Approaching things from a different angle

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Live by the 3, die by the 3. For most of the season anyone following the San Antonio Spurs closely enough has known this team is dependent on the 3-point shot, particularly from the corners. Perhaps it’s not what has made them competitive, but certainly it is what has made them elite.Gregg Popovich knows it. Lionel Hollins knows it. Through four games not only does the world now know it, but they have seen a pretty damn effective blueprint at defending it.

“When they started making 3s they took the lead. So long as we’ve kept them from making 3s we’ve had the lead,” Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins said. “3-pointers can be daggers; It also gets the crowd revved up, it gets them revved up. The fewer they get a chance to shoot the better we are.”

As always, Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook expertly breaks down how Memphis is disrupting the San Antonio Spurs pick and roll attack and preventing open three-pointers:

This camera angle gives us a perfect view of the Grizzlies and their defensive strategy against the Spurs. Here, Parker goes away from the screen and attacks the rim. Most defenses would collapse, giving up an open three to Matt Bonner. Instead of doing that, Zach Randolph stays in the passing lane, taking away the pass to the corner as Mike Conley and Marc Gasol defend Parker at the rim. The Grizzlies are funneling everything back to the middle of the court, where they can rotate and challenge the jumper.

Pruiti goes on to show several other examples of how this strategy is curbing the Spurs pick-and-roll game plan, in each Memphis either stays at home or recovers to the 3-point shooters faster than they can get a clean look off. It really is a must-read, provided you can subject yourself to such moments again.

The Spurs are getting worked and Popovich is getting out coached, though the amount of vitriol from frustrated fans should definitely be muted some. Tiago Splitter was hardly an ace up his sleeve, but Popovich did play that card. And while productive, Splitter is hardly the answer.

This late into the game, with Tim Duncan this late into his career, the Spurs are who they are and significant adjustments to the offense are just not feasible. These Spurs are a pick and roll team that rely on collapsing the defense to open things up for their role players on the 3-point line. While they might not be able to change their mode of attack, perhaps the simple act of changing the point of it will be enough to throw the Grizzlies’ defensive rotations off.

If these Grizzlies have set their entire defensive rotations to deny passes to the corners, why not start the attack from there and set the shooters where the help is currently coming from on the wings and the top of the key. The suggestion: mixing in some side pick-and-rolls.

Reliable and efficient as the corner three-pointer might be, the San Antonio Spurs really have not been chained to them all season long. Part of the improvement in the Spurs offense this season has not just been the sheer volume of three-pointers made, but the locations from which they have made them.

Matt Bonner, Richard Jefferson, and Gary Neal have all proven adept, capable three-point shooters from the top of the key, averaging roughly 40 percent from that spot according to the StatsCube on NBA.com. Of all the San Antonio Spurs shooters, only George Hill’s season averages drop significantly when removed from the corner (from 41% to 33%).

It’s a ploy right out of an NFL playbook. When defenses begin putting too much pressure on a quarterback, creating too many turnovers, one of the simple solutions is to send said QB out on bootlegs, escaping the designed pressure and cutting his reads in half. Simplify things.

Well, the Spurs have been blitzed, relentlessly blitzed. And the deep shots that have been the lifeblood of their offense all season long have been removed.

Schematically, the Grizzlies are offering little in the way of weak side rotation as Pruiti shows. They are content with surrendering slightly contested shots from the top of the key in the Spurs current pick and roll setup. So why not take a shot at situating your best shooters there and allowing Parker, Ginobili, or Hill to work from the baseline; changing the point of attack from the Grizzlies defense.

The dangers are changing the balance of the offense up this late in the season could throw everything off, except that’s already been done by Memphis. Also, obviously, any kick out passes to the top of the key would most likely be layups on the other end. But again, that’s been the case anyways.

Lionel Hollins is a good enough coach to adjust from one game to the next, but at this point the Spurs only need be concerned with Game 5. Win this one, hope for some luck in Game 6, and in a single elimination game any bit of magic can happen. Anytime a sentence listing steps for hope requires multiple commas you’re grasping at straws, I know. But this is the reality of the Spurs season. They need an answer.

