Live by the 3, die by the 3?


Ok, first I have to confess that I intended to post this before Monday’s debacle. However, despite a myriad of new problems, the Spurs 3-point struggles persist.

One could argue that considering the Spurs played game 1 without Ginobili, their performance was no worse than expected. After Saturday’s 91-88 loss, I was going to argue that, once again, they didn’t play bad after considering their struggles from long range. None of this was of significant comfort dealing with a 2-1 deficit, but there was much more reason for optimism before the 104-86 implosion in Game 4.

There are many reasons for the Spurs struggles. Manu Ginobili’s injury has clearly been a significant factor and the Grizzlies bigs have also caused significant problems. The most recent loss saw the Spurs unravel and commit 17 turnovers, leading to 20 Grizzlies points. However, 3-point woes are not without blame. After making 8.2 treys per game over the course of the regular season, the Spurs have made merely 20 in the first four games of the series. In the two contests in Memphis, the Spurs came up empty on 26 of 33 3-point attempts. No matter the reason for the losses, being down 3 games to 1 is never promising, but can the three point game help reverse the Spurs fortunes? Or will it contribute to their demise?

Early in the season, I wrote a post that included estimates for reliability of various statistics. After three games, the rate of 3-point attempts was 65% credible for predicting future 3-point rate (meaning that the best estimate of future 3-point attempts combines 65% of the observed rate and 35% of the league average). Scoring differential was 19% credible. 3 point percentage? Only 6%. Coach’s, players and fans would usually be best served to have a short memory regarding game-to-game 3-point accuracy.

Although the predictability of 3-point percentage is typically trivial over a few regular season games, occasionally there are observable circumstances that project future struggles. One could argue that the Hawks strategy of defending Dwight Howard with single coverage has played a large role in the Magic’s 3-point struggles and a 3-1 start. (I am still wary of writing off this series and last night’s game was much more favorable for Orlando.) But from my perspective, the Spurs 3-point attempts in Game 3 didn’t look particularly difficult (San Antonio went 2-15 on 3-point attempts). George Hill took one tough shot. There may have been one or two that were moderately difficult and a couple passes were a little off target, but overall, I see no reason this trend should continue. Admittedly, several attempts in Game 4 looked forced, but most of these difficult attempts were when the game was getting out of hand.

Although the accuracy of the Spurs longball might not need fixing, I am perplexed that the Spurs have taken so few 3-point attempts this series. The Spurs ranked among the leaders in 3-point attempts during the regular season (21.1 per game) and the Grizzlies have surrendered more 3s than all but a few teams (19.5 attempts per game). However, the Spurs have only taken 16.3 3-point attempts in the playoffs. The Grizzlies have actually nearly matched the Spurs in made 3 pointers (20-18) despite the Grizzlies adverse preference for the 3-ball (11.3 per game) and the Spurs ability to prevent 3-point attempts (15.9 per game). Although Manu’s injury might play a part in this drop, it doesn’t nearly explain the disparity between regular season figures. Another contributing factor is that the Grizzlies have focused their rotations on limiting the corner 3.

Long rebounds can often result from 3-point misses, but I don’t think it plays a significant role in Memphis’ fast break. The number of opponent 3-point attempts actually negatively correlates with the Grizzlies true shooting percentage. This negative relationship is even stronger after accounting for margin of victory.

So where does this leave the Spurs? No matter how you look at it, they are still down 3 games to 1, but I still think they are the better team, even after Monday’s spanking. Although the Spurs put themselves in the position where they need to sweep the next 3, ESPN’s NBA Playoff Predictor sets the Spurs odds at just under 1 in 3 and I don’t see much reason to deviate from those odds. Obviously, Ginobili’s health will play a large role in San Antonio’s success. The Spurs have outscored the Grizzlies by 42 in the 212 minutes Ginobili was on the court this season. Memphis has a 70-point advantage in the 177 minutes when Manu wasn’t playing. San Antonio will also need some luck from long range to have a shot at beating Memphis three straight.

  • DorieStreet

    I figure a 8-12 or a 10-17 performance behind the arc is needed to get a win tonight (while keeping the opponents’ numbers less than 3 makes). Go Spurs Go!

  • Anonymous

    @Dorie Street: you are right, but to acomplish that our little shy guys will need to SHOOT, instead of passing or fake or whatever they were doing but shooting. Somebody wuold need to remind them the old catch & shoot trick. That said, we still have a chance.

  • Rob

    Interesting stat. Lack of continuity in ball movement (I would presume) may be a reason for fewer attempts taken. That plus the t/o rate in this series has probably limited chances as well.

