Arnovitz on Tim Duncan’s defense


Over at TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz (with some help from David Thorpe) takes a look at Tim Duncan’s pick-and-roll defense. It’s been painfully obvious that the Steve Nash-Amare Stoudemire combination on pick-and-rolls has been killing the Spurs.

And now, Arnovitz has twisted the knife for you. As great of a defender Duncan was – and still is – he can no longer defend the NBA’s bread-and-butter play like he used to. And that, more than anything, is why the Suns have a 2-0 lead on the Spurs:

When you consider that in the closing minutes of Game 2, the Suns repeatedly chose to attack Duncan with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire in a pick-and-roll situation, it’s a fair question to ask.
The Nash-Stoudemire high screen action is one of the most lethal weapons in basketball, but the frequency with which Phoenix deployed it against Duncan was disarming for anyone who’s watched the future Hall of Famer play defense since his days at Wake Forest. In his prime, few big men multitasked pick-and-roll defense the way Duncan could. He had both the intuition, reaction and agility to harass the craftiest ball-handlers, while simultaneously checking the screener. Duncan almost always seemed to guess right — but it wasn’t guesswork at all. Duncan’s instincts guided his movement on the defensive end of the floor.
Wednesday night in Game 2, Duncan seemed ill-equipped to deal with the speed and precision of Nash and Stoudemire, and the Suns made the Spurs pay for that vulnerability. Time catches up with every athlete — ask anyone who watched Willie Mays stumble around in centerfield in Shea Stadium during his twilight years. Duncan certainly isn’t that desperate. Even at his most exposed, he’s no worse than average for an NBA big man on the pick-and-roll. Still, his Game 2 performance clearly suggests that Duncan is no longer an asset in this capacity, at least not in the Spurs’ current defensive scheme.

Ouch. I’m going to go find a YouTube clip of Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals to try and feel better. Thanks Kevin.

  • Jordan

    We knew this though. Duncan has fallen off as a defender this year and last year. It’s unfortunate but true.

    However, Splitter is said to be the pretty good at defending the P&R. I just hope he signs with us in the off-season. Thanks, NBA for not letting us sign our draft pick.

    If the Suns are going to go Frye, Dudley, Hill, Richardson, Dragic on us, we should try Hill, Parker, Manu, Jefferson and Bogans. If they want to “bend” lineups, I saw we go one farther and just make sure we box out everyone. It’d be interesting to say the least.

  • Patrick

    So when Tim actually scores 29 an corrals 10 boards the knock is his pick and roll defense? And when Timmy plays a better defensive game and the scoring is down he is old and isn’t the scorer he once was. We no doubt know Timmy is aging but this article is another knee jerk reaction to Spurs loss. We have once again seen Tim’s game elevate in the playoffs. The problem is the help defense he is not getting and poor rotations. Nash and Amare have run the same pick and roll for years and they have been extremely successful but the Spurs still beat them. Game 2 was a function of getting beat from the 3 point line, being outrebounded again and the free throw disparity. If there is any knock on Tim it should be his free throw shooting this playoffs. I appear to be the only optimistic one hear. If the Suns can out rebound us and knock down the same 3 pointers and get to the line more in game 3 I will tip my hat to them. But I do not think this will happen. I expect the Spurs to hold home court. They have lost 2 home games since February!!! It’s time to once again belive in this team!

  • Patrick

    This comes after you posted an article on Tim Duncan making the All defensive team for the 13th year in a row?

  • Tyler

    I think we should switch all ball screens. Even if we end up with a bad matchup, don’t help and make Nash and Amare purely scorers.

    We’ve seen how lethal Phoenix’s offense can be when their role players get into the flow of the game. Making Nash a scorer should help slow their ball movement and keep Frye, Richardson, and company as spectators. Instead, we’ve chosen to try to help and recover which has allowed them numerous open 3 pters.

    This series is going to be determined by the role players. If we can limit them, I think we win, even if Amare goes for 40 or Nash scores 30. Similar to 2005, let Amare and Nash get theirs, but limit everyone else. Easier said than done, obviously, but might be something to look at….

  • doggydogworld

    Amare used to go for 40 off the pick and roll against us, so let’s not pretend like Tim once had superhuman ability to stop it. There is no question he was too tired to defend it late in the 4th. This is because Tim burnt a lot of energy earlier in the 4th. Credit Frye for this, he sunk his 3s and made Duncan battle to establish position in the post. Meanwhile, Nash and Amare were relaxing on the sidelines, saving up energy for the finale.

  • Tristan

    Why not try Bonner at the 3? Imagine the spacing nightmare phoenix would have. You can go down low with TimmyD or Dysce, then you got great perimeters players in TP and Manu, so that would set Bonner up with an open 3 alot. Maybe im crazy, but their killing us on the pick and roll.

