It’s obvious the San Antonio Spurs dominated their opening playoff series with a sweep against the Utah Jazz as the Spurs outscored the Jazz by an average (102-86) of 16-points through the four games the teams played. However, if you watched the close out game against Utah, you well know the Spurs aren’t perfect and could improve in some key areas.
The Jazz were down 81-60 midway through the fourth quarter in game four, then they used a 21-6 run to end the game, losing by just six points to the Spurs. The first three wins for San Antonio were all by double-digits, but each game showed a small area of concern the Spurs as a team could improve in with the extra days of practice and film sessions as the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers continue to battle for the right to face the Spurs in the second round.
I’ve narrowed the list down to four key areas (in no particular order) the Spurs must look to improve in before their next series begins. As evidenced by the series with the Jazz, most of the key areas where improvement can be made are on the defensive side of the ball.
1.) Rebounding: During the series, the Spurs were outrebounded by Utah 48.5-41.8 on average. That advantage for Utah was expected because the Spurs aren’t the tallest frontcourt team in the league, but Boris Diaw did help bridge that gap on the defensive side of the boards. The main area where the Spurs had the most trouble and allowed the Jazz to get more looks at the basket was on the Jazz’ offensive glass. The Jazz outrebounded the Spurs 16-7.8 on average in offensive rebounds. Now credit Utah’s bad shooting to allowing more balls in the air, but time after time Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was seen on the sidelines getting upset because the Spurs wouldn’t box out and grab offensive boards that were right in their vicinity. Communication and hustle on every defensive possession are the key to limiting offensive rebounding from the opponent. Granted, if the Spurs continue to force teams to take bad shots, the opposing team will still get more offensive rebounds, but they shouldn’t almost double the Spurs in offensive boards.
2.) Fouls: The Spurs just couldn’t seem to get in the right place at the right time as the Jazz drew 19.8 personal fouls on average during the series and got to the free throw line 26.3 times per game. Keeping the Jazz off the line was a huge concern throughout the series as the Spurs only fouled teams 17.3 times per game during the regular season, and only allowed 21.6 free throw attempts per game. Communication and players arriving on help rotations late, whether in the paint or in the open court, were where the Jazz had the opportunity to get easy points from the line during the series.
3.) Tempo control: One key weakness I’ve noticed with this Spurs team is tempo control. I first noticed the issue when the Spurs barely defeated the Boston Celtics during the regular season by one point. The Celtics played tough nose defense and denied the Spurs their normal run-and-gun fast break offense as the Spurs only scored 87 points in the game. When the Lakers defeated the Spurs at home 98-84 during the regular season without Kobe Bryant, the key to that win was once again tempo control by the Lakers. The Lakers pounded the ball in half court offense with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, the Spurs’ offense never got rolling, and the team was embarrassed on their home floor. When the Spurs blew out the Lakers in the next two meetings, it’s because the Spurs controlled the tempo and were able to get out in the open court, which is their biggest strength.
In game four, the Jazz slowed down the tempo in the second quarter and the Spurs only took 18 shots in the quarter. When the Spurs sped up the tempo in the third quarter, they totaled 41 shots. In the fourth quarter, when the Jazz made their short-comeback, they pounded the ball into Al Jefferson, who slowed down the tempo, and the result was the Spurs only shooting 19 shots in the fourth. Running the floor is very important to this Spurs team, and it all begins with the tone Tony Parker sets each game.
4.) Limiting turnovers: Remarkably, the Spurs only turned the ball over 11.3 times per game against the Jazz. That’s a difference compared to the Spurs’ season average of 13.2 turnovers per game. The problem isn’t limiting turnovers all together, which would be almost impossible. The area where the Spurs must really limit their turnovers is in key moments. A key moment was when they were up by 21-points and turnovers led to a Jazz march back. Against the Jazz, the Spurs could afford to turn the ball over, against the next opponent, every possession will matter that much more.
The Spurs have some areas to work on over these next few days but luckily they have one of the best coaches in the NBA to get them prepped and ready for the next round.