Editor’s Note: SB Nation’s Pounding the Rock has syndicated this post.
They say a series doesn’t get interesting until the home team loses, but that doesn’t take into account the moves behind the players — the adjustments that go on during and in between the games. Pop and Stotts are locked in a battle every bit as real as Aldridge and Splitter are, and it’s every bit as compelling.
As we all know, the Trail Blazers were not quite themselves in Tuesday’s blowout game against the Spurs. There is no doubt that the Blazers will make some key adjustments to get themselves back into this series. And, if memory serves well, Pop will find a way to counter them.
How, you ask? Let’s play basketball chess!
Terry Stotts’ Moves
For a team built to wreak havoc on the offensive end, poor offense can often be a catalyst for some particularly flakey defense. Rome was not built in a single day, so let’s focus on a few key ways to jumpstart the Blazers’ offense for now.
Be More Aggressive
The Blazers were the second worst team in the league during the regular season when it came to points in the paint, scoring just 0.382 points per possession. However, Lillard has been much more aggressive during the first round of the playoffs than he had been in the regular season, driving to the hoop 24% more per game. This potential threat has helped him find open looks, especially from long range, in the first round.
However, with Parker playing Lillard so tightly on the ball in Game 1 and forcing him to the right, he went just 2-of-7 and attempted 0 three pointers in the first half. Throughout the playoffs, Dame has been averaging roughly 3 three point attempts with an impressive 59.1% accuracy per game in the first half. (In order to get Lillard some more shot opportunities from long distance, the Blazers may set more effective off-ball screens and encourage him to take more transition 3s in the future.) And while Lillard was more aggressive in the second half and tried to exploit mismatches in transition, the Spurs’ had already built up an insurmountable 26 point lead.
Meanwhile, the Spurs turned LaMarcus Aldridge into an extremely high volume, low efficiency shooter in the first half. He scored 13 points on 6 for 17 shooting! In “garbage time,” he started posting up and shot a promising 6 for 8 from the floor. He also went to the line 8 times due to his increased aggressiveness. If Aldridge gets going earlier on in Game 2, this could lead to some foul trouble for the Spurs and also free up some shooters. (Though you could argue that Tim Duncan did sit with two fouls early in Game 1, but it did not disrupt the team.)
In addition to getting fewer contested shots for their stars, being aggressive will help the Blazers capitalize on one of their biggest strengths, second chance points. In fact, during the regular season, the Blazers averaged the most second chance points in the league (16.1 per game). This is very much the result of the Blazers’ focus on offensive rebounding, which they did not have a big edge on in Game 1. It helps that the Spurs have allowed 19% more offensive rebounds per possession during the playoffs versus the regular season.
Get More Contributions from the Bench
The Spurs’ bench is regarded among the best in the NBA, but when Aron Baynes is trending on Twitter during the Western Conference Semifinals, something must have gone terribly, terribly wrong for the other team. And that it did. On Tuesday, the Blazer’s relatively shallow bench contributed just 18 points while the Spurs got a 50 point boost from their reserves. This was a huge surprise given how quiet Belinelli & Co had been against the Mavericks in the first round.
The Blazers are not a deep team, but they will need to find a way to get Mo Williams and Dorell Wright going to win the series. Fun fact: The Blazers maintained a 24-7 record when Williams reached double-digit points during the regulation. What is interesting, though, is that Williams, averaging just a hair under 10 points per game during the regular season, is not a big scorer. However, having him on the court does influence his team’s style of play. After analyzing lineup data from nba.com, I noticed that lineups with Williams in them shot 53% more 3s than those without him in the playoffs. He also provides the Blazers with a marginal lift in blocks (9%) and fast break points (4%).
The Blazers had an insane 20 turnovers in Game 1 of the series, which led to 16 second chance points for the Spurs. Bothered by Parker’s suffocating defense, Lillard contributed 6 of these turnovers. Though many of the team’s turnovers were forced by the Spurs defense, there were also a handful of unforced errors. This has been a common theme in the postseason. In fact, the Blazers allowed 20 second chance points per game in the first round against the Rockets (a much less intimidating defensive team).
Even if the Blazers are able to execute on the aforementioned action items offensively, the Spurs can still answer defensively by being even more aggressive and targeted.
Deny the Wings
The Spurs should continue to deny wings the ball close to the arc by limiting ball movement to risky handoffs. This will decrease catch-and-shoot opportunities while forcing turnovers. It can also take Batum out of the game early, weakening the Blazers’ offensive arsenal greatly. In fact, the Blazers shoot roughly 8 percentage points better from the field in the playoffs when Aldridge and Batum are on the court together versus when Aldridge is by himself. Despite the relatively small sample size in the playoffs, Batum has been a big part of the Blazers’ offense this season.
Get Up Close and Personal with Lillard
This one is a no-brainer. Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard need to continue to suffocate Lillard on defense.
Get the Ball in Role Players’ Hands
Mo Williams has been a subpar ball handler and playmaker so far in the playoffs, averaging just 2.1 assists and 2.0 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, Wes Matthews has not been very efficient offensively, shooting just 27.9% from long range in the playoffs. There is no doubt that the Spurs would love to see these two have a bigger role in the Blazers’ offensive scheme.
Dominate the Glass
Again, one of the Blazers’ biggest strengths is their affinity for second chance points (most in the league during the regular season). However, they have also been giving up the most offensive rebounds per possession in the postseason. By being more aggressive on the defensive glass and limiting the Blazers’ offensive rebounds, the Spurs can mitigate the potential damage. The offensive rebounds that the Spurs controlled in Game 1 also helped remove any edge for the Blazers in this category.
I expect the Blazers to come into Game 2 with high energy and a sense of urgency. Let’s see if their adjustments can keep the seasoned Spurs on their toes.