  • senorglory

    Shame, shame on all of you.

  • Nick (Italy)

    Is it just me or the Amar’e/Nash p’n’r’ was quite effective against a younger TD in 2005 WCF?
    Now, TD may be slower, but the main thing, in my humble opinion, is that the combination between those two sometimes is just too effective to be guarded. Especially by a tired TD.
    I mean, we have to live with it.
    What we can’t live with is Frye shooting 6 times without anybody around and being outworked by Dudley, Amundson and Dragic.
    BTW, am I the only one thinking that maybe sometimes we should try something different than pushing Nash toward the baseline?
    I agree with Tyler: let Nash and Amare combine for 70 points, but shut down everyone else.

  • NL

    “Amare used to go for 40 off the pick and roll against us, so let’s not pretend like Tim once had superhuman ability to stop it. ”

    I could not agree more. The difference is Jason Richardson and Channing Frye hitting 5-6 of threes. The role players make this Suns team a different team.

    And we still could have beat them twice. We didn’t and face a very tough whole against a very good team, but I still have hope, as most of you do. Go Spurs!

  • SpurredOn

    @Patrick – Thank you, sir, for a breath of fresh truth. Duncan’s p&r defense didn’t cost this team game 2. Bogans, Blair and Bonner’s rebounding did, starting in the 2nd quarter.

    TD may not be able to guard the p&r as he used to, but he still plays better post defense than anyone on the PHX roster and they have no one that can guard him without help. Or Tony. Or Manu. Clean up the small stuff and we’ll be fine.

    Is anyone else tired of the annual multiple articles that overreact in attempting to cast Spurs players or team as a whole as being unable to do things? Notice that they never appreciate what this team can do.

  • Shawn

    Pick and Roll is not the problem.

    Amare looks like a shell of himself compared to the 2005 playoffs when he (avg 37pts and 10 boards) and killed Duncan. Nash averaged 25pts and 10 assists. Watch the tape he was amazing. Most of his shots are defended pretty damn good in this series if you ask me.

    Duncan has also slowed down, but I think it is a push when it comes to the pick and roll. Suns just have a better all around team then they had in the past. Better chemistry, better role players, and better rebounding, better 3 pt shooters. You guys should know how that works better than anyone.

    I still anticipate about a 58% chance that San Antonio wins both their home games.

  • Shawn

    By the way, I just got notice Robin Lopez will not be in tonight’s game, which would have been a huge upgrade at center.

    PER of Jarron Collins of 3.76 compared to 17.66 of Robin Lopez’s.

  • HatinonSpurs

    Spurs are washed up. They are too old and Duncan just needs to retire. Soon he will look like Shaq floundering around helplessly. They stayed with the old guys while rest of the league pumped youth into their rosters. I used to think it would be Suns in 7….now I’m sure it will be Suns in 5. Thank you “Sterns” for giving us the chance to humiliate you.

  • Tyler

    Also, I think it might be wise to go small with RJ at the 4 a little more. Not only will our rotations be quicker, but that’s a matchup we can exploit on the offensive end. It might also help conserve minutes for TD and McDyess.

    I haven’t been a fan of small ball this year, but when Phoenix goes with Frye, they’re essentially playing with 4 perimeters. I think we need to counter that with RJ and maybe Bogans as a second choice.

  • doggydogworld

    We went small with RJ at the 4 for the entire 4th quarter.


    i just watched the 2003 NBA Finals – San Antonio Spurs vs. NJ Nets – game 6

    Whatever good los locos suns are, they played and won both their 2 home games, we should win this G3 than G4 and go back to steal G5!!
    I still in these Guys we are like DAVID
    God Bless you all tonite

  • Gary

    if Bogan doesn’t mess that game we might pick it up


    i still believe in these guys, we are like David
    God Bless in JC


    if TD makes his FTs
    if MANU returns Manu
    if GH becomes GH
    if if if if!!

  • BlaseE

    I wish Robin Lopez was playing to limit small ball lineups and Channing Frye minutes. The Spurs issues are with those.

    At the end of Game 2, my problem with Duncan was more on how he couldn’t defend anyone on the court in Phoenix’s small ball lineup that featured Frye as the only big. We needed to either start playing a zone or bench Duncan for Bogans to match their small ball lineup. Frye isn’t strong enough to post up Bogans, but I would want RJ on Frye and Bogans on Richardson. Hill on Hill. Manu and Parker on their two other guardsof Dragic, Nash, and Barbosa.

    With the zone, Duncan just plays safety and our 4 smalls have to guard the 3 point line and slow any penetration from getting to Duncan before he can react.

  • bduran


    Have you guys (48 MoH bloggers) seen the proposal from Dave Berri at wages of wins? It’s got an interesting idea for having a network of blogs writing about Wins Prodcued for their prospective teams and those articles being linked to on his site. Thought you might be interested.

