Approaching things from a different angle
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.