Friday, April 06, 2007

Spurs Stymie Suns

SPURS 92- SUNS 85:
- Simply, the Spurs put on a defensive clinic. Most importantly they got the Suns off the 3pt. line - something we here at the Painted Area have been stressing since last year's playoffs. (check here) It was just not that the Suns shot 2/11 from 3pt., it's the fact that they only attempted 11. My rough guide for defending the Suns is to try to limit them to no more than 15 attempts from long-range, which averages to about 6 makes (Suns shoot 40% from 3pt). The Spurs consistently defend the 3pt. line vs. the Suns as well as anyone, and it is one of the key reasons they have been successful vs. Phoenix the last few years.

- San Antonio chased the Phoenix shooters off the line, and forced them into long jumpers off the dribble. Again, here at the Painted Area we have put forth the concept that you want the Suns taking 2-pointers as much as possible (check here). Give them looks in the 8-foot to 21-foot range as much as possible. Even if you have to sacrifice some easy looks in 2-point range, just get them off the 3pt. line. They did this to perfection. And when the Suns tried to get rolls to the basket off the pick/roll, the Spurs' help on the backline was superb & nearly there every play to either impede Amare, Nash or Marion. The Spurs always seemed to have 2-3 guys waiting in the lane when any Sun tried to attack the rim. Bell & Barbosa were taking mid-range jumpers off the dribble, & Diaw was taking long jumpers--exactly what you want. The Spurs defensive rotations were perfect on basically every possession.

- On the other side defensively, Kurt Thomas was huge. He was the only reason the Suns kept the Spurs close in the 1st half. His defense on Duncan was awesome. He would not let Tim even get into his moves; his strength, good balance & positioning frustrated Duncan. The difference between his defense & Amare's or Diaw's was jarring. The dropoff was huge & noticable when Kurt left the game. I felt Thomas should have been starting instead of Diaw even when Diaw came back from injury because I think it gets Thomas involved early in the game. Also, I think Diaw works better off the bench because he's not really meshed with Amare operating in the high post a lot. Kurt brings the two things that are crucial to the Suns--rebounding & solid post/interior defense. These two factors have been the ultimate downfall of the Suns the last 2 years.

-Actually Amare seems to have reverted back to his crummy defensive ways where he's just lax in concentration & motivation. Not only was defense on Duncan poor, there were a few instances where he provided very little help on Parker drives, one where Tony missed & Amare stood there and let Oberto crash the boards. Overall, I thought the Suns' defense was not half bad--they do scramble pretty well, Marion did some nice things, but they were a lot better with Thomas on the floor checking Duncan. And when they face the Spurs in the playoffs D'Antoni might be wise to start Thomas or be prepared to play him roughly 30 mins per off the bench.

- By the way, to some people who think Duncan has lost something defensively, um ok. He has been clearly a 1st Team defender all year, & his defense should be a major reason he's a serious MVP candidate. Another guy some people feel has lost something defensively was pretty good tonite--Bowen. Bruce might have lost a little something, but it's nowhere near as much as you would think--still one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, who pestered Nash all game, and helped force Nash into 6 TOs, to go with only 7 assists.

- The Spurs held the Suns to 14 assists--the Suns lead the NBA with 26 apg. Never understood the talk about the Spurs' defense being shaky this year--they have been one of the best all year, Top 5. And they have gotten increasingly better defending the 3pt line all year (currently 2nd in the NBA). The main issue is if they could find someone to provide a consistent scoring punch outside the Big 3 (check Spurs entry). Tonite, Mike Finley came thru huge--19, 10 rebs, & 5/7 from 3pt. Parker continued his stellar play vs. the Suns--he continually got into the teeth of the Suns' defense, and forced them to put him on the foul line 14 times.

- I think the Suns would prefer to play the Mavs before the Spurs. The Suns just match up better vs. the Mavs because the Mavs really don't have a classic post presence. The Mavs are a jumpshot-centric team and sometimes don't attack the paint as much as they should, something that aids the Suns' cause. Dirk will go down to the post, but he needs to be coaxed to go down there, and he still has a tendency to fade away from the bucket, instead of going toward the rim. Dirk needs to go into the paint like Duncan does when a guy like Marion or Diaw is guarding him, use his height advantage. Something I have been stressing all year, and basically for 2 years--the Suns' interior defense is extremely shaky & lacks size. And the Spurs have done a magnificent job of exposing it not just with Duncan, but with Parker's penetration as well. Kurt Thomas could really be an underrated factor in the probable Western Conf. Semifinal Spurs/Suns matchup.

[-M. Haubs here with .02 to add to the Jay Aych analysis:
What struck me about the ballgame was how Duncan dominated everything defensively. A big reason that the Spurs were able to cover the arc so well was that TD was back there to negate any penetration.

I was stunned when I checked out the PER leaders (Insider) recently. Here's how the Top 10 stacks up:

1. Wade 30.10 (46 games, 38.9 mpg)
2. Nowitzki 28.20 (72, 36.5)
3. Duncan 25.83 (75, 34.3)
4. Bryant 25.83 (70, 40.6)
5. Yao 25.80 (43, 34.0)
6. James 24.83 (72, 41.2)
7. Garnett 24.74 (73, 39.7)
8. Ginobili 24.15 (70, 27.5)
9. Boozer 24.07 (66, 35.0)
10. Arenas 24.07 (74, 39.8)

I guess I had assumed that Timmy's numbers were starting to slide because he wasn't quite an MVP-caliber player anymore, even if he was still certainly one of the top 10 players in basketball. I was wrong.

PER is a per-minute ranking, and looking at these numbers makes you realize that his raw numbers are down because his minutes are down (he averaged around 38-39 mpg for his first seven seasons, down to about 34 the last three), not b/c the Big Easy is slowing down.

And of course his PER is even more impressive b/c the one thing is doesn't capture accurately is defense - and only KG is close to Timmy's level out of these ten.

There's been so much conversation the last year or so about who the best player in the league is - Dirk or Kobe or Nashy or LeBron or DWade. I feel like Duncan has dropped out of that conversation, and we've been in error.

It is nice to see, however, that the tide may be turning back as the esteemed Mssrs. Hollinger (Insider) and McCallum have now both made cases that Timmy should be in the MVP conversation.]