Spurs defense leads the charge in Game 1 win

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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

  • Andrew G

    Already fretting over the reffing. I have no idea where they draw the line. These guys may as well have been punching each other, then on the next play a touch foul will get called.

    Dwight is dirty, he likes shoving after the play is over and it gets ignored a lot. Happened in the last regular season game when he shoved Danny after a defensive sequence by the Spurs, and it happened again today. Bonner wrapped up Dwight from behind only to have him throw up his arms in an exaggerated fashion, followed by shoving Bonner after they were already becoming separated.

    It doesn’t look like we’re missing Jack all that much. I miss his physicality, but I don’t think we’re going to suffer too much without that slow step and brick chucking.

  • Mamba juice

    2 things: When might we see Tracy suit up? And when is Boris supposed to be back?

    I will feel so much better when we get that depth in the 3-4 spot.

  • Len

    Wacko Jacko really had lost a step out there. His defense had become pretty bad and anything other than a wide open 3 on offense was pretty ugly.

    Now I’ll just go back to praying that Kawhi stays healthy…..

  • idahospur

    T-Mac suits up when someone gets injured. Or maybe next year if Spurs keep him around. Would love to see him get another chance. I wrote of Grant Hill after his long series of problems and he came back.
    I wouldn’t expect Diaw until next round, maybe late this round (games 6-7) if Howard/Gasol step up and start causing problems.

  • NYC

    So after one game, it’s looking like Cory Joseph has the backup pg job. I didn’t get to see most of the game, but I hear he did a pretty good job. What say, y’all? What about Nando? Mills?

  • ThatBigGuy

    CoJo did an excellent job. He nailed a couple jumpers, drew a couple fouls, and generally hustled his butt off without being out of control. He even went 1-on-1 against Jamison in the post after a switch on the P-n-R, and even though you got called for a couple fouls, he made Jamison work for every single inch of space down there. He didn’t look like a playoff virgin in the very least. I was quite impressed. If he keeps playing like this, and grows at a normal rate, he’ll be a great back-up PG for years.

  • Spurs fan in Australia

    I’m confident the offence will come back, but it’s great to see the defense playing so well when we need it which was missing last year.
    Also, hopefully everything going well and we beat the Lakers, not many other teams are going to throw out two 7-footers like Howard and Gasol.

  • Tyler

    He was really good. He was extremely active, especially when he switched on to Jamison, which was the Spurs’ gameplan. Even though he picked up several fouls, he did a great job of “gumming up” the Laker offense. He also hit a couple jumpers and found Manu at the end of the 3rd for a buzzer beating 3 pointer. Overall, he looked extremely confident; like he knew he belonged out there.

  • Sir Timothy

    Is Dwight Howard really that much better than a healthy Andrew Bynum? I mean this does not seem like a very different Lakers team with Howard out there – as compared to last year with Bynum.

    I wonder how this game would have gone with Kobe out there? I think Spurs still win but Kobe is like Manu in the sense that Kobe can also turn it up when needed. Not sure anyone else on L.A. can really do that. Dwight Howard is no Shaq, he is no Hakeem, or David Robinson either.

    I am not impressed with the duo of Gasol and Howard together. A “twin towers” approach is great for defense and rebounding but L.A. really needs three point shooters out there so that it is not so easy to double-team down low. Splitter is playing GREAT defense on Howard and I thought that Bonner really played well. A quicker big man might give more trouble but it looks like the Spurs can handle these two.

    Lakers need to shoot the three well to have a chance. Any game where the Lakers make at least 6 3s and shoot close to 40% they have a chance to win. But where does that shooting come from?

  • Hodor

    Let’s not get too excited about the defense, this lakers team has no real scorers outside of Gasol and Howard.

  • Spurs fan in Australia

    True, but the Spurs team of a year ago wouldn’t have defended the interior or rebounded as well as this team.

  • Tyler

    Yeah, it’s pretty tough to win in the NBA if you can’t shoot threes. If I’m not mistaken, 9 out of the top 10 teams in terms of made 3’s made the playoffs.

    And their lack of shooting is only compounded by the fact they have the worst backcourt rotation sans Kobe.

  • assistman

    So I guess nobody else is concerned that neither Green nor Splitter could hit any shots, against a bad defensive team. And despite TP going for 18 on 21, the guys were still being carried by the old Big 3? Gonna have to do a lot better than that.

  • idahospur

    http://www.nba.com/spurs/video/2013/04/23/130423popmov-2457485

    I’m sure every one on this site beat me to it but you got to check out Pop’s press interview today. Especially starting at the 3 minute mark!