Spurs defense leads the charge in Game 1 win
AT&T CENTER — After getting bounced in six games in last season’s Western Conference Finals by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs went back to what helped them to so much success over the years. Less emphasis was to be placed on the league’s top-ranked offense and more on getting back to being a top-5 defensive team.
San Antonio ended up with the league’s third-best defense, which helped carry the Spurs through a 58-win season chock full of injuries and uncertain rotations. With a healthy combo of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili returning to the Spurs lineup, belief was there that San Antonio’s offense would kick back into high gear with two of its major cogs back.
Sometimes, though, you have to dance with the one that brought you.
The Spurs fell back on that defense in a 91-79 win in Game 1 of their first round series against the Los Angeles Lakers. San Antonio held LA to under 42 percent shooting from the floor and forced the Lakers into 18 turnovers.
“I thought tonight was the best defense we’ve played in three or four weeks,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the game.
A defense boasting a 99.2 defensive efficiency during the regular season, the Spurs produced a stingy display in Game 1 to the tune of a 82.7 defensive efficiency.
A big reason for the defensive display was the turnovers. Averaging 8.5 steals per game during the regular season (good for sixth in the league), the Spurs got 12 in Game 1 against the Lakers. On offense, the Lakers fed the ball into the low post early and often, more than your typical NBA game in 2013.
As a counter, the Spurs sent guards and wings to double down low, often poking the ball away from Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
“On the defensive end everybody was focused on stopping Gasol and Dwight,” Tony Parker said. “We tried to help as much as we can and go as hard as we can on them.”
The Spurs have the luxury of being able to do that when guys like Kawhi Leonard are on the floor. The second year forward has the length and quickness to get a hand in to bother Howard and Gasol when either of the Laker bigs puts the ball on the floor and then recover to his man out on the perimeter.
On one play in the fourth quarter, Leonard doubled Howard on the right block, jumped to try to tip the pass out to Metta World Peace, and recovered to block MWP’s 3-point attempt. Parker then found Leonard out ahead of the Laker defense for a transition layup.
Also a major key for the Spurs was limiting the offensive rebound opportunities for Los Angeles. It was a pretty similar Spurs side that allowed Andrew Bynum to grab 30 rebounds (eight offensive) a season ago. On Sunday afternoon, however, San Antonio gave up just six offensive rebounds for eight second chance points. The six offensive rebounds for LA is almost half of its regular season average.
“There’s no stop until you get the board and we did a pretty decent job of that,” Coach Pop said. “They didn’t get an inordinate number of offensive rebounds.
“That was the best part of the game.”
Credit goes to the physicality of the San Antonio bigs and the ability for other Spurs (Kawhi Leonard, Cory Joseph) to rebound better than average for their position. Now the Spurs have two days off to rest and recover, hoping that the bumps and bruises from Game 1 and those still being healed from a long regular season lead to a similar defensive performance in Game 2.
And if the offense joins in on the fun too? Well, that’s just gravy.
Advanced statistics courtesy of NBA.com/Stats