An underrated performance from the Spurs defense

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AT&T CENTER — The common question entering this year’s playoffs was if the Spurs’ first round series against the Jazz would bear a resemblance to the disastrous first round last year against the Memphis Grizzlies. I even teased about it in my pregame notes on Sunday morning. In short: no. While the Jazz boast one of the best four man post rotations in the league, one that has the ability to give the Spurs the same problems Memphis’ did last season, these are not the same Spurs as last spring.

The Jazz ended up out-rebounding the Spurs 45-39 on the night in the silver and black’s 106-91 win over the Jazz, but San Antonio was able to keep Utah at its regular season average of 13 offensive  rebounds. With those 13 offensive boards, the Jazz were only able to convert them into five second chance points.

On the night, the Spurs finished with a 96.8 defensive efficiency (96.8 points given up per 100 possessions), greater than their middle-of-the-pack season average of 100.6. The key to that efficiency lies in the shot locations the Spurs forced Utah into. The Jazz attempted 25 shots at the rim — compared to the 37 the Spurs got — Utah got 12 shots from 3-9 feet, and shot 4-17 from 3-point range. Everything else was in the no man’s land in between, where offensive efficiency goes to die.

The Spurs forced the Jazz into 26 shots in the 10 feet to 23 foot range. In those areas, the Jazz shot just six of 26 (23%). Meanwhile, the Spurs shot just 18 shots in that zone, hitting six of them as well. While the Spurs aren’t the strongest defensive team, if they can force teams to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses (defending at the rim), their defensive numbers can stay strong.

Keeping the pace

There were a total of 94 possessions in Game 1 of Spurs-Jazz. That’s right in line with the Spurs’ season average of 94.9. The Jazz are a slightly slower team at 94.1 possessions per game. It may be a key for the Spurs to keep the pace at or higher than their season average of possessions per game.

In last year’s six game series loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, when the Spurs averaged a similar 94.3 possessions per game on the season, each of the four losses in the series came when the Memphis slowed the pace and held the Spurs to fewer possessions (91, 92, 89, 89) than their seasons average. In the two San Antonio wins, the Spurs outpaced their season averages (98, 104 in OT).

Utah’s or any team’s ability to slow the Spurs down may be key in controlling San Antonio’s offense.

Although, this year’s Spurs team may be better at executing in the halfcourt than last season’s.

The big man conundrum

If Tiago Splitter is out for Game 2, I’m curious to see if Gregg Popovich keeps the same starting lineup or changes it up. One idea would be to start DeJuan Blair alongside Duncan, going back to a familiar unit that opened so many games for the San Antonio. The problem I see with that lineup is the second unit pairing of Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw. I don’t know if there’s enough of a pick-and-roll threat with those two for the Spurs offense to be effective.

If Pop decides to leave the starting unit unchanged and Diaw begins Game 2 alongside Duncan, there’s a good chance we’ll see heavy minutes from the dreaded Bonner-Blair frontcourt. That may not be what the Spurs want against a big man group like Utah has.

That leaves the last option, one I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pop go with: starting Matt Bonner. Starting Bonner would prevent too many minutes for Bonner-Blair, avoid the redundancy of Duncan/Blair, Bonner/Diaw and give the Spurs pick-and-roll options with both units.

Although, it would be nice if Tiago Splitter played Game 2 and we don’t have to have this discussion.

  • zainn

    solution to problem: START MATT BONNER!!

  • ChrisTx

    Great game and hopefully next game we start good and be able to shoot free throws.
    Also I hope Greena and Leonard can hit open 3s.

    Yea I agree, lets hope and pray that Tiago is not hurt badly.

    GO SPURS GO

  • Bob

    I believe the Bonner/Diaw combo has a strong +/-.

  • SpurredOn

    Good analysis on the defense. I’d add that Utah doesn’t have a huge Gasol back there, clogging up the lane and being an immovable force on the boards. As for what to do if Splitter doesn’t play, don’t the regular season stats show that with Bonner on the floor the Spurs’ offense was through the roof vs Utah, and that even Blair played well vs the Jazz? Their big men would seem to be a better matchup for Blair as opposed to the Lakers or Grizz.

  • theghostofjh

    “On the night, the Spurs finished with a 96.8 defensive efficiency (96.8 points given up per 100 possessions), greater than their middle-of-the-pack season average of 100.6.”

