While that Bulls game has me in a funk at the moment, I still can't get this idea out of my head. People are going to point out that the Spurs are a horrible defensive team. If you looked at stats, you wouldn't be far off. Giving up 120 points per 100 possessions is awful defense, but was this game really that much of an example of how bad the Spurs are at defense or was it just the case of a team getting hot.
Often deemed the most inefficient shot in basketball, the mid-range shot (cleverly defined as16-23 feet from the basket) is the one shot the Spurs defense has always hoped their opponents would shoot. This means that opponents who make their living on that shot (e.g. Dirk, David West, Aldridge) have always caused problems for the Spurs during the regular season. I want to take a look at the 10 losses that the Spurs have suffered so far this year and check on the shooting percentages from mid-range.
Focusing on the midrange shot doesn't tell the whole story. Obviously other factors are prevalent in this. Do we get a hand up on defense? Are we begging the player to take that shot? Even with those questions, I feel like we can assume that a hot shooting night either stretches the defense and opens up the middle (allowing for higher % from inside) and makes the defense scramble more. If a high % from midrange carries throughout the game, we can just assume that team is just hot.
At this point, I am going to relive all 10 losses. As a reminder, I'm not looking at our stats, I'm just looking at their shooting %'s from outside 15 feet.
Loss #1 - This was the second game of the season. We lost to the Hornets, bringing memories of a game 2 loss to the Bulls to start last year. In this game, the Hornets shot 7-11 from 3 point land (hq!!) AND shot 14-26 from mid-range, with the main culprits being David West (6-7) and Jason Smith (3-4). We lost this game by 9.
Loss #2 - Our loss to Dallas after that awesome win streak. Dallas shot 13-26 with Dirk shooting 7-8 reminding us of game 1 of the playoffs last year. While I know Dirk constantly hurts us because of that midrange game, if you take him out of the equation, Dallas shot a more palpable 6-18. We lost by 9 in this game.
Loss #3 - Our first loss to a sub-500 team. This was also our first loss to a team that didn't shoot above average from midrange or 3-point land. The Clippers shot 3-10 from midrange. 10 shots from the place on the floor the Spurs want you to shoot from isn't that much. The Clippers took it to us at the rim and passed up everything in between. SEGABABA means we couldn't hit a shot, which mean that we lost by 5. I feel like this is the first game the defensive philosophy failed us.
Loss #4 - The stupidity of the NBA schedule makers never ceases to prop its ugly head up. After playing Denver, we fly across the country to play Orlando at home in an early game. I haven't seen another team have a tougher SEGABABA than that. This loss to Orlando broke a 10 game winning streak. The Magic shot 10-20 from midrange, and 13-25 from 3 point. This adds up to the first blowout of the season, which we lost by 22.
Loss #5 - New York. An offensive clinic on the Spurs. They shot 12-24 on the night, with Amar'e and Felton hitting 5-8 and 4-7 respectively. The ball was moving for New York and they ended up winning by 13. Even so, 24 shots from the least efficient spot on the floor, I'll take it.
Loss #6 - I don't think there's any team besides the Heat that prances around and preens itself more than Boston. I am not a fan. Anyways, Boston shot 22-39 this game. 39 shots from mid-range!!!! We lost this game by 2. If Ray Allen doesn't hit 9-10 on us (which I doubt he ever shoots again) we win this game. 39 shots from midrange is just ridiculous though.
Loss #7 - That stupid 2nd loss to the Hornets. They shot 7-25 from midrange, which should mean a Spurs win instead of a blowout loss. However, the Hornets shot 12-15 from 3 point land. That is just ridiculous. Of course, it leads to a 24 point loss.
Loss #8 - First game of the Rodeo Road Trip. Portland comes out and shoots 13-28 from midrange. Not brilliant, but also not poorly. I would assume that this is just a tad over their average and don't consider it to be a good shooting night. Spurs missed a lot of "easy" shots in this game, lending itself to a 13 point loss.
Loss #9 - That stupid Philadelphia game. The 76ers shot 8-29 from midrange and the Spurs still lost. Of course turnovers which set up fastbreak points against a team that needs to run to score means a 6 point loss. A lot of close shots missed by the Spurs again.
Loss #10 - Last night. The Bulls game. Rose shows why he's one of the most dangerous guards in the game. The Bulls as a team shot 12-24 from midrange. Being that I was fuming about this game, I did a little bit of digging. On the year, the Bulls have shot 38% from midrange. That would put them at 9-24 shooting for the game, making it a 4 point game. Suddenly, we have a chance to win this game if we hustle to those 50-50 balls more. But, being Spurs fans, we don't deal in the hypothetical and instead just accept the loss.
What does this tell us though? Well, I think it shows exactly what a team needs to do to beat the Spurs. There are only 2 options:
- The need to shoot better than average from midrange or the 3 point line. You can't beat the Spurs unless you're offense is doing better than normal or...
- The need the Spurs to miss shots close to the rim. In the 3 losses that the Spurs suffered to teams that shot average to bad from midrange, the Spurs missed a lot of easy shots both layups and floaters.
Interestingly, the three teams that the Spurs lost to because they missed easy shots are not considered top 10 in defensive efficiency. I find that fascinating.
In conclusion, the Spurs have lost only 10 times before the all-star game. They've been in nearly every game with the exception of the Orlando and NOH debacles. And in order to beat them, teams need to shoot well at the most inefficient spot on the court, or they need the Spurs to miss their layups. Not good odds to bet on.