Past results do not insure future success.
No, that’s not the fine print from some infomercial stock-picking system. That is the warning for what will come today in game three — you can be sure this will be the best effort, the best game the Spurs will have played in this series so far. If you think a blow-out win at home is a good barometer of what will happen on the road against the Spurs, well, why don’t you ask Chris Paul and Byron Scott about that.
What has been amazing is that despite all the hype around the Lakers offense, through two games it is the Lakers defense that has been key (although the offense has been better, particularly in the second half of the last game). The Lakers have done a great job containing Tony Parker’s penetration so far, if you ask coach Anthony L. Macri, Jr., who wrote over at Basketball Prospectus:
In the second quarter, San Antonio made a more concerted attempt to get Parker catch-and-attack opportunities. The plan worked well in the sense that it did give Parker more penetration chances. The Lakers’ combination of Fisher and Farmer elected to push Parker toward the baseline as much as possible. This tactic limited Parker’s attack angles and pass openings. By forcing Parker this way, Los Angeles eliminated the vast majority of his options and caused the Spurs to slow their offense. In response, Gregg Popovich turned back to his tried-and-true traditional option: Duncan in the post. Unfortunately for Parker, this strategy turns him into a corner jump shooter, and the San Antonio offense ground to a halt.
The Lakers came out focused and intense in the second half, both on the defensive and the offensive end. In the first few plays it was obvious San Antonio wanted to get more middle penetration for Parker. However, the length and athleticism of the Los Angeles Lakers stifled Parker. In fact, the effect on Parker was so pronounced that the Spurs elected to put the ball more in the hands of Ginobili, with varying levels of success. Throughout the second half, the Lakers made Parker’s penetration a non-factor, so much so that he did not even look for his own offense. This was a recipe for disaster for the Spurs, and once San Antonio packed it in with eight minutes remaining, the game was over.
Then there is what the Lakers are doing to Tim Duncan, which Darius described in the comments:
The thing I like about our double teams of Duncan is that they are not hard double teams. We are not going over and fully committing 2 defenders to Duncan where the traditional kick out pass and then 2nd pass leads to an open jumper. All we are really doing is showing him the 2nd defender that’s waiting for him (usually Odom) and then zoning the backside with the other 3 defenders. This enables our length and athleticism to come into play…Odom is able to take away Oberto under the basket by using his length to disrupt passing angles and then our other defenders (Kobe, Sasha, Fisher, Radman) are quick and/or long enough to get into their rotations and contest jumpers. Did we give up a few wide open looks? Sure. But most of the time we are able to not only discourage Duncan from just taking Pau into the lane for the finish, but also still able to get back to shooters. (And on a side note, I also think this soft double is smart because it plays to the decision making of the Spurs. Duncan is too smart and unselfish a player to force anything against this type of defense. The right thing to do and what his reads tell him to do is: make the pass out and make the defense rotate. But we are recovering well enough that there aren’t really any open looks at the end of their ball movement and their roll players are mostly coming up empty.)
The guy who could open things up for the Spurs, who could create real problems for the Lakers, is Manu Ginobili. He is not quite the same with his injury, and he has not played spectacularly against the Lakers this season, but I think the Spurs will try to do more with him this game. They really have no choice. They can’t have him as a spot-up shooter, but right now he can’t even drive around Radman. Expect some new sets to get him the ball in a position he can succeed.
For the Lakers, this can be the nail in the coffin — win this and it is all-but over. The Lakers bench needs to play like it is still at home and continue to dominate the Spur bench. More importantly, the Lakers need to keep up the pace of the game or improve it — in the first two games the pace was in the low 90s, faster than the Spurs played this season but slower than the pace the Lakers prefer. If they can keep it up, it bodes well for today.
Finally, we will finish with this interesting point from Stephen in the comments:
Most NBA fans thought that the Colangelo/Stern tinkering w/the rules was going to give fast break teams an advantage and that the Suns were the wave of the future. What if the real legacy is allowing motion teams to thrive again? Players can now cut w/out being held,grabbed,etc. Teams using the old formula of waiting for a star to draw the double team and kick it out to an open 3pt shooter are routinely losing in the Playoffs to teams that spread the floor by sending players in motion and getting open looks. It reaally looks like the biggest indicator of Playoff success thiis yr is not who’s the better defensive team,but who moves more on offense.