    The season average was not “middle of the pack”, it was 11th in the NBA, and more importantly, 4th in the West.

    “Utah’s or any team’s ability to slow the Spurs down may be key in controlling San Antonio’s offense.”

    Yes, bingo. The issue for Utah is being able to manage our offense, since they’re ranked 20th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and we’re ranked number one in offense. Given our offensive prowess, our defense is plenty solid enough to hold off Utah. I’d say the Jazz get one in Utah, and that’s it.

    “That leaves the last option, one I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pop go with: starting Matt Bonner. Starting Bonner would prevent too many minutes for Bonner-Blair, avoid the redundancy of Duncan/Blair, Bonner/Diaw and give the Spurs pick-and-roll options with both units.”

    Perhaps (there’s certainly a chance that Pop will do this, since he loves Bonner), but it would result in too many minutes for Bonner to my liking. Also, I don’t think Bonner matches up too well on Milsap (I’d actually rather see him on Favors). Why not play the two that started together for most of the season, and performed well together in those two victories over the Jazz, one on the road, and one at home? And Diaw’s a versatile guy. If he can’t run a pick and roll with Manu, he’s got a problem. Also, Bonner does run pick & pops as well.

  • John M. Perkins

    Bonner, who to the eye, usually looks pretty bad on defense despite decent result. But yesterday Bonner looked good to the eye on Milsap.
    The issue is that Blair and Bonner don’t play well together. I’d start Blair, limiting his minutes to the start of each half and mopup.
    Splitter’s minutes go mostly to Blair (10), with a bit to Duncan (2), Diaw (2), Bonner (2) and Anderson (2), maybe two for Jarvis guessing that he suits up as #13.

  • idahospur

    If Bonner keeps nailing 3′s like he did yesterday let him in. Even with Memphis losing to the Clippers I still think it best to get Splitter healed up before the 2nd round. Not to be overly confident, but these Spurs should handle the Jazz 3 more times in the next 6 games easily.

  • theghostofjh

    @John M. Perkins

    “But yesterday Bonner looked good to the eye on Milsap.”

    He did? Actually, Diaw was on Milsap most of the time, and he didn’t even do that great. Bonner was more on Favors, and at least he didn’t get torched (thanks to crappy Jazz guard play – 2 assists by Harris). Bonner is not a good match-up on Milsap, believe me. He’s too skilled athletic, strong, and mobile.

    “Splitter’s minutes go mostly to Blair (10), with a bit to Duncan (2), Diaw (2), Bonner (2) and Anderson (2), maybe two for Jarvis guessing that he suits up as #13.”

    More minutes for Bonner? No thank you. He already played too much last game (20 mins.). We’re fortunate he had an okay game, and came through on the 3-pointers. Let’s not push our luck. Minutes for Anderson, Jarvis? What?

    Blair should get regular season minutes in the starting line-up unless his performance dictates otherwise.

  • CincySpursFan

    Split Splitter’s minutes between Blair and Diaw.

    Starting Blair gives you best chance to win imo (not that I’m worried) but I’m sure Pop is anxious to let Diaw develop chemistry w the starting group since that’s where he’ll be when we’re 100% and he is still new.

    Blair starts, Diaw first off the bench. Give Boris 30+ minutes, he needs the work and it will pay off. He should end up w more minutes than Blair regardless of whether he starts.

  • Stijl

    As noted…here’s to hoping Splitter’s injury doesn’t keep him out too long.

    Anything…I mean ANYTHING that will keep the Blair/Bonner combo off the floor would be better. Even if it means inserting Leonard.

    Small ball is another option that wasn’t mentioned and…it increases the chances for Spurs to have higher possessions. Spurs more than likely suffer in points in the paint but could eventually wear down Utah’s bigs with a faster paced game.

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  • Titletown99030507d

    My only worry is if Utah trots out Jefferson and Kanter while Blair and who ever is on the floor with him. Kanter would have a field day if he was paired up with Blair in the post. So much for the 3rd pick of the draft he couldn’t get any shots off or post up against Splitter. Let’s hope he doesn’t get off in this series. He’s probably still too green or just not theat good.

  • theghostofjh

    @CincySpursFan

    Sensible post, although the minutes should be determined by who earns them in the game. Boris may earn 30+ minutes, but I’m not just going to give it to him.

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