Moving the pick and roll from the top of the key to the sides might help to isolate it from the rest of the help defense, leaving it a simple two-on-two — one which you would figure the Spurs could win. And while it gives up some of the flexibility of the offense, it cuts down on the reads, giving ball handler and roll man a clearer view of the help (it would also help if George Hill would keep his dribble when Darrell Arthur switches onto him).

But most importantly it provides a changeup to a fastball pitcher whose heat the other team has finally timed.

  • Chris

    Very good analysis on Memphis’ defense of the PnR. I noticed Spurs had some initial success setting really high picks with Splitter, like near the half court line. To me, this would seem to “unclog” the paint, and passing lanes, some. Manu and/or Tony would then have a little more room to work.

  • Chris

    Very good analysis on Memphis’ defense of the PnR. I noticed Spurs had some initial success setting really high picks with Splitter, like near the half court line. To me, this would seem to “unclog” the paint, and passing lanes, some. Manu and/or Tony would then have a little more room to work.

  • Chris

    But, Pop’s probably too stubborn to change things up like that. Pounding the Rock is a great mantra for perseverance, but one must have the wherewithal to recognize whether one is pounding rock, or trying to break through steel with nothing but a rock hammer.

  • Bob

    The Lakers ran into a similar problem against the Celtics last season. The Celtics defense had started to stagnate their offense. They made the necessary adjustments to open up the offense in games 6 and 7. If Spurs make the right adjustments they can probably come away with a blowout win. It’s hard for the other team to adjust in game. If they keep executing the same gameplan that the Grizzlies have prepared for it’ll be a close game. Spurs need to speed up the game, add more variety in their offense and production from the big 3. If the big 3 take the lead the role players will follow.

  • Junierizzle

    I still think that if TP makes that pass that Bonner should still be able to get his shot off. Even if Randolph closes him out BONNER can still elevate. Randolph is not going to block his shot. I’d much rather have BONNER shoot a contested three then not shoot at all.

  • Xicano47

    The problem with our corner three is that Bonner, RJ, and George Hill all take way too long to get the shot off. We must remember that the competition rises in the playoffs, by definition. Probably only Gary Neal and maybe Steve Novack (and he apparently is even worse defensively then Bonner) have a quick release on the three. Again, against lesser teams it was less of an issue. After four games, however, Pop must know that a change in strategy is a must. Remember the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.

  • Rick Ashford

    Great point. Hill isn’t as bad as RJ, who in turn isn’t as bad as Bonner at this. Bonner won’t shoot unless there’s nobody in the same zip code with him.

    Bonner has been rendered completely useless. It’s one thing if he takes shots and misses them, giving us the chance for rebounds and forcing them to cover him, but when he refuses to shoot, and can’t guard his man, there really doesn’t seem to be a reason to have him on the floor.

    Neal and Novak both seem willing and able to squeeze off a shot with just a sliver of daylight.

    Novak is as bad an individual defender as Bonner, and is worse as a team defender because he hasn’t been around as long to know the rotations. That being said, there’s still an outside chance he could be a net positive if he can get the shots up that Bonner simply isn’t willing to take.

    I had the chance to watch a shootaround a couple of weeks ago, and I think it’s telling to contrast the styles. Bonner stands still, catches a pass and shoots. Novak, on the other hand was moving. He would run to catch the ball, then turn and shoot in one motion. He’s much more comfortable shooting that three on the move.

    I agree that the side pick and rolls would be a good change-up to throw at the Grizzlies, but I think it’s worth the experiment of swapping in Novak for Bonner.

  • Junierizzle

    I agree with you and Xicano47. I’ve been saying all along that our shooters have really let the team down. They only want to shoot when they are wide open.
    I would rather have Bonner and Hill go 0-20 combined but shooting with confidence. Go out guns blazing. IF the shots don’t fall, oh well. At least you did your job. But not our shooters choose to pump fake and drive.

