Spurs' grades against the Blazers, and thoughts on the Thunder

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

It turns out that when you win a playoff series in a "Gentlemen's Sweep" and become just the third team in history to outscore the opponent by at least 15 points in all four triumphs, that most of the team gets really good grades for their performances. There was one outlier though, and the reveal may shock you... (nah, just kidding, it was Manu.)

Tim Duncan: B-

32.4 mins, 13.8 pts, 8.2 rebs, 2.6 asts, 0.4 stls, 1.4 blks, 0.4 TOs, .460/NA/.733, 108.5 ORtg, 94.4 DRtg, +7.0, 3 YTS pts

Despite the healthy minute total, Duncan didn't figure as heavily in the offense as one might have expected. However, the Blazers' defense was often so willing to cede the first option to Parker off the high post pick that he rarely needed to choose "Plan B" and kick it back out to Duncan for the elbow jumper. The Golden God worked well in conjunction with not just Parker but also Leonard and Green to get them good looks off the curls and averaged a decent amount of assists while hardly turning it over at all. Still, his offensive rating was the second-worst of any regular. Tim's board work though left a bit to be desired and he was outworked by Robin Lopez too often in that aspect. Defensively, Duncan was quite effective in discouraging LaMarcus Aldridge from driving to the cup and was very good at altering the shots of Damian Lillard and their other perimeter guys.

While Serge Ibaka's absence will help most every other Spur on the roster, it's not going to do Duncan any favors. The Thunder will likely resort to more small ball, which will mean more minutes on the floor as the only big for Duncan, where he'll be counted on to challenge shots and rebound them. He'll also likely have to play more minutes against the hulking, oafish Kendrick Perkins, who'll lean in on him and try to wear Goat Puff down. Duncan has the length and athleticism to score at a good clip against Nick Collison, and the veteran smarts to trick Steven Adams. Still, his accuracy on that jumper will be key, and you have to wonder how much arc he'll be able to get on it as the games mount.

Tiago Splitter: B

27.6 mins, 5.6 pts, 5.8 rebs, 2.6 asts, 1.2 stls, 0.2 blks, 0.4 TOs, .538/NA/.545, 109.7 ORtg, 94.4 DRtg, +5.6, 5 YTS pts

Splitter was superb against Aldridge, especially for the first three games and shut him down even more effectively than he did Dirk Nowitzki in round one, which I certainly didn't see coming. At this point you'd have to conclude that outside of heavily hyped guys like Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol and Ibaka, that Splitter is as good a big man defender as anyone, and certainly belonging in that second-tier class alongside guys like DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik (and Duncan too, of course). Still, it's worth noting that Splitter and Duncan were the only two Spurs regulars where the team had a better offensive and defensive rating with them on the bench than on the floor. Does that mean anything? Well, it probably means that the Blazers had a horrific bench.

Splitter didn't have nearly as much to do offensively against the Blazers because they didn't switch off of him or trap heavily on the pick-and-roll, so he was mostly reduced to being a good screener on offense, though he made several impressive plays as a passer. His role will likely be reduced even further against Oklahoma, through no fault of his own. In the event that they do play with two bigs more than expected, with two of the three of Perkins, Collison and Adams on the floor, I'm curious how he'll fare. Obviously he can shut down any of those guys, but it's apples-to-oranges. The Thunder won't ever call a play for their bigs, so it'll be up to Splitter to cover the distance from the paint to wherever his man is spotted up. His biggest challenges will be to deny Westbrook on the offensive board and to be able to go up strong on offense without being stripped or blocked.

Kawhi Leonard: A

30.4 mins, 17.0 pts, 7.6 rebs, 1.2 asts, 2.8 stls, 0.8 blks, 0.0 TOs, .561/.529/.750, 109.4 ORtg, 91.5 DRtg, +8.4, 14 YTS pts

The 2013 Finals may have been Leonard's coming out party on the national stage, not only for the way he guarded LeBron James but also his rebounding and inside scoring. However, the way he performed against the Blazers in round two was even more significant for his career because he showed once and for all that he can thrive as a true small forward on both ends of the floor as opposed to a stretch four who only broke out against Miami because of their small-ball lineup gimmick. The Blazers hardly played small and Leonard still found ways to score consistently, with a deadly accurate three-ball that he fired off just as well from the wings as he did the corners and a decent mid-range pull-up. In Game 5 he gave Lillard a taste of the Blazers' own medicine, doing to him what they were doing to Parker with Nicolas Batum, but even more effectively.

Against the Thunder the obvious story line is whether Leonard will be able to slow Durant down at all. The key is avoiding foul trouble, and Leonard had a tough time doing that in the teams' last meeting, picking up a couple silly ones. Everyone focuses on Leonard's length as a shot-obstructing detriment, but I'm more intrigued about what those mitts can do in the opposite direction, namely can they deflect the ball when Durant tries to put it on the floor and cross Leonard up. We know KD loves to use that rip move to draw easy fouls and the refs almost always give it to him, so it'll be a matter of timing. Offensively Leonard's ability to push it up the floor and initiate early will be critical, because the Thunder are harder to score against when they're set. Kawhi can't be hesitant about pumping and taking it to the rim when they close out on him either.

