a testament to both the front office and the coaching staff.
3. The defense is back
“I thought that was the first time in a while that we looked like the team that played the first 70 or so games, defensively,” Gregg Popovich said before Game 2. “We had done a good job of getting into that top tier of defensive teams, and then, for a variety of reasons, it dissipated. But that was our best defensive performance in a while. I’m anxious to see if that’s really our team or not tonight.”
It was, as the Spurs went on to win 102-91 that night. Against an albeit depleted Lakers team, the Spurs went on to post the best defensive efficiency of the first round, allowing 90.6 points per 100 possessions, while scoring at the league’s highest rate (111 points per 100). The fact that most players on the Lakers couldn’t knock down a 3-pointer if the fate of the world rested upon it definitely helped, but the Spurs were also disciplined in their schemes, forced a lot of turnovers and protected the glass well against a larger front line.
Tim Duncan did exactly what you’d expect from him inside, not a lot needs to be said about his contributions. And we’ve talked about what Matt Bonner was able to do battling against Howard and Gasol. Kawhi Leonard was also a standout for the Spurs, able to help down low when one of the Laker bigs put the ball on the floor, close out on shooters on the perimeter and crash the glass with gusto. In the series, Leonard averaged almost as many boards as Duncan (7.5 rpg for TD to Leonard’s 7.3).
The Spurs face a different opponent in the second round, one that will test their defensive discipline. If Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw both come back healthy and San Antonio’s focus carries over from Round 1, the Spurs could put up a similar performance in the second round.
4. Tim Duncan is insanely gif-able.
5. The Spurs didn’t take a lot of 3s
Despite an interior defense consisting of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, two legit 7-footers, and questionable defense on the perimeter, the Spurs didn’t take a lot of 3s in the first round of the playoffs. In fact, San Antonio took the third fewest shots from the perimeter in the first round. This after taking the seventh-most attempts per game during the regular season.
Part of this speaks to how well Ginobili and Tony Parker have recovered from their various knocks and worked themselves into a rhythm. The other part lets us know just how bad the Lakers defense was. Ginobili is back to the point where he’s using his craftiness to get to the basket. Tim Duncan still knows a thing or two about post moves. Tony Parker, well, he got back to doing the things he was doing when the MVP hype machine picked up on him, finishing around the basket and abusing transition defenses on a one-man fastbreak.
One of the strengths of this Spurs team when healthy was its ability to adapt to each particular game and execute its gameplan, no matter the style of play. It’s hard to imagine there being a bigger difference in style of play right now than the Lakers and Warriors. One was a train wreck that continuously fed the ball down low. The other is a up tempo team capable of taking, and making, shots at any time from seemingly every spot on the floor. The Spurs will need to rely on that chameleon-like adaptability again in Round 2.
Advanced statistics courtesy of NBA.com/Stats