  • David

    i know that the people who put out 48minutes of hell do not care if they lose a reader but after reading this i am done reading this blog.

    Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: A “gentleman’s sweep” is a term Hardwood Paroxysm’s Matt Moore and I have for a series in which a team wins comfortably but still graciously allows its opponent to win one game. It was gentlemanly of the Grizzlies, Heat and Thunder to leave their opponents with a bit of pride, but all three will close out their series Wednesday.

    nice to see the faith you guys have in our team

  • David

    oh, yeah, go f#@$ yourselves

  • Doggydogworld

    The main “adjustment” the Lakers made in games 6 and 7 was eliminating Kendrick Perkins.

  • http://48minutesofhell.com Andrew A. McNeill

    Take care.

  • Werdb

    I agree that Memphis has been playing the passing lanes effectively, but you also have to concede that the Spurs are just not executing very well. That video posted is a shining example, Duncan didn’t set a good pick/Parker goes a bit too early and the penetration was contained so there was no reason to help. That side of the court was clogged as well, a simple shift of Bonner up past Duncan would have brought Bonner’s man to Tony and then a second screen by Duncan on Bonner’s man and a kick out from Tony to the open Bonner for a 3.

    Slight changes in execution and more, crisp, picks, and back picks are what’s needed, not an overhaul of the offense.

  • Mark B

    It’s pretty hard to feel confident about tonight when you saw the Spurs get completely dominated on Monday. I have a lot of hope that the Spurs can play better, and I’d love to see them win tonight, but they are going to have to play a LOT better than they did 2 days ago, and Memphis is going to have to play worse. I think it’s possible, but I’m not going to be extremely surprised if it doesn’t work out.

  • Mark B

    I would be very surprised if the Spurs could come back to win this series, but I’ll be delighted if they do. The Grizz have a lot to say about it, and honestly, I think they’re too talented and too well coached to lose three in a row. Unless the Spurs get lucky in addition to playing a lot better. [crosses fingers]

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  • Rob

    Thank yo so much for posting this article. It is exactly what I’ve been saying to others not associated with this blog site and have mentioned to some degree on this site.

    Granted trying to change what has been used all season is a difficult thing. But the solution isn’t so hard to diagnose or implement on the fly. Basketball IS about making changes while competing against an opponent. Not being able to change on the fly surely classifies a team as enabled. Championship teams are not enabled teams…in fact…a championship team has the coaching, personnel and ability to change when need be in order to march on.

    Teams not able to make those changes or stubbornly compete according to their own accord will always fail to rise to the top. Not that the team needs to totally disregard what got them to the dance. More so they need to lead a dance with a not so desirable situation in order to go home with the eye of their affections.

    Attack…Attack…Attack. Set picks not for the ball handler but for a trailer from the wing. Trust me…it’ll discombobulate the Grizzlies defensive approach to the point where the Spurs will be wide open again with what they are really good at doing.

  • TD BestEVER

    Great points ALL…..I have been saying the same thing……Bonner sucks but if he just shot the ball more he may have a game like he did vs the HEAT………..And we could win……. At some point you have to dance with the one you brought with you……. And if you are Bonner that’s your 3 Ball…… so get off like 7-8 per game and see how pretty she is…………At least we can say that he WASN’T SCARED…………..now he is CHOKING and SCARED………..lol…….

  • M0rph88

    This is not about Pop being out coached. It’s because people are not looking at Spurs bench. Besides Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker, everyone is on the same boat as Memphis players – they are not playoff tested players. Yes Spurs won 4 championships but it’s not with the same players the have now. They are young and new at this level. You can see it how the Spurs bench are rattled with the pressure. Playoffs are about closure and great shooters like Ray Allen figured this out so he equipped his arsenal with a quick release shot. Bonner has always been hampered with shooting slump ever since 2007 championship run. Bonner has not been a quick release guy including Jefferson. Neal has a potential one because he can get up and release but the problem with him is having rookie jitters. He doesn’t have the iron heart to challenge the defense into blocking his 3s. If I’m with Neal, I’ll keep shooting. Shooters need to shoot – miss or block, keep on shooting. It will catch up with Neal later on and it will start falling. He will also have enough leverage to read the defense. He needs to build up his confidence and hit those 3s. Memphis are playing a mind game and the young bench of the Spurs are buying it. If the Spurs will depend on Ginobli, Parker, and Duncan then this series is over. The 61 wins is because of the productivity the Spurs are getting from the bench. The bench needs to out produce their starters to win. Spurs need to beat themselves before they can beat Memphis.