  • Shawn

    A ray of hope for Spur fans

    Phoenix is 5-12 on the road in the regular season against playoff teams. Although 8 of those losses were on the end of back to backs.

  • agutierrez

    More importantly than who the Suns had in ’05 and ’07 compared with who they have now is who WE had. Compare, then: Robert Horry, Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Fabricio Oberto. Now: Matt Bonner, Keith Bogans, Roger Mason, DeJuan Blair (still a rookie), George Hill (still a sophomore). If we still had the first group as they were during those years, it would make absolutely no damn difference who Phoenix had as starters or on the bench. Period.

  • agutierrez

    PS: obviously, I’m talking beyond the Big Three.

  • Jim Henderson

    Number one, this is not a particularly relevant conversation to be engaged in at this point, lamenting the “NOT NEW”, and inevitable decline of Tim Duncan. Number two, despite the following assertion or conclusion drawn by either Andrew or Mr. Arnovitz (I’m not sure which):

    “Duncan …… can no longer defend the NBA’s bread-and-butter play like he used to. And that, more than anything, is why the Suns have a 2-0 lead on the Spurs”………

    No, I disagree, that is NOT the reason the Spurs are down 0-2 (Nash/Amare have ALWAYS torched us on the PNR). And if it is the reason, we’re in REAL trouble, because there’s no way we’re going to bring back “father time” as a remedy. Lets move on.

    So, instead or reminiscing about the glory days of TD in his prime, or on his “individual” awards that still trickle in as a testament to the greatness of his career as a player on this “team”, perhaps we could turn our focus on how THIS TEAM, here and now, with all its known foibles, can win tonight’s game and get back in this series – with Duncan the way he is, NOW.

    As a start, I’ll draw forward the questions I raised on the previous thread:

    “For example, can someone get into Pop’s head and tell me what we’re likely in for in terms of strategy adjustments and personnel decisions for the Spurs/Suns game tonight? Do we start Parker? Approximately how many minutes do we see Blair on the court tonight? What are we going to do to address our rebounding deficits? Should we make a more “deliberate” effort to SLOW the game down? Do we give Bonner 10-20 minutes no matter what he does tonight on the court? If not, what are your parameters if you were the coach? Must we stick with NEVER playing Duncan & Blair together? Why, or why not? Why are McDyess’ minutes down this series? Is there good reason for it? Is Hairston really still injured, or is he just too inexperienced, or in the doghouse for some reason? If healthy, could we use Hairston for spot minutes against certain match-ups? If Bogans is not playing that well tonight, do we use Temple for more than 30 seconds a game, or do we put Mason back in? What are your top three ways that we can best slow down the Suns transition game?

    I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to see a Spurs win tonight. And contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s not a given, nor is it due to Duncan not playing like he did 3-4 years ago, otherwise the Celtics would still be complaining that Bill Russell is not blocking any shots anymore. So, what are the things THIS TEAM MUST DO to win tonight’s game?

    Well, there you go, there’s a few questions to get us started. Any thoughts, or questions of your own, anyone?”

  • Bushka

    I fervently want a home court smash and grab on these suns. They are underestimating the spurs big time, and the horrible mojo created by all these trolls turning up and talking trash is bound to hit them sooner or later.


    If you have read this blog during the year you’ll know that I have been Matt Bonners rock. I have stood by him in all kinds of conversations.

    Putting him in the three spot though is madness he’ll get torched if he is forced to guard Grant Hill, plus he is shooting with all the finesse of a tree lopper at present.

    I love the idea of creating issues via spacing, at its very heart that is the biggest scariest monster for this spurs team these playoffs. Our lack of 3 point shooting from the bench.

  • Tom S.

    I just have one question:

    Why do people (media included) call the Spurs an old team, when we only have 4 players on the team that are in their 30s?

    I know 2/3 of our Big 3, plus Dice and Bonner are 30+, but that’s it. This team is not that old.

  • Jim Henderson

    I guess the board’s just chillin today. That’s cool. I like our chances tonight, but it will be interesting to see what adjustments are made, and who steps up outside of the big three. It’s really a do or die game, and I’m pretty confident the big three will us to victory, even if they have to kick some of our role players (or starters) in the butt to get the “W”.

  • Colin

    ……….anyone else tired of listening to Jon Barry’s commentary tonight??? What a douche!

  • Jim Henderson

    This team is very exasperating. How does an experienced team in a must-win playoff game miss NINE free throws in one half? HOW?!

    And, how does such a team leave a guy that’s shooting 55% from three in the playoffs for wide open looks? HOW?!

    We did make some adjustments:

    — better job on the defensive boards – Suns just 3 offensive rebounds in the first half.