    Most glaring is the fact that the Spurs are not playing the type of ball they played in the regular season. Credit Memphis to some degree, but the Spurs have gone away from almost everything that made them successful during the regular season.

    If the Spurs have a chance in hell to pull this out…yes…three point attempts must be up to their season averages (along with it’s accuracy). But…across the board…. this team/players at this point has not played Spurs ball like they played in the regular season.

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  • Doggydogworld

    Spurs get open 3s when Tony and Manu penetrate and collapse the defense, and when Timmy draws the double team. Memphis isn’t collapsing on our guards. They are sagging but instead of trying to stop Tony or Manu they’re playing the passing lanes, especially the passing lanes to the corners. And Memphis doesn’t double Timmy, so that option is gone also.

    Gary Neal is the only player shooting well from 3 because he can shoot off the dribble.

  • idahospur

    Pop has mentioned several times that he hates the 3-pointer. But in the Spurs two wins we have made 7 3’s in each contest. Our losing efforts have produced 6 in Game 1, 2 in Game 3, and 5 in Game 4. So, we need 3’s in order to win these games. The Spurs have always had their big 3-point shooter (Kerr, Horry) that leads them to championship years. Spurs also have needed big 3’s to win big games (Sean Elliott-Memorial Day Miracle, Tim Duncan everyone knows when he made a 3, and Gary Neal the other night). So we need more plays designed to get more open 3’s, and Bonner needs to remember where the bottom of the net is.

  • Hobson13

    Let me reiterate what many have already hinted at Too many times, the Spurs offense has devolved into a 1 on 5 game. Also keep in mind that Manu and (especially) Parker have had horrendous turnovers and many were simply unforced errors. Another issue that has rarely been addressed is passing accuracy (this sounds like an NFL stat). Over the series, I witnessed countless numbers of times when the ball was either delivered late or off target thus forcing the shooter to regather himself and give the defense time to close. The overall passing of the ball has been very poor for the Spurs.

    We need to get back to what bought us the top seed in the West: Manu and Tony breaking the defense down and driving and kicking the ball to 3pt shooters. Hopefully, now that Tony appears to have found his shot and is playing better, this will lead to an overall improvement in the offense. If we win tonight then we win the series (IMO). Tonight is the night. Either we see the Spurs come back from a 3-1 deficit or we see a Spurs funeral pyre.

  • Mark B

    Who broke the website?

  • Varner


    A few of you are seeing a cached version of the site. We’ve migrated servers. It sounds like some of your ISPs are using a cache copied of the site. The problem will fix itself, but if you want to speed up the process simply register with . The free version of Open DNS will fix everything. It takes 5 minutes or less to sign up. Your ISP company should catch up soon.

  • Dr. Love

    Anyone could have predicted that Bonner would choke in the playoffs. Since when has he ever not choked in the playoffs? Especially on the road?

  • idahospur

    I wanted to give some props to Tim Varner and his work answer the 5-on-5 Q&A’s on Varner could have easily answered questions saying that the Spurs find ways to win and betting against them would be foolish, much like when I read supporters of the Heat and Lakers. But Varner answers questions honestly and realistically explains the Spurs’ chances, no only for today’s game, but for the future as well.

    Even though many state this is the end of the era, we’ve been reading it for years. The Spurs find ways to make us believe that they can have one more good win in them. I was 15 when I saw them win in 1999 and hope to see great Spurs teams as I grow older.

    GO SPURS GO!!!!

  • Mr. Robinson

    This is way off topic but I need this answered to settle an argument. The year Robinson and Elliot where hurt and Dominique Wilkens was our primary scorer. Did the Spurs throw games in the regular season to get more lottery balls to draft Duncan. I am arguing with a Celtic fan who I think has been brainwashed by New England media. I remember that terrible season but I don’t recall that. Thanks

  • AS

    I did it Tim, and its not working. I flushed cache and everything.. :S

  • idahospur

    Looking at, Spurs started that year 3-15, resulting in the firing of Bob Hill and replacing with Pop. Pop went 17-47. Robinson played 6 games that year. Elliott played 39. Avery Johnson played and started 76 games. Spurs lost the last 6 games of the year to Houston (lost WCF), Phoenix (lost 1st round), Seattle 2x (Lost semis), Kings (34-48, no playoffs), and Portland (lost 1st).
    Spurs were awful that year, but the way Pitino was running the Celtics, Duncan would’ve been worthless thru his 1st contract and never amounted to what he is.

