Spurs and Nuggets 3-point shooting a tale of two extremes

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AT&T CENTER — When a basketball game is decided by a single point like in the San Antonio Spurs’ 100-99 win over the Denver Nuggets, there are endless things available to point to as the deciding factor. Luckily for us, we don’t have that problem. While the margin of victory was razor thin, the difference in shooting from 3-point range was anything but.

Not that we should be all that surprised. These two teams are effectively on the opposite ends of the perimeter shooting spectrum. The Spurs currently sit at third in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage, converting at a 38 percent clip. The Nuggets, on the other hand, are 24th in the league at 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Against Denver the Spurs shot 10-of-15 from the perimeter, led by Danny Green’s 6-of-8 performance. All six of Green’s 3s came in the first half, tying a Spurs franchise record for 3-point field goals in a half. The rest of San Antonio’s 3-point field goals came via Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Cory Joseph.

“Every time I penetrated,” Parker said, “I found [Green] and he made some big shots for us to come back in the second quarter when we were down 14.”

Like they have all season, San Antonio’s 3s came by design. Good ball movement from the Spurs resulted in an off-balance defense and, eventually, an open shooter on the perimeter. Oftentimes it was Green, who has an uncanny ability to find the right passing lanes as he floats along the perimeter.

“[Green] took over there and really got us back into the game when it started to slip away,” Tim Duncan said after the game. “He shot the ball really well as he has all season long.”

Denver, meanwhile, missed all 10 of their attempts from the perimeter. In actuality, the Nuggets really only missed eight legit 3-point attempts, as one was a half-court heave at the end of the third quarter and another was a sloppy toss up as the shot clock expired early in the fourth. Either way, there’s a significant difference in hitting 10 3s and not converting a single one.

Defensively for the Spurs, you can say that their 3-point defense was by design as well. Or, at least, with the scouting report fresh on their minds. The San Antonio defenders closed out hard on Denver’s better shooters like Danilo Gallinari (38 percent from 3 on the season) and Ty Lawson (37 percent), while not closing out as aggressively and protecting against the drive on wings like Andre Iguodala (31 percent on the year) and Corey Brewer (30 percent).

How much the Spurs had to do with the Nuggets missing all of their long distance attempts is uncertain, but when the difference in the game comes down to one shot not going in, any little bit helps. The Spurs defended the Nuggets well on some of those attempts and others were missed shots, plain and simple. There’s something about being lucky and good in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.

Thanks to winning the points in the paint battle by a significant margin, 68-36, Denver nearly stole one in San Antonio despite their putrid perimeter shooting. There are plenty of plays and statistics we can point to as the difference in the Spurs’ one-point win over the Nuggets. But with a gulf so wide, it’s hard not to be drawn to San Antonio pitching a shutout from the 3-point line.

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  • Sir Timothy

    The three-pointer is a weapon. It is simple math. 40% shooting from the 3 point line is equal to 60% shooting from the paint.

    But it is the GOOD 3-pointer that works. The shooter is set up just outside the arc. The ball is swung quickly to that shooter – defense not quite up on the shooter – pass delivered perfectly. That is the shot you want and with Tony that is the shot we got. Repeatedly last night the open three was taken and it was made. Manu is the one guy who can get the 3 off cleanly from the dribble. Danny, Kawhi, Jack, even Patty Mills, Boris, and Tony are good spot up 3-point shooters. It is the penetration and the ball movement that matters.

    People say you cannot hit 3s in the playoffs, well maybe that is true of Denver. This had a playoff atmosphere and the Nuggets went from 34% on threes to 0 for 10. With Parker delivering the passes the Spurs went from around 40% on threes for the season to 67% tonight.

    You see, the Spurs not only lead the league in assists, it is the kind of assists that really matter. An assist on an open 3 should count as 1.5 assists!! Other Spurs assists are in the pick and roll for a lay-up or a dunk for Timmy or Tiago. Other teams probably have a higher ratio of “marginal assists” where a pass goes to a guy who is sort of open and shooting a long two-pointer or something.

    Anyway, that is why the Spurs can count on the 3 in the playoffs and many other teams cannot. Great game from Icy Hot! Go Spurs Go!

  • Andrew G

    I’m surprised you didn’t do “The Margin” :). I wish Kawhi would’ve made that technical shot Karl gave us, and still have us win by one, those are the sweet ones. We were really sloppy for the first 1.5 quarters, I think we had 8 turnovers by that point. We cleaned it up after that, and the game became watchable again.

    I couldn’t believe we didn’t go back to Green more behind the arc after what he did in the first half. I guess that’s why Pop’s coaching and I’m not. Andre Miller shot almost the same shot Harden did two games ago for the last shot of the game, I’m glad the result was different.

  • Andrew G

    I think you’re ignoring the area between the paint and the arc, or are you saying hitting 40% of your threes is equivalent to being successful in the paint 60% of the time? Either way, I don’t think the words “simple” or “math” apply.

    I do like the idea of assists on 3-pointers counting extra though. I think they should at least distinguish which assists led to buckets in the paint, behind the arc, and the rest as typical stats.

    You’re also right about our in-and-out game, I think Pop has been building this for a couple seasons now. We veered away from that strat between ’08 and ’11. Pop spent a season revamping our offense (last year), kept the same roster, and has now spent this season reemphasizing our defense. A two year scheme with a ring to show for it by the end of this year. Me likey.

  • Sir Timothy

    Of course it is simple math…If you shoot 10 times inside the 3-point arc and you get 6 of those (60%) then you scored 12 points. It is tough to shoot 60% for a game!

    If you shot those 10 from outside the arc and if you hit 4 of them (40%) then you also get 12 points. right?

    So 40% = 60%. Of course people get fouled more in the paint so there are more free throws from that strategy.

    Long story short, if you can consistently hit 3s at close 40% that becomes a winning strategy!

  • Sir Timothy

    I listened to the Denver radio for a moment and it was appalling. They were calling out instructions to the guys, yelling at the refs – it was so unprofessional.

    The entire Spurs organization is classy – and that extends right to the broadcasters, too!

  • assistman

    I give our broadcaster about a B minus, as much as I respect Elliot as a person and player, I wish Malik Rose had his job in SA. Rose is several cuts above the rest.

  • Titletown99030507d

    No way. I like Sean and his comments. Funny dude.