    — did a much better job of controlling the tempo, although we let that slip a bit at times – don’t fall for Suns tempo!

    — got Blair a few more minutes, and he’s responded – 4 pts., 4 rebounds, and a block in just under 6 minutes – he gets the cheapest fouls called on him – the veteran Hill suckers him into one in the open court, and the one on Barbosa is one I like to call, a “breathing” foul. Ridiculous!

    DEFENSE and FREE THROW SHOOTING has to improve in the second half! KEEP THE TEMPO SLOW. GO SPURS!!

    Hey RJ, can you make a shot?

  • lvmainman

    Stop switching screens!! Stay with your man and fight over the screens!!

    Damn it Popovich!! Your a complete dumb idiot telling them to switch the screens and allowing mismatches.

    Make them beat us playing team basketball by passing the ball not one-on-one off the dribble for uncontested jump shots or layups!

    Damn it Pop, get your head out of your ass!!

  • Jim Henderson

    Wow. What a choke. That’s all I have to say.

  • Bushka

    They keep doubling and showing on the ball handler during the pick at the top of the arc and we cannot hit the roller.

    Nash isn’t even playing…..

  • Colin

    This is bad. Blame whoever you want, I don’t care. To me, it’s a collectively shitty display of basketball in a win-or-go-home playoff game. Words can’t describe what I’m watching right now.

  • Colin

    ……… the way, I told everyone about Dragic before this series started……….

  • drew



  • Bushka

    Goran Dragic just went coast to coast out of a made free throw? I’d guess Pops about to stab someone.

  • lvmainman

    Hairston doesn’t play.

    Dragic does play.

    Coaching makes a difference.

  • Bushka

    Iv not to make too big a thing out of it..but Dragics been a massive part of their rotation all year.

    This is not his first explosion. Hairston is not about to have this kind of an outing

  • Colin

    Ivanmain………Hairston ain’t the difference maker here dude, he hasn’t scored 20 since Oregon

  • Rafa

    Richard Jefferson is a DISGRACE to the Spurs uniform.

    Let’s face it fellas. This team was always a poor man’s version of our 2000s teams. It’s the one thing we all knew but did not want to admit ALL YEAR LONG. Admit it.

  • drew

    did anyone else see blair switch onto barbosa – when there wasn’t even a screen?!?

    it’s like pop gave em a mandate “whenever you can switch onto someone you can’t guard, do it.”

  • Colin

    Well….before I turn this game off, I just don’t understand how this team can go from a masterful performance against the Mavs to putting up this type of performance tonight. Their worst showing in a couple months in my opinion.

  • spursfanbayarea

    Hate to say it, but this loss is due to Popovich. He lacked developing a shot blocking 2nd big to play next to duncan. The lack of a second big man killed us in this series. Only if we had an athletic big man who could block shots. Oh wait we have one on the bench. Thanks for wasting a year pop.

  • Bushka

    Its always about matchups colin.

    The Mavs isolated and stopped the motion of their offense. The matchups were a lot easier.

    There is no Dampier or Haywood playing here for Tim to guard it’s a team of shooters and skilled ballhandlers.

    Plus man you have to hand it to phoenix they have amped up their defensive intensity by a factor of 10…We didn’t just get beat in the 4th quarter we got smashed.

    We were a team that could always tighten the screws turn up the pressure and out execute the opposition…That team right now is the suns.

  • Bushka


    Mate your blaming pop for not “developing” a player?

    Why don’t you blame him for the sun shining or the fact that he hasn’t developed Lebron James from a petrie dish.

    Good god.

  • Bushka

    Ian has been on the bench for 3 years mate, and he has not produced anywhere but in the imagination of some fellow posters.

    Thinking Ian Mahinmi is the stepping stone to not getting flogged by 12 points in the fourth quarter is lunacy.

  • Rafa

    I’m sorry guys. I know I’m probably being annoying but I’m finding refuge right here.
    Spursfanbayarea I couldn’t agree with you more. This loss is on Pop. Matter of fact this series is on Pop. The RJ signing has to go down in history as one of the biggest ripoffs ever (that goes without saying) and ……. wow I can’t believe I’m gonna say this…… We have been witnessing the demise of Tim Duncan. God I can’t believe I just said that.
    RJ you can go to hell. I’m just glad you’re an expiring contract next year. That’s who you are from now on – “X player (expiring contract)”

    Thanks to you the San Antonio Spurs… OUR San Antonio Spurs “sold out” last summer.

    I will forever hate you

  • Gary

    SOrry fellas, but a slow ass injured fascitis Parker won’t make the cut this year… could be Phoenix turn for a championship

  • SAS

    OK Guys we are done . i give up. blame on everybodybody?each game somebody is paying great on their end and somebody is playing very poor at our end. thats the difference. ok guys