AT&T CENTER – “As I have said many times, you don’t stop All-Star caliber players,” said San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after his team took a 2-0 series lead over the Portland Trail Blazers with a 114-97 victory. Thursday, the Spurs’ defense held LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard to a combined 14-of-43 shooting for 35 points.
“You just try to make them work hard,” continued Popovich of his team’s defense, “and I thought we did that. They didn’t make shots and part of that was probably the defense, but they also had open shots that they missed. It’s never one thing, but they made them work hard.”
One player the Spurs’ defense has really made work hard for his points is Aldridge, as he was on a tear against the Houston Rockets in the first round, but is having a tougher time producing those same results against the defense of Tiago Splitter, and the Spurs’ defense. Check out Aldridge’s production from six games against the Rockets to two games against the Spurs.
|Rockets||29.8 PPG||23.7 (47.9%)||7.5||8.3||115.0||109.7|
|Spurs||24.0 PPG||24.0 (37.5%)||5.0||6.5||88.8||113.5|
Those numbers explained: FGA = Field Goal Attempts, FG% = Field Goal Percentage, PFD – Personal Fouls Drawn, FTA = Free Throw Attempts, OR = Offensive Rating, DR = Defensive Rating
Now looking at the SportVU data, you can see just how the Spurs’ defense is contesting 79% of the Aldridge’s shots in the series. Here’s how he’s shooting on both contested and uncontested looks.
|Game 1||Contested 11/21||Uncontested 2/5||Total contested 21/26||81% contested|
|Game 2||Contested 4/17||Uncontested 1/5||Total Contested 17/22||77% contested|
|Total||Contested 15/38||Uncontested 3/10||Total Contested 38/48||79% contested|
As you can see from above, the Spurs have contested 38 of Aldridge’s 48 field goal attempts per the SportVU data. Some of those factors are because of Aldridge’s offensive style, as he likes to post from about 15-18 feet, which allows the defense to set in on him. But even on his pick-and-pop shots, the Spurs’ defense, Splitter in particularly, is rotating onto him to contest those normally open looks.
Thus far, Splitter is deserving of a lot of the credit for the success the Spurs’ defense has had on Aldridge, as he’s mainly matched up with him for a majority of the minutes. Using the Synergy Sports database, I re-watched all of Aldridge’s field goal attempts through the first two games and charted his misses and makes against the Spurs’ defenders below.
|Defender||FGM/FGA||Field Goal Percentage|
As you can see from the shot charting data, Splitter has had to defend the majority of Aldridge’s looks (28) so far in the series. So why has Splitter been relatively effective through two games? It comes down to three elements: his size, his deceptive quickness, and his support around him. In watching some of the plays, Aldridge doesn’t have as much of an effect trying to back Splitter down, as Splitter can take some of the what he called “bangs” that Aldridge tries to throw at him in order to back him down. With Splitter keeping his position fairly well when Aldridge tries to post him, he’s in solid position to get a decent contested shot.
The next area is Splitter’s deceptively quick feet. Splitter’s not having too much difficulty shuffling his feet and beating Aldridge to positions when he tries to put his shoulder down and head to the paint, or when Aldridge sets a screen, and tries to pop out for a jumper, Splitter recovers relatively quickly. Lastly, Splitter has support behind him and around him with a paint protector in Duncan ready to contest a shot at the rim, and on the perimeter, where he’s got a player like Kawhi Leonard who can force steals, or get his hands in plays to create chaos for the opposing team on offense.
With the series headed back to Portland, one could infer Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and the Blazers’ staff will try to develop different schemes to try and get Aldridge more efficient looks, but through two games in San Antonio, it’s been Splitter who’s had a major effect on the production of Aldridge.
(Stats used via NBA.com/Stats, SportVU, Synergy Sports)