Danny Green: B+

23.0 mins, 8.2 pts, 3.8 rebs, 0.8 asts, 1.0 stls, 0.6 blks, 0.6 TOs, .439/.333/NA, 114.1 ORtg, 91.6 DRtg, +8.2, 3 YTS pts

Even though I knew Green didn't start the series well, I admit to being a bit surprised his overall shooting numbers weren't better in the series. Nevertheless I was pretty happy with his play in most every area and he definitely had a better sense of when to put the ball on the floor when guys ran at him and usually made sound decisions on pulling up for the mid-range shot or driving a bit closer for the floater. Defensively he was just as solid as Leonard, albeit without the flashy plays.

While I was looking forward to Green having a chance to bother Chris Paul on the big stage, I think he's got a good opportunity to show off his wares against Westbrook. I figure Pop will want to keep Parker and his balky hammy away from that match-up as much as possible, at least defensively, and Green's length and strength can certainly bother that freakazoid more than the Frenchman can. The Thunder's preference to go small should mean more minutes for Green too, since Pop can play he and Ginobili together along with Leonard.

Tony Parker: A-

29.0 mins, 18.4 pts, 2.4 rebs, 5.2 asts, 0.8 stls, 0.0 blks, 3.0 TOs, .506/.429/.688, 106.0 ORtg, 93.7 DRtg, +4.8, 10 YTS pts

It was a tale of two Parkers against the Blazers. When guarded --and I use that word loosely-- by Lillard or Wesley Matthews, Parker went off and looked like a top-five player. When the bigger, longer Batum guarded him though, it was tough sledding for Parker. Regardless of who was on him the paint wasn't too available as the Blazers packed their bigs deep, but his jumper was clicking most of the series. The biggest improvements Parker made between rounds one and two were his playmaking for others and in his defense. Both were superb, and I think he really gave Lillard an education in that latter department, in that you can't call yourself a star unless you do it on both ends of the floor.

Going into the conference finals Parker is the Spurs' biggest concern. He slightly strained his left hamstring Wednesday night and  has less than a week to recover. Westbrook, of course, is peerless from an athleticism standpoint, but Parker has a history of being able to use his manic over-aggressiveness on defense against him. Parker excels at feinting one way and going the other and Westbrook jumps at everything like a cornerback wanting to turn an out-route into a pick-six. If the Thunder use Thabo Sefolosha instead, it'll be more of a challenge, but he's still not as difficult to maneuver around as a Batum or Marion, and he'd give Parker more of a breather defensively. My guess is that Tony will spend most of his time in his own end against Reggie Jackson, whom the Spurs have had much difficulty slowing down.

Manu Ginobili: D

22.6 mins, 8.6 pts, 3.6 rebs, 3.8 asts, 1.2 stls, 0.0 blks, 2.4 TOs, .286/.143/.929, 113.8 ORtg, 97.3 DRtg, +6.0, 1 YTS pt

After playing one of the best playoff series of his career against the Mavs in round one, Ginobili crashed down to Earth against Portland. Literally the best thing you could say about his game was that he wasn't quite a turnover machine and that the bench found a way to score consistently in spite of his struggles. The Blazers were determined to not let him finish at the rim, hacking away if they had to, and Ginobili accommodated that strategy by not being able to hit the side of the barn from long range, often glancing the front rim. It was apparent to me that his legs just weren't there (nursing a slight injury perhaps?) and that the extra minutes and responsibility he took in against Dallas in that seven game series where Parker struggled mightily for Games 2-5 took their toll on the Argentine in round two.

Hopefully he'll be able to freshen up those legs and whatever dings he's picked up with a few off days and to fix that broken jumper with a couple of practice sessions. I think more than any Spur he's got to be thrilled there's not going to be an Ibaka waiting for him inside because the pump fake-and-go is Gino's bread-and-butter. He'll probably have to take a heavier play-making burden with Parker compromised and it'll be critical that he not turn it over too often against a long-limbed Thunder squad not bashful about reaching and mugging. He'll have to make them pay if Sefolosha is on Parker and will probably play more minutes than usual because of small-ball alignments and the need to keep the scoreboard ringing. If he hits his threes at a decent clip and keeps the turnovers reasonable, I like the Spurs' chances.