  • Buckets

    The main problem with the Spurs is their lack of midrange scoring ability which is a continuation of a major lack in athletic ability.

    Jefferson is the most athletic player on the Spurs roster but he would probably be 5th or 6th most athletic player on the Grizzlies roster.

    The issue which has been shadowing the Spurs the Last 3 seasons has always been lack of length and athletic ability.

  • Bob

    Good point. The midrange shot has been there all series. Someone should knock it down. The Grizzlies are giving that up because they know Spurs won’t take it. McDyess is the only one who consistenly takes it and he’s been off. You hope the Spurs make the necessary adjustments. Vary the offense and increase the tempo. They need to stop playing so much help defense and fight through picks and keep their hands active on defense.

  • Rob

    The problem is not the “mid range” shot per say…it’s about “Having” to take the shot because they are not fluently setting up other options. These have been “forced” shots during this series…not “planned” shots. Big difference.

  • Buckets

    Keeping their hands active on defence is spot on. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Randolph making easy passes out of the block with McDyess and Duncans hands down by their sides. Completely unexeceptable especially from a veteran team.

  • Buckets

    I feel like it’s a lost cause for the Spurs. We can talk about X’s and O’s all we want but the plain fact is Memphis are a lot younger, more athletic, physically longer, stronger and fitter, fundamentally more sound at both ends and after game 4 showed a lot more discipline. Oh yeah, and hungrier.

    There are no X’s and O’s that are going to magically fix the Spurs deficiencies.

    All I know is playing Bonner 25 minutes a game to anchor your defence against Gasol and Randolph and matching 6’7 Blair up with 7’1 Gasol isn’t a recipe for success.

  • Bob

    I think it’s got to start on the defensive end. It can’t just be about shots falling. Spurs have to play smart and active defense. It will generate offense with points of turnovers and relieve some of the pressure on the Spurs shooters. Right now since they struggle to get stops there’s alot of pressure on the shooters to make a shot. Playing with energy on defense can calm you down on offense.

    If they try to do it the other way around, starting with offense, if the shots are not falling early the defense might get worse. That will lead to even more frustration on offense and even less effort on defense. If the Spurs dig in defensively they can win. The Grizzlies are not offensive juggernauts, though the Spurs are making them look that way.

  • Buckets

    I kind of agree. Defence is the only way the Spurs can win game 5. But I feel the Spurs are’t youthful enough and don’t have enough juice in their blood to play relentless defence for 48 minute 3 games in a row. They just don’t have the legs. They need to start hitting shots so they don’t have to use all their energy and burn out.

    There is no way Memphis will be able to keep this intensity throughout the playoff. They will have to burn out at some point. If they don’t then I’ll want to know what suppliments they’re take because I’ll want some.

  • Rob

    End of first half. Last possession at around the last minute.(or what they have been giving the entire game) Grizzlies front the key not allowing penetration. Pick off the wing and setup the baseline pass. But no…it’s got to be a one on one penetration even though the defense is fronting the play.

    Dammit man…Pay the F attention to what they are giving you and exploit it. IT REALLY ISN’T THAT HARD TO DO !!!!!!

    Still not comfortable even with the lead because I see too many missed “easy” opportunities this team isn’t taking advantage of. They are making it harder than it has to be. Memphis is giving them all kinds of choices to exploit their defense yet not aware or taking advantage of it.

    Go Spurs Go!!!!

  • Senorglory

    yep. exactly.