  • Ferenc

    Sorry if this has been asked before, but could you guys do a study of the merit of replacing Blair with McDyess in the starting lineup? To me, this is the most bizzarre and unjustified move in terms of court production from Coach Pop.

  • Bruno

    Wow, so Pop let our best big on the bench the entire regular season

  • angryspurfan

    well boner just cost us this series, thanks pop for your hardon with that loser

  • angryspurfan

    fkn 2 minutes into the 4th and bonner, ALL BY HIMSELF, puts the spurs in the penalty. PLEASE give us someone who is gonna make the best of those fouls AT LEAST, next year.

  • Anonymous

    Great Article on Timmy on The Greatest PF of All-Time!!!!

  • Titletown99030507d

    Not as bizzarre as throwing Splitter in there till the 4th game of the series not to mention no development in the regular season. Pretty fucked up shit!

  • Digiphoto45

    We’ll never know. But I can tell you Pop knew what was coming and caned Coach Hill and took all his future glory from him.

  • Titletown99030507d

    So why didn’t he let Coach Hill finish and give it a go with Timmy, Dave and company the following season? Who knows maybe we would have had 6 championships instead of 4.Pop lovers need not reply.

  • Titletown99030507d

    So does this team get revamped in the off season or do we still end up with RJ and Bonner? Sad thing is I like those two as people.

  • spursfanbayarea

    It is finally time for people to admit that we are lacking that second big next to duncan. Splitter will be a serviceable backup next year but not a starter. We will have to trade parker to get anything of value in return. Hopefully a big and a good perimeter defender. Hopefully duncan opts out and signs for the minimum which allows us to go after marc gasol. Jefferson should be traded for a bag of used jock straps. Totally useless in our system.

  • Guest

    So next year Marc Gasol will get an offer to play for the Spurs. A team he and Z-Bo dismembered in the playoffs. And he will look at the Spurs, with Duncan a year older, and say, “Sure, I’d love to leave my current team and move a team with an aging one and two option. Sure, I’d love to move to the team we defeated in the first round. Sign me up. No, wait, I’ll play for free. My pleasure.”

  • Bob

    Splitter’s capable of starting and providing help next to Duncan. Him and Duncan can be good together offensively and defensively. I think he may be the best option at this point. Big men don’t grow on trees. I liked the brief looks we got at him and Duncan.

  • Bob

    Blair should have probably played over Bonner at times. They were getting killed on the boards and he could have probably helped. At the same time him not being in the starting lineup is not what cause the Spurs to lose.

  • Gomezd

    Spurs cant close, its as simple as that, game 1 and game 6, that 7-0 run and that horrible 14-4 run today, absolute death to execution.

  • Bob

    Agree 100%. He left Bonner out there too long. You know he’s out there too long when he’s getting killed on the defensive end. He’s just not effective. He allowed Randolph to conserve energy on the defensive end so he can kill them in the fourth.

    It’s frustrating that Pop likes to frame it as they just missed shots. During the season they got all the shots they wanted and didn’t play that much defense. In the playoffs they’re not getting the same looks cause of the great defense. This was never about making shots. Against great team defense you’re going to struggle to score without a dominant scorer. They really needed Parker to have a huge series to have a chance to win. That was their most favorable matchup. The next would probably be if they could have been Duncan vs Randolph.

    Basically the Spurs couldn’t play defense good enough to make up for their lack of offense. If they could have used Splitter more they could have played better interior defense. That would allow them to stay at home on the perimeter. Gasol, Randolph, and Arthur against Duncan, Dice, and Splitter wasn’t going to lose them the series. Too much Bonner and Blair is what cost them.

  • Bob

    Duncan on Randolph probably made the most sense at the end. He has a better chance of blocking or bothering the shot. Hill played too long for not making shots. He looked like he was scared to shoot. Neal would have had no problems shooting. Bonner played way too long.

    I don’t think Jefferson could have done a whole lot more based upon how they were playing him. The offense isn’t really designed for him to get that many shots. He’s sort of a rhythm scorer. If the Spurs had pushed the break more that would have allowed him to be more involved and given him more confidence for the half-court.

  • deadeye4021

    Couldnt last forever. thanks for the ride. Tim Duncan is and will always be the man.

  • spursfanbayarea

    If you read my post it states we could try to go after gasol. No guarantee. Memphis is also maxed out and will have a very hard time signing gasol. If we can find a way to get some cap space, we can try to go after him. There is no harm in trying to make your team better.

