An underrated performance from the Spurs defense
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.