Boris Diaw: B

21.2 mins, 8.8 pts, 3.4 rebs, 2.2 ast, 0.4 stls, 0.2 blks, 1.0 TOs, .613/.400/.500, 115.6 ORtg, 97.7 DRtg, +5.2, 5 YTS pts,

The converse of Green, I was pleasantly surprised by Bobo's shooting numbers for the series. Really, looking at the percentages, I'm miffed he didn't shoot more, but I suppose that's the story of Diaw's career. Defensively he wasn't nearly as effective as Splitter against Aldridge, but the difference wasn't as stark as the first round against Nowitzki. The rebounding --or lack thereof-- was also an issue, as always, but not quite as disastrous. The bottom line was Diaw found a way to contribute in different ways just about every game and was one of the team's few bright spots in that Game 4 loss. He had a better net rating than Duncan and Splitter, for what it's worth.

Diaw's role figures to only grow as these playoffs go on, especially with Ibaka's absence for the Thunder. Pop loves his versatility because it allows the Spurs to play against small or big lineups without much adjustment, and Diaw will likely draw the Durant assignment when Leonard is on the bench or in foul trouble. The advantage I see would be on the other end of the floor, where the Land Walrus can use his assortment of funky moves and the junk in his trunk to back Durant down and score on him down low. (Consider me dubious that Diaw will ever actually draw a foul on the MVP.)  One thing's for sure: Diaw can't be hesitant to shoot. I see OKC giving him a lot of open shots.

Marco Belinelli: B-

21.2 mins, 9.8 pts, 3.2 rebs, 1.4 asts, 0.4 stls, 0.0 blks, 0.0 TOs, .515/.429/1.000, 117.1 ORtg, 100.8 DRtg, +4.8, 1 YTS pts

Thankfully Belinelli improved markedly in round two after a disastrous opening series against the Mavs, but don't think I didn't notice that his effectiveness waned after a hot first couple of games. Oddly enough his best asset was his rebounding, but yes, the Spurs scored at a very good clip while he was on the floor. The problem, of course, was the other end, where he wasn't quite a tire fire, but was considerably worse than any of his teammates. The Spurs allowed an awesome 93.9 points-per-100 possessions against Portland, but Belinelli's rating was still 100.8. Of the rotation guys, the next-worst was Diaw, at 97.7.

Whether that defense will prove too much of a liability to keep him off the floor against the Thunder is the question. Belinelli was horrific against them in the regular season, but again, not having Ibaka around might make them a bit less spooky. In all likelihood he'll have to give the team quality minutes here and there because of the small-ball realities. Leonard, Ginobili and Green can only play so much. If Belinelli can't perform then Pop is forced to have a speed/athleticism mismatch with Diaw or a size mismatch with Mills.

Patty Mills: A

14.8 mins, 11.0 pts, 1.0 rebs, 1.2 asts, 1.0 stls, 0.2 blks, 0.6 TOs, .550/.571/1.000, 127.4 ORtg, 95.5 DRtg, +7.4, 2 YTS pts

Though he didn't play many minutes until the last couple of games, Mills had about as fantastic of a series as one can given the time he was on the floor, shooting the lights out from two and three, giving his teammates a breather as he created a number of shots on his own. He also pestered Lillard full court on the other end and caused havoc that way too. Mills' abused the Blazers' backups, had the highest offensive rating on the team and found a way to work effectively with Parker too, when called upon. He had the fifth-highest PER in the league for round two, while Leonard was fourth.

Mills was great in the final regular season meeting against the Thunder too and hopefully he'll keep it up, because I have a feeling he'll be called upon quite a bit, both in relief of Parker and alongside him. I don't worry too much about him on offense. He'll get and take the same kind of shots he always does and he'll either make them or won't. I'm more concerned how he'll hold up defensively against Jackson if that is indeed the match-up. It may be the key to the whole series.

Aron Baynes: A-

8.4 mins, 2.6 pts, 3.4 rebs, 0.0 asts, 0.4 stls, 0.0 blks, 0.2 TOs, .545/.000/.500, 122.5 ORtg, 87.3 DRtg, +4.8, 1 YTS pt

Baynes surprisingly got a call early in Game 1 after Splitter found himself in early foul trouble and was incredible on both ends, scoring 10 points and snatching seven boards. Pop was so impressed that he hardly played him at all the following four games, except for a long garbage time run in the fourth quarter of Game 4. The Big Banger rebounded well but otherwise kept a low profile.

For Baynes to receive spot minutes against the Thunder, they'll have to use a heavy dose of their bigs and I just don't see that happening. If anyone outside the top nine sees significant time, my guess would be Matt Bonner first, Cory Joseph second. I would activate Austin Daye ahead of Jeff Ayres though. Why not?

***

All-Second Round Teams

First Team

C Marcin Gortat, Wizards

PF LeBron James, Heat

SF Kevin Durant, Thunder

SG Russell Westbrook, Thunder

PG Tony Parker, Spurs

Second Team

C Tim Duncan, Spurs

PF Blake Griffin, Clippers

SF Kawhi Leonard, Spurs

SG Joe Johnson, Nets

PG Chris Paul, Clippers

Third Team

C Roy Hibbert, Pacers

PF David West, Pacers

SF Nicolas Batum, Blazers

SG Dwyane Wade, Heat

PG Patty Mills, Spurs

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