Splitter, Duncan & defending Heat shooting big men

AT&T CENTER – In the San Antonio Spurs’ Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat Sunday, one of the key plays that helped the Heat win the game was a made corner 3-pointer by Heat forward Chris Bosh, as Tim Duncan had gone into the paint to help Kawhi Leonard in defending LeBron James, with 1:18 minutes remaining, to give the Heat a 95-93 lead.

In the victory for the Heat, they received 18 points from Bosh on 6-of-11 shooting, and 14 points from Rashard Lewis on 5-of-9 shooting. As Lewis started once more, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich elected to keep Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup as well.

With Splitter and Duncan playing together, the Heat continued to get open looks from the perimeter from Lewis or Bosh, and the Spurs chose to live with the results.

“It’s something that they always do,” said Splitter after the game. “They did it the first game, (but) we managed to defend it better. Today they hit important shots and they played better.”

Popovich has begun the first two games of the series with a similar plan – start Duncan and Splitter, but bring Boris Diaw off the bench early, and allow Splitter and Duncan to play at separate times on the floor throughout the rest of the game.

In 17 minutes together through the first two games, Splitter and Duncan have a Net Rating of -14.7 points per 100 possessions when in a 2-man lineup. The offense scored 118.5 points per 100 possessions, while it’s the defense that is the issue, as the defense is giving up 133.2 points per 100 possessions.

Even when Duncan and Splitter play at different times in the game, there’s still the issue of James. I asked Splitter if it’s a difficult choice mentally, whether to give up the open three by helping in the paint, or leaving the paint open for penetration.

“It’s not messing with our minds, it’s (that) they’re open, and you’ve got to help with LeBron at the rim,” said Splitter. “And he’s (Bosh, Lewis) over there open, and you have that space to cover.”

Here’s a play from earlier in the game. Check out how far off Duncan is staying away from Lewis, so that Duncan can still have his presence in the paint.

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When the ball finally gets to Lewis, Duncan is so far in the paint, it allows Lewis the wide open 3-pointer, which he made on this play.

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Now fast forward to the critical 3-pointer Bosh made late in the fourth quarter. This time James is driving into the paint. Duncan decides to go and help Leonard, and that leaves Bosh open for the critical 3-pointer.

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One element that should be noted on that last play above, is how Tony Parker actually screened Leonard when Mario Chalmers was setting the screen for James, as pointed out by @bballbreakdown

Splitter too had a tough time deciding whether to stay in the paint or give the Heat shooters the 3-pointer. On this play, he’s guarding Lewis and others in the paint.

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But he’s too late in going around the screen and Lewis makes him pay with the 3-pointer.

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“They’re a good team,” said Spurs guard Marco Belinelli of the Heat. “Everybody can score on the team. They play sometimes with four smalls, and Bosh as the big guy, they are a good team. They play together, they move the ball and get a good shot for Bosh, from LeBron.”

“It’s difficult,” said Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard of guarding the Heat shooting bigs. “They’re spacing out the floor well, and they can all knock down an open shot.”

Per SportVU, Bosh finished shooting 2-of-4 on his uncontested looks, and Lewis 3-of-6 on his uncontested looks. The duo had just as many contested looks (10) as uncontested looks (10) in Game 2.

Though their defense takes a hit, the Heat have a 109.9 Offensive Rating with Lewis on the floor, as opposed to a 98.8 Offensive Rating with Lewis on the bench.

Some of the problems for Duncan in guarding Lewis and Bosh, is his reliance of staying near the paint. Duncan has traditionally had to guard more paint players, like a Chris Andersen, Kendrick Perkins, or the Samuel Dalembert type. However, with Boshbecoming even more of a 3-point shooter this season, it’s seems to be putting Duncan in an uncomfortable place of having to choose the paint, or guarding the three.

For Splitter, though he was successful in defending Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge in the previous rounds, Bosh is a bit different, because he’s the second or third option on most plays. Bosh has more activity off the ball, and like Duncan, Splitter too is used to helping in protecting the paint, not going out to the 3-point line.

One player who can be a difference in defending these shooters is Diaw. The Spurs are 19.9 points per 100 possessions better with Diaw on the floor so far in the series. Diaw has the quick feet to match Bosh or Lewis on the perimeter, and he’s not necessarily a dominant rim protector like Duncan or Splitter. The problem with getting Diaw to guard Bosh or Lewis is when Leonard gets into foul trouble, Diaw has to become the secondary option to defend James.

Though the Spurs are having some issues with how the Heat are spacing them out through the first two games, it’s something Duncan said the team will try to figure out heading into Game 3.

“I thought they made some shots, they spread us out a little bit down the end there,” said Duncan. “They executed real well. LeBron made some great passes and the guys made open shots. We have the same results in the first game and they kind of flipped it in this one.”

“We’ll figure it out,” continued Duncan. “We have things to talk about and film to look at and we’ll be ready for the next one.”

(Statistics via, SportVU, Screen shots from Synergy Sports)

Paul Garcia

About Paul Garcia

Paul is a San Antonio Spurs credentialed media member for Project Spurs. He covered the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, TX, and the 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals. Paul has been featured on WOAI, Fox 29, and numerous nationwide radio shows.