We've had ample coverage on game one, dissecting the Spurs' performance. Fred recapped it and Stampler offered his take and Aaron Preine covered it from his perch at the AT&T Center. Cameron showed us just how bad the Lakers' transition D is, and we've had GIFs of all the great plays. So what I will do now is try to focus on which aspects of the Spurs' performance on Sunday I'd like to see them repeat tomorrow in game two and which I'd like them to avoid.
Bonner as the third big
Matt Bonner provides something that the Spurs can really take advantage of in this series; he draws one of LA's bigs out. With a good defensive team that communicates well, or a team that prefers to go small, that's not as big of an asset. Fortunately, the Lakers have not had Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on the court together enough to develop a good rapport, and going small would negate their only strength. (But that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider it, Mr. D'Antoni.) The Lakers like using Howard as a help defender, which means he won't be on Duncan. That opens things up for Timmy to attack Gasol, like we see here (focus on Howard and Bonner):
Gasol can score on Bonner on the other end but Bonner is a better defender than he gets credit for (18th in the league in PPP allowed on post ups and 9th in isolations!) and the Lakers do have spacing problems with their version of the Twin Towers, which means the Spurs can send help. If the Spurs advance, the Nuggets will negate this advantage by going with Chandler at the four but right now Bonner should be used as the third big.
Minutes cap on Manu
Manu Ginobili was supposed to play only 20 minutes in game one and Pop stuck with the plan. It was easy since Ginobili killed it on those 19+ minutes he got. But even if he struggles, keeping his minutes capped makes the most sense going forward. Playing Manu fewer minutes won't guarantee that he won't get injured but I'd love to see him get slowly back at full health before asking him to play more. Ginobili is only now coming back and like Pop said, "if we lose him, we are done." He will probably be more necessary going forward, not only in the away games but in the second round as well, ASAKOW.
Run, run, run!
Cam dedicated an entire piece to this already, but it bears repeating: the Lakers don't get back on defense fast enough, and don't communicate well when they do. By pushing the pace, the Spurs can attack the Lakers' defense before it is established, which means no shot blockers. The Spurs got 17 fastbreak points in game one and those easy points are key because in all likelihood the Lakers will have an edge in points in the paint the entire series, at least in the half court.
And while the Spurs seem to have only three players in the series that can finish in transition in Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, they have a lot of guys that can take advantage of a scrambled defense that's sinking too deep in the paint while looking to stop the break. Bonner in particular has great timing for getting in position for those open secondary transition threes and guys like Green, Neal and Ginobili can hit those shots as well. If the Spurs can continue to run effectively, this series could be over in a hurry.
Switch on 4-5 and 1-3 pick and rolls
The Lakers run a play I've only seen teams run with small lineups where the power forward is a perimeter player masquerading as a big. They actually run a 4-5 pick and roll with Gasol as the ball handler and Howard as the screener. When they run it on the free throw line the idea is to get Gasol an open jumper and when they run it on the side is to use Gasol's passing to find Howard on a lob or with very deep post position. In both of these situations, switching should affect the play's productivity. The Lakers don't have a lot of creators, and containing Gasol's play-making could go a long way into containing their offense.
The same happens with 1-3 pick and rolls. The Lakers mostly ran them for Jamison (who's ridiculously effective in the post) against Joseph but they might run them with Metta World Peace against Parker. The players the Spurs use at small forward (Leonard, Green and Ginobili) can mostly stay with Blake or Nash or at least funnel them to help. So that leaves the Lakers with the option to post up their small forward against a point guard. The Lakers have great post up threats, like the aforementioned Jamison and even MWP (6th and 29th in the league in PPP in the post, respectively) but they lack the floor spacers to really take advantage of them. There's always the risk that the point guard will commit a couple quick fouls but I think it's worth it just to have the Lakers initiating possessions that involve neither Gasol nor Howard.
Posting up Splitter
Tiago only had two post ups against the Lakers and he did a good job of getting a shot up, even if he didn't connect. But the way to get Splitter involved in the offense should be on pick and rolls, not in the post, where the Lakers have the personnel to contest; Gasol ranks 44th in the league in PPP on post ups and Howard ranks 30th. We know how deadly a weapon Tiago can be with a properly spaced floor and a good assist man; let's use him!
The Lakers can't afford to help on P&Rs, the way the Thunder did in last year's playoffs, because their perimeter guys are not fast enough. When either Gasol or Howard sit, use Splitter on the pick and roll. It could not only get him some points but also open up looks for the shooters, just like it did in the 2011/12 season.
Making Leonard and Green just spot up shooters
This might sound like a contradiction after the above paragraph but the Spurs need to diversify their offense. The two man game between Parker and one of the bigs is so tempting because it usually provides good results but it somewhat freezes up the wings. Finding ways to involve Leonard and Green in other sets could go a long way toward improving the offense, and tiring out the Laker starters.
Nash will probably be on Green again, so let's make him run through screens. MWP can do a good job defending Leonard on the ball, but how about on hand offs on the elbow extended, where Leonard would have a step on the defender and could attack the rim or pull up? Using the wings more creatively could cause the Lakers all sort of trouble, especially if they have to go deeper into their terrible bench to spread out the minutes because of fatigue or foul trouble.
Intentionally fouling Howard
By now it should be clear that the Lakers are bad at transition defense. They also play a small rotation, which means their older players are more susceptible to getting tired if the Spurs push the ball. That's why intentionally fouling Howard is not a good recipe in most situations.
The Spurs only used the Hack-a-Dwight on one occasion on Sunday. They were ten up with just 35 seconds left in the half. Pop was probably thinking about avoiding a quick run by controlling the amount of points the Laker could get, which would have made much more sense with 45 seconds as the Spurs would have gotten two possessions. Still, it wasn't a terrible move.
But unless the circumstances are perfect, or they're truly desperate and can't get stops, I think the Spurs should simply avoid the strategy altogether. Even if the Lakers are ahead, I'd rather see the Spurs try to push the ball and make threes instead of slowing down the pace which would let the Lakers breathe and avoid defending any fast break opportunities.
So, these are my repeat and avoid recommendations for the Spurs. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
Stats via MySynergySports