Project Spurs Playbook: Closing Out Clutch City

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The time to celebrate Tuesday night’s instant classic has passed as the San Antonio Spurs head into Game 6 with a chance to close out the Houston Rockets amid uncertainty.

With Kawhi Leonard’s ankles slowing down his software, Spurs Head coach Gregg Popovich decided to roll the dice with his role players as Leonard sat through the overtime period undergoing defragmentation. The gamble paid off as the quintet of LaMarcus Aldridge, Jonathon Simmons, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills pushed an exhausted Houston squad to the brink of elimination.

Looking back at our adjustments (and one prediction) for Game 5, the Spurs did an excellent job of maintaining their focus and limiting the Rockets in terms of pace and scoring. The Rockets surpassed the century mark in scoring before overtime, but Clutch City played at a miserable pace of 92.99, well below their regular season and playoff average.

Meanwhile, Dewayne Dedmon logged another DNP-CD as Clint Capela terrorized the interior with his shot blocking. He also only attempted two free throws, so suggesting the Hack-A strategy paid off zero dividends.

And finally, if you don’t remember our Vintage Manu Game prediction, here is what Ginobili averaged in Game 5’s since 2014 prior to Tuesday’s contest: 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, .489 FG%.

Here was Ginobili’s Game 5 stat line: 12 points, seven rebounds, five assists, 5-for-11 (.455) on field goals.

Father Time is undefeated, unless he’s going against Manu Ginobili in a pivotal playoff game.


GAME 5 ADJUSTMENTS

  • BREAK THE BEARD

Houston’s short-handed roster, paired with Mike D’Antoni’s shortening of his rotation, has been a bit of a double whammy.

James Harden struggled through a majority of the fourth quarter and overtime, going 2-for-7 from the field and 0-for-5 on 3-pointers, totaling seven points in 13 minutes. His struggles weren’t much of what the Spurs did defensively, although Simmons performed admirably as Harden’s primary defender, but more so Harden’s sheer exhaustion.

Harden does an excellent job of hiding on defense. Whether he’s staying back five feet away from Ginobili, who’s shooting a paltry 19 percent from beyond the arc this postseason, or defending the post against a timid Aldridge, Harden excels at limiting himself to exposure on defense.

If exhaustion is Harden’s only kryptonite, then the Spurs should take a page out of the brief “How To Defend Stephen Curry” handbook by running Harden through a host of hard screens and play him as physically as the referees will allow.

Offensively, San Antonio has done an excellent job of hounding him with an army of warm bodies, but it’s going to take more than Simmons and Leonard’s defense to tire out The Bearded One. Also, expect D’Antoni to expand his rotation some to deter fatigue, which means fewer opportunities to harass Harden.

  • JUICE OR VERDE

While the combination of Green and Simmons helped San Antonio steal a victory, the amount of time both athletic wings spend on the floor together should be limited.

In 20 minutes of sharing the court, the 2-man lineup of Simmons and Green had an offensive rating of 91.1 and a net rating of -13.1.

As a 5-man unit, the Spurs’ second most used lineup of Aldridge-Ginobili-Mills-Simmons-Green played nine minutes together with an offensive rating of 87.7 and a defensive rating of 86.7. Together they grabbed 62 percent of all rebounds while on the floor, but that group also had an Effective Field Goal percentage of 32.1.

Green and Simmons are great one dimensional players on offense. Simmons can handle the ball well and create his own shot by driving into the paint or creating for others by sucking the defense in. Meanwhile, Green is great at drawing defenders out to beyond the arc to create space for the offense. Together, they are a disaster waiting to happen.

Sure, Green showed some flashes of being able to handle the ball, but it’s too inconsistent to rely upon at this stage of the playoffs.

The screenshot above is an example of how the Rockets defended the Juice-Green duo.

With Harden catching a breather on Green, while Eric Gordon protects the rim instead of guarding Simmons because he’s a career 32 percent 3-point shooter, it allows the Rockets to put their two best defenders on the creators: Ginobili and Mills.

Aldridge gets away with literally pushing Trevor Ariza into the paint on the switch, while Ginobili passes to Green who takes advantaged of a resting, flat-footed Harden to drive into the paint for the layup and the foul.

Of course this is a bad example since the play led to one of San Antonio’s two field goals in all of overtime, but if a driving Danny Green is what it takes for the Spurs to score points, Coach D’Antoni will live with that all day long. A simple swap of Capela for Anderson in that situation should do the trick.

  • FREE THROWS

The easiest adjustment of all: You’ve got to make your free throws.

San Antonio shot almost 80 percent from the charity stripe during the regular season, good enough for seventh overall. That number has dipped down to only 78 percent in the playoffs, which ranks eighth out of the 16 playoff teams. But in round two, the Spurs are shooting just 73 percent on free throws, ranking them last among the eight teams still remaining in the postseason.

If the Rockets can’t get stops on Thursday night, maybe Mike D’Antoni should just hack every struggling Spur as payback for what Pop did to Shaquille O’Neal in the 2008 NBA Playoffs.

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