Game 4 came down to a handful of plays. Fouls on Chris Paul. Consecutive empty trips to the line by Duncan and Parker. Ginobili fouling Crawford during a shot that went in. Patty Mills saving the ball under his own basket only to give the Clippers a new possession. Those Spurs mistakes combined with the Clippers excellent shot making ability made it impossible for San Antonio to string enough stops together or get enough points on the board to close the game late.
It's very tempting -- and not entirely untrue -- to simply say that the Spurs need to be smarter and hit some fouls shots and they could easily win Game 5. Yet the information we have after four full games and an overtime period suggest there are some small adjustment the Spurs could make to give themselves a better shot by either improving their offense or limiting the Clippers'.
Only intentionally foul Jordan in specific instances
Intentionally fouling Jordan has not yielded great results. Even when he's missed the Spurs have not been able to capitalize on the other end. That doesn't mean they should stop doing it altogether, specially now that Doc Rivers has started to sit him in those instances. What they need to do is be smart about when to do it.
In Game 4, the Spurs had one foul to give. Pop sent in Matt Bonner, who immediately fouled Jordan. Rivers subbed him out and the Clippers found themselves in the bonus with over six minutes to go. Worse yet, Chris Paul was on the bench at that time. It's true that the numbers say the Clippers' offense is better without Paul on a tiny sample size and Rivers and Crawford were killing the Spurs up until that point. You should still take your chances trying to stop them in the few minutes their best player isn't on the court.
If the Spurs are going to intentionally foul Jordan, they need to do it at the end of quarters to gain and extra possession or when they are already in the bonus early. Glen Davis has been good in limited minutes but could get exposed on a slightly bigger role, which means getting Jordan off the court could pay dividends. The strategy can work on certain circumstances. The Spurs just need to figure out which those are and only use it then.
Trap the high double screens
The Clippers love to set two screens very high on the floor for Chris Paul and occasionally Jamal Crawford.
If the defender gets caught, the Spurs have to switch with Paul having a full head of steam on the big. He usually uses a few dribbles to create space and launches an elbow jumper. Because this happens early in possessions it's also possible for the Clippers to find Griffin defended by a guard on a mismatch.
It's shocking how effective that play is. The Spurs by now know it's coming and the defender still gets caught by the screen a lot. The Clippers have been doing it all season and are great at it. That's why mixing things up and trapping Paul before the screen is set to get the ball out of his hands once in a while might be a good option. The Spurs actually tried it out when they were desperate at the end of Game 4.
It's far from a perfect solution. The big man trapping will have to be Griffin's defender and Blake is arguably the best ball handler and passer at his position in the league. He's equipped to put the ball on the floor and hurt teams that give him space. If Leonard is on the court, however, he can cover enough space to cut Griffin off and get back to his man. If Barnes is also on the court, the Spurs could pack the paint and hope he misses.
Trapping the high double screen is not something the Spurs should do often but it should be an option to have in their back pocket if the play is causing as much damage as it has so far.
Give Bonner some minutes alongside Splitter
Asking for playing time for Matt Bonner screams "desperation move" but it could make sense for a handful of minutes next to Tiago Splitter to prop up the offense. With Splitter on the floor the defense is superb. Even when he doesn't share the floor with Duncan the Clippers score way below their average in points per possession. The problem is the offense dies. With Splitter on the floor the Spurs have scored 88 points per possession while their average in this series is 105.
The Diaw-Splitter duo was great on the regular season but it hasn't clicked in the playoffs. Diaw's reluctance to shoot three-pointers and his inability to make the few he takes hurts the spacing. Splitter is not as good as Duncan at navigating through traffic so he's ineffective. With Bonner next to him, the Spurs could kill the Clippers with pick and rolls, as the threat of Bonner's outside shooting would make it hard to pack the paint. Griffin will certainly go at Bonner in the post but if the help defense is on time, he shouldn't make too much damage and the Spurs switch most pick and rolls involving Griffin anyway.
If he misses some three-pointers or his presence hurts the defense and rebounding more than it helps the offense the Spurs can stop the experiment. But giving it a shot is worth it, especially considering Baynes is out of the rotation.
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The Spurs have played well so far, considering the quality of their opponent. Their work on the glass has been stellar, their defense has been able to contain a potent offense and they are figuring out how to attack the Clippers' aggressive pick and roll defense. The way they are playing is working, yet they are tied and need to win one game on the road. In such a close series small adjustments matter.
Fine tuning the ways they are using intentional fouling, mixing up their pick and roll coverage and finding units that work on both ends could be the difference between a win and a loss. If anyone knows that it's Pop, so don't be surprised to see some new wrinkles in the Spurs' game plan going forward.