The San Antonio Spurs are down 1-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the Western Conference postseason.
It’s a little bit unexpected (OK it’s a VERY unexpected surprise), but it’s not over despite a Gregg Popovich team having to overcome history as they’re 0-10 in a series when they lose Game 3 (credit to Paul Garcia of Project Spurs for the stat).
While the statistics and history are not on San Antonio’s side, there’s always a chance to believe and there’s plenty of things the Spurs can do to right the ship before their next game tonight. While Gregg Popovich has said that there won’t be any changes to the starting lineup for Game 4, there will most likely be a change in strategy for the little things that are bringing the Spurs down so far this series.
Problem: Dallas’ fast break points
The Mavericks have scored 17 fast break points in both wins during the playoffs. The reason for this is actually pretty simple after watching some of the games. The Spurs have been reading tweets and listening to its fans and statisticians’ complaints about the last few years. It’s unlikely they have, but they’ve been uncharacteristically trying to get on the offensive boards and it’s been hurting them in transition. When a shot is missed, we’ve seen Tim Duncan try for a put back and occasionally falling down which has the defensive running in transition with no protection at the rim.
Solution: The Spurs need to play solid defense like they have this season. When they’ve played it, they haven’t had to worry about the offense because it comes naturally. During the championship years, the Spurs set up their offense and ran back after they put up a shot to cancel out any fast break points. San Antonio could kill Dallas’ momentum with solid defense after a missed shot especially with the majority of their players being jump shooters and already being closer to mid-court than a post player.
Problem: Monta Ellis becoming unstoppable
He’s averaging around 20ppg this series and his shots haven’t been exactly the hardest either. The Mavericks are giving him room and letting him control the pace of the game. The Spurs have been going under the pick and settling on mid range jumpers instead of layups. They’ve put multiple defenders on him, but they haven’t had luck slowing him down.
Solution: The Spurs have been putting taller guys on him, which would be a good defensive strategy if it was a one on one situation. The problem for Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, and Kawhi Leonard is that they’re already being outmatched in terms of quickness and get slower by taking a bump from the screen being set. The Spurs should put a quicker defender on him that can get a second or two quicker under or over the screen to contest the shot. Tony Parker and Patty Mills would be prime candidates for this.
Problem: Danny Green
Green is good at what he does, but the problem is that they’re not letting him shoot. He’s also a good defender, but his poor offense is outweighing his decent defense. The Spurs are also left in a similiar situation they were in years ago with Bruce Bowen. The Mavericks are switching on defense on Green like the Los Angeles Lakers used to with Kobe Bryant. The switch would be Bryant playing small forward on Bowen to rest on offense because Bowen was spot up shooter. The same is said about Danny Green and Monta Ellis or Shawn Marion. When the Mavericks put their core players on Green and have Jose Calderon guard Tony Parker, that’s giving a rest for Dallas that puts San Antonio in a uneasy situation.
Solution: Pop needs to go with lineups we saw give him life in Game 3. The Spurs went with a smaller offensive lineup that can create it’s own shot. This forced all the Mavericks players to use up energy on the defensive end and it slowed them down on offense. When Pop decided to go with a traditional lineup, the game went back into the Mavericks’ favor.
Problem: No Spacing For Manu
Ginobili had his moments in Game 3 and that was mainly thanks to the Spurs’ efficient pick and roll. It was late in the game that Manu had trouble scoring and decided to play a head scratching offense throwing up quick shots and three pointers that left too much time on the clock.
Solution: The bad shots mainly came after the Spurs went back to a traditional lineup. Manu had his best success alongside Tiago Splitter in the pick and roll, which was a move that helped Dirk Nowitzki pick up some fouls. When Tim Duncan came in, they tried the pick and roll but Ginobili forced up a bad shot with Duncan occupying the paint. One of the reasons why Duncan was there was to help on a putback on a miss, but that’s also contributing to other problems with the team as stated below. If the Spurs want Manu to have a vintage game, Pop needs to give him room in the paint with shooters around him. Whether it means going small with a small forward at point guard, playing four guards again as we saw last game, or having Matt Bonner spot up on the wing, Pop needs to give Ginobili some advantage to succeed on a play that’s said to be the Spurs’ “bread and butter.”
These things are easily fixable by the next game, but the Spurs need to come out with energy. They’ve looked lost and uninterested for the majority of the first three games. If they showed some emotion for more than the few minutes in each game, we’d be looking at a different outcome so far. That’s their biggest problem and the solution for that should be easy when the championship hopes are on its last legs and the window is about closed after this season.