Thursday, May 23, 2013

Points In The Paint: Conference Finals

Tony Parker has been San Antonio's best offensive player through two games.
By Jeremy Conlin

The Tony Parker Show

Memphis has had a surprising amount of trouble defending opposing point guards in the postseason. Many were thrown off the scent in Round 2 when they swallowed up Oklahoma City's laughably predictable offense without Russell Westbrook, but they had a good deal of trouble slowing down Chris Paul in Round 1 (Paul averaged a 23/6 and shot 53 percent from the floor), and so far in the first two games, Tony Parker has been able to get to any spot he damn pleases.

A lot of Parker's success has come on what has become San Antonio's pet play - Parker starting on the wing, sprinting off a double- or triple-baseline screen, and popping up on the opposite wing. From there, the last screener can either open-pivot for a pass like they would on a traditional pin-down play, or if that's not open, come up to set a ballscreen for Parker and set up a pick-and-roll on the wing, usually going back towards the middle of the floor, against the grain of the defense (which is now flowing towards Parker). Of course, being the Spurs, there are a handful of counters that are built into the play (sometimes he'll just reject the first screen and pop up on the same wing he started, usually wide open), and they can run the same set five times in a row and get a different shot every time. To give you an idea, here's a video of them running this play. Over and over again. For five straight minutes. Just watch Parker dart around and notice how effortless it seems:

Zach Randolph vs. Length

Z-Bo absolutely dominated the Round 1 series against the Clippers. He averaged 21 points per game and shot almost 57 percent from the floor. Since then he's averaging under 16 points per game and shooting 40 percent from the floor.

The key difference is that against the Clippers, he was able to bully his away around against the short-armed Blake Griffin. Griffin is strong, but Randolph is even stronger, so he could carve out space for himself and not worry about getting his shot blocked. When he goes up against length (like Ibaka and Perkins for Oklahoma City, Duncan and Splitter for San Antonio), he can create as much space as he wants, but the defense is still going to be able to contest the shot.

Randolph was able to compensate for this in Game 2 by crashing the offensive boards, and his rugby tactics under the basket really swung the 4th quarter (nearly winning an un-winnable game in the process), but going forward, he's going to have a lot of trouble against guys taller and/or longer than him.

Put Me In Coach

The Pacers had two defensive possessions in the last 10 seconds of overtime in Game 1.

Roy Hibbert wasn't on the floor for either.

LeBron got mostly-uncontested layups on both possessions. One to take the lead, the other to win the game.

The first possession was probably the more indefensible decision. Not only was Hibbert benched in favor of Sam Young (who spent the entire possession standing next to Dwyane Wade in the weak-side corner and never moved), the Pacers opted to switch a high pick-and-roll with LeBron and Norris Cole, meaning George Hill was left defending LeBron 1-on-1 with no shotblocking help behind him. That's pretty inexcusable.

The Final possession is almost as bad. With only 2.2 seconds left on the clock, most of the action was going to take place before the ball is even inbounded. Because of that, it makes sense to have more speed on the floor to be able to switch every screen. Furthermore, Hibbert would have been forced to guard Chris Bosh, who is about as automatic shooting open mid-range jumpers as anyone in the league, so selling out to stop a LeBron drive to the rim would open another good look somewhere else. Still, you'd have to think that a Bosh 16-foot jumper is a more desirable result than a LeBron layup.

Three-Point Drought

Game 1 went pretty much according to script for both Miami and Indiana. LeBron and Paul George both played well, Indiana's bigs pushed around Miami's, the Heat tried as hard as they could to force Hibbert to move laterally and defend in space (and had a great deal of success when they did), and overall it was a pretty sloppy game (58 fouls and 40 turnovers combined between the two teams). The part that didn't play out as expected was Miami's three-point shooting. Ray Allen and Shane Battier combined to shoot just one-for-eight from beyond the arc. Yes, some credit goes to Indiana's defense for running them off the three-point line, but many of the looks that they did get were open ones. Going forward, Allen and Battier are more likely to make those than not, so that could be trouble for the Pacers. This is the style of game that Indiana needs to win, and they couldn't pull it out.

George Hill - Missing In Action

It's unclear if Hill is still recovering from various bumps and bruises (shoulder, head, toe) or if he just had a bad game. The Pacers need him to be a major difference-maker if they have any hope to win the series, and he didn't play like that in Game 1. He needs to be more decisive on offense - there were too many instances where his first option didn't materialize right away (usually an entry pass), so instead of moving to his next option (like swinging the ball over to George or attacking off the dribble), he just stood and waited, hoping that first option would work itself out. 

If he's not going to facilitate, he needs to be an effective spot-up shooter, and he didn't really provide either of those things Wednesday night.