Sunday’s loss to the Spurs showed great effort by the Lakers, but also a severe lack of outside shooting. The Lakers only made 10 of their 43 shots outside the paint, struggling to generate any sort of offensive momentum against a defense set on crowding the paint like a Best Buy on black Friday.
The Spurs understand that with Kobe Bryant tweeting from his couch and Steve Nash admittedly ailing physically, the Lakers’ offense is going to be a post heavy attack. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are the team’s best scorers and feeding them the ball to let them create makable shots is the one advantage the Lakers have in this series, even if the Spurs possess two very good post defenders in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. It simply makes too much sense, then, for the Spurs to crowd the paint and make the Lakers’ bigs earn any basket that comes from a direct post-up while simultaneously trying to force them to pass the ball out to shooters who simply aren’t as dangerous.
For a better idea of what Dwight and Pau are facing on every touch, we go to the eye in the sky. Here’s a fourth quarter post touch for Dwight Howard right after the ball has been entered into the post:
So far so good, right? Dwight has established good position and actually has a favorable match up against Matt Bonner. Meanwhile Danny Green is pressed up on Steve Nash and Tony Parker is watching Jodie Meeks in the corner while Kawhi Leonard has dipped to the opposite elbow to help on a potential Pau Gasol dive and/or help on Dwight should he drive quickly to the middle.
In order to give Dwight more room to operate, Meeks cleared the side by running to the weak side corner. Nash has slid over to the top of the key area. However, look at where Danny Green (#4) is. He’s a step away from Dwight with two feet in the paint. And look at Leonard (#2). He also has two feet in the paint, ready to rotate to Nash should Green commit to a hard double team.
As the possession evolves, Dwight works his way deeper down the lane line but the Spurs’ defense responds in kind. Green is now standing a full stride below the FT line while his man (Nash) is still floating above the arc. Leonard has also taken a step closer to Dwight and turned to face him completely to better read where a kick-out pass may go.
As the clock continues to tick, the Lakers adjust and slide Nash over to the ball side to provide an outlet. Dwight hits Nash and then quickly reposts. Nash hits Howard with a pass and the same dig downs occur. This time Green helps off a bit less as he’s in the corner (which is a shot you never want to surrender, especially to Nash), but Leonard has fully committed to doubling Dwight, leaving Ron behind the arc in the process:
With Green in his lap and Bonner on his back, Dwight does the right thing and passes the ball out. The result was Ron taking a three pointer that Leonard got a fingertip on after an excellent contest. Leonard then sprinted up floor and got an outlet pass that he finished for an easy bucket.
What Dwight faced on that possession, Gasol also faced whenever he got the ball in the post. Here’s a 3rd quarter possession:
Ron has just entered the ball into the post and is clearing the side, heading over to set a pick on Tim Duncan. Meanwhile, Steve Blake is hovering around the top of the key waiting to slide into better position so he can serve as Pau’s outlet for a kick out pass.
After the side is clear, Pau puts the ball on the ground looking to make a strong move to the basket. As you can see, Parker has slid down to the dotted line area, completely leaving Blake in the process. This is where Pau needs to make a split second decision. He can either pass to Blake or try to split the double team and get up a shot for himself.
Pau chooses to shoot, swinging the ball through (and avoiding a Parker swipe in the process) and then elevates over Bonner for the short jumper. Pau hits the shot and brings the Lakers to within 4 points. However, look at where the Spurs defenders are. Within three feet of Pau there are 4 Spurs, all of them with two feet in the paint. Ginobili is the only defender not close, but even he is standing below the foul line and a good 10 feet from a wide open Blake.
This is what the Lakers are facing every time they try to establish the post. The Spurs are swarming the block and forcing Dwight and Pau to either shoot with multiple defenders encroaching on their space or happily allowing a kick out pass to a shooter who they don’t think will make enough shots to beat them. On Sunday, they were right in that assumption as the Lakers clanked countless jumpers that the Spurs turned into defensive rebounds.
Moving into Wednesday, Mike D’Antoni can make some adjustments to counter this — I’d suggest running clear-outs for the post players on every touch and stationing Nash, Meeks or Blake up high so they’re the designated outlet who can take the open three pointer — but the biggest change that needs to occur is for the Lakers to, collectively, knock more of these shots down.
The Spurs have shown they’re going to try to take away the post and let the wings shoot from the outside. It’s time for the Lakers to show they can hit them.