  • spursfanbayarea

    Splitter definitely can be an asset to our big man rotation. But Splitter does not command the same respect inside offensively or defensively as a Marc Gasol

  • idahospur

    Last summer, RJ worked his butt off to find his role within the Spurs organization. This time, we need the summer of Splitter. Everyone notices he has many rough edges which is the reason Pop did not trust him until desperation kicked in. It was also apparent that Duncan and Splitter could not share the court together. This was the same with Duncan and Blair last year leading to everyone’s hero Bonner being on the starting rotation. But things changed and Duncan and Blair ended up getting comfortable with each other. With a good summer of workout, Splitter will find his groove and I hope Duncan takes some time with him this summer as well.

    Of course, I do not know Splitter’s engagement to his national team or any other priorities he may have. If time is limited, focusing on Splitter’s defense will be vital and the first major step of next season.

    A big question is the future of Dice. Seeing that he wants to win a ring, he may get out of his last year of his contract and remain unsigned until later in the year, and then pick a championship contender near the signing deadline (hopefully Spurs). This year was tough on him and 82 games next year plus playoffs may not work out.

  • Rob

    The end of another high expectation season. At least they keep one’s curiosity at a peak interest.

    However, the time for Bonner has got to end. 3 years in a row he has shown he is not mentally capable to handle a playoff scenario. That could be said of many of our bench players as well. Hill and Blair are increasingly becoming trade material in my eyes though they are cheap on the payroll.

    Payroll? In order for the Spurs to be legitimately effective in acquiring the talent they need (athletic wing and post player) Timmy has to opt out. Take a significant reduction in pay and yield to coming off the bench. Frankly put…I think Duncan needs to come to the realization that if this team is to win another championship with him on it…he’ll have to do these things. But if money is all that matters to him…enjoy the blessing any new contract would yield without any real possibility to win another championship in San Antonio.

    The Big 2? If it should ever be considered…as far as Parker and Ginobili….I would think only Ginobili being safe to not being considered in any trade scenario that would help land this team youth and athleticism. Also…by some miracle…if some team is willing to take on Jefferson’s contract…that would be great. Unfortunately I think he is the least trade-able player on the team.

    Coaching? Well…he’s not going anywhere unless forced out by the owner. But Pop has got to look deep, Deep, DEEP inside his own philosophy, mistakes and recent short comings… and as hard as it may be to a narcissistic person…some how be able to reconstruct a new philosophy and adherence to winning instead of stubbornly, selfishly, plodding a course that leads to playoff asphyxiation.

    Go Spurs Go…(next year.)

  • Mark B

    Well, my DNS is still broken, so I can’t post on .. or even see .. new threads. All I have to say is, thanks for everything, Spurs. You got beat by the younger and more athletic team. You didn’t always play well in this series, but you played with a lot of heart. I’ve been a big fan of Popovich over the years, but this year he just didn’t do a good job of preparing the team for the playoffs. For whatever reason.

    Congratulations to the Grizzlies, and good luck in the series against the Thunder. It’s goint to be fun to watch. Zach Randolph, you’ve finally arrived as an NBA star.

  • Bob

    I think he’s a restricted free agent. They can go over the cap to sign him. Without Duncan opting out to restructure his deal it wouldn’t work anyway.

  • td4life

    I completely agree with your fifth paragraph regarding Popovich who I defended in years past, but lost some faith in last season, last summer, and epecially over the course of this season, to the point that I hope he doesn’t get another contract as head coach of this organization. That despite being better than most out of timeouts and during half-time… he’s become a good regular season coach, oddly comprable to D’Antonit and George Karl.

    As for your statement that this was an exciting, unpredicatbly engaging season, I couldn’t disagree more. The writing was on the wall the moment we resigned RJ and Bonner, instead of bolstering our defense especially around Manu and TD who were still elite at the end of last season… some good moments this year to be sure, that’s the NBA, but I could barely watch by the midseason, never having bought into the regular season record hype.

  • Bob

    It seems Pop doesn’t want to coach defense any more. He has to get back to his defensive roots. Now all he talks about is shots going in. I also didn’t like the way he tried to spin that this wasn’t an upset. Granted the Grizzlies are a good team but I don’t think they are a contender without Gay. They just really attacked the Spurs weaknesses and the Spurs couldn’t play enough defense. Pop also has to stop with his Bonner love. He’s too limited on the defensive end to play 20 minutes. He’s also got to go back to pushing the tempo and adding more variety to the offense. The Grizzlies were simply able to shut down the offense.

  • Guest

    No guarantee. But I fail to see any reason for Gasol to choose San Antonio. By the same logic you can go after all expiring contracts in the league. No guarantee.