Third quarter – 6:46 remaining Tuesday, San Antonio Spurs’ Cory Joseph enters the game for Danny Green.
It was Joseph’s eleventh appearance this postseason, and fourth in this series. This time much earlier than usual. Tony Parker was on the wrong side of a duel with Russell Westbrook, while Patty Mills couldn’t spark anything off the bench to swing the momentum in San Antonio’s favor.
Enter the third year guard out of the University of Texas.
Cory Joseph’s 11 points in 17 minutes were a playoff career high for him, just six points shy of Mills’ playoff career high (18 points) set just a couple weeks ago against the Portland Trail Blazers. But what led to CoJo setting a career high in the Western Conference Finals? The steady decline in guard play from both Mills and Parker is shocking, considering their playoff performances to date and their regular season numbers.
Games 1 and 2
Parker: 32 points, five rebounds, 17 assists, 55% FG shooting, five turnovers
Mills: 5 points, six rebounds, five assists, 25% FG shooting, zero turnovers
Games 3 and 4
Parker: 23 points, two rebounds, eight assists, 44% FG shooting, seven turnovers
Mills: 7 points, one rebound, two assists, 23% FG shooting, one turnover
While Mills has been consistently terrible in this series, his playmaking ability makes it difficult to take him off the floor when Parker needs a rest. But looking at Parker’s drop off between the first two games and the last two, you can tell where Serge Ibaka is making his presence felt. The Spurs’ ball movement in Games 3 and 4 has become pretty stagnant, thanks to Oklahoma City’s aggression and rotations. But where they’re killing Parker is in the paint.
In Game 1, all of Parker’s six field goals came from within 9-feet of the basket. In Game 2, TP hit six field goals from within 9-feet, while adding his jumpshot to the arsenal in the 35-point route. But looking at Game 3, Parker’s shot chart is pure blood.
Out of the six field goals Tony attempted near the basket, only one attempt was defended by the Thunder at the rim, which resulted in a miss. Parker also shot 50% on uncontested field goals, and 22% on contested shots per the SportVU data. Tony shot 82% combined in Games 1 and 2 on contested shots, which may be a sign that Parker’s confidence is bottoming out right now.
So what adjustments need to be made for success in Game 5? It might be more of a lineup change than anything that could benefit the Spurs point guards.
The thought of starting Boris Diaw over Tiago Splitter would help lure Ibaka away from the paint, which would give Parker and the Spurs more freedom to operate in the halfcourt. With Mills, it’s just a matter of confidence. Ginobili is keeping the bench production afloat on his own, but Mills is going to need to make more than a quarter of his shots if the Spurs are to advance past the Thunder. Patty’s impact won’t be noted on the box score, unless he starts scoring at will. Hey, it’s happened before. But his ability to transform a game offensively and defensively, strictly based off of effort, is severely needed.
Where does that leave Cory Joseph? Three words: Bench Marco Belinelli.
CoJo’s performance in Game 4 is going to be heavily overstated, thanks to a couple plays…okay, one play. But Belinelli’s 6.1 points per game in these playoffs is almost half of his regular season average, which Joseph could match if he’s given the minutes. It wouldn’t be the first time a young Spurs point guard made a difference after being trusted with real playoff minutes (*cough* George Hill in 2010 *cough*).
In all fairness, Joseph won’t be the deciding factor in this series. The playoffs are about stars. And if the Spurs go into Game 5 without any adjustments, their chances of winning are slim. Maybe homecourt advantage comes into play and the guys can get their shots falling, or maybe Oklahoma City finally goes cold and sees 22 third quarter free throws go San Antonio’s way. It doesn’t matter. If Parker and Mills continue to be marginal players, vacation is certain to be just a couple of days away.