How the Grizzlies have Disrupted the Spurs’ Offense

[Rd1] Playoffs ~SAS.vs.MEM (promo5)
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In games 1 and 2 of their series against the Memphis Grizzlies, the San Antonio Spurs boasted an offensive rating of 118.2, almost 10 points per 100 possessions higher than their regular season mark. In games 3 and 4, however, their offensive rating fell to 105.9 PP/100. In what has felt like once a game for the last several months of the regular season, the Spurs’ offense been susceptible to heavily slowing down for 5 to 7 minutes at a time. Since the series moved to the FedEx Forum, the Grizzlies have clearly found a way to exacerbate these offensive issues.

The shot clock was one of the Grizzlies’ greatest weapons on defense in the first two games, forcing the Spurs to take late shots at a low percentage. This changed in the last two games, however, where the Spurs only shot 12.4% of their shots in the 4-7 second range of the shot clock. They made 52.4% of their field goals they attempted in this time range, compared to a 35.7% field goal percentage in this time range during the first two games. Excessive ball holding and dribbling isn’t bogging down the offense either, as dribbles and touch time before shots are down in the latter two games of the series as well.

The Spurs’ shots have even been less contested overall in games 3 and 4 than they were in games 1 and 2.  Since the series has moved to Memphis, 51.3% of the Spurs’ shots have been attempted with a defender within 4 feet, compared to 55.8% of shots being attempted in the same circumstances during the series’ first two games in San Antonio.

This eliminates many of the initial suspects for what has been giving the Spurs’ offense fits. The shot attempts have been coming earlier in the shot clock, the players shooting the ball have not dribbled or held the ball excessively before shooting on average, which would normally indicate that the shot attempts are coming within the flow of the offense, and less of their shots have been contested. Despite these metrics indicating a more healthy offense in games 3 and 4, the Spurs’ field goal percentage has fallen from 50% in the first two games to 44.4% in the latter two games. More so, the Spurs’ field goal percentage on 3 point attempts has dropped from 45.2% to 35.2%. The Spurs have made the same number of 3 pointers in games 3 and 4 as they did in games 1 and 2, but took 12 more attempts to get there.

After hitting five 3’s in games 1 and 2, Tony Parker has only attempted two in games 3 and 4 and missed them both on fairly clean looks. Pau Gasol, who hit a blistering 53.8% of his 3’s in the regular season, has been 0-3 from beyond the arc in the last two games, with all three attempts being shots taken both in rhythm and in the flow of the offense. Manu Ginobili hit nearly 40% of his 3 point attempts in the regular season, but he has struggled to score in this series, including going 0-5 from 3 point range in the previous two games. At this point, the Grizzlies are barely bothering to stay in Ginobili’s vicinity on the weak-side and are often slow to rotate back on to him if he does get the ball. Danny Green attempted 10 three pointers in Memphis and made none of them. These four have gone a combined 0-20 in the past two games.

The Spurs’ assist numbers are down as well, but almost all the 3-point attempts mentioned above would have been assists if they had been made.  While that does not completely account for the drop in assists, combining the 3 point misses with Kawhi Leonard’s increased burden of isolation scoring in the last two games, the lowered assists seems to be an effect of the stagnant offense, rather than a cause.

LaMarcus Aldridge only attempted 9.5 field goals per game in the previous two games after averaging 14.6 attempts for the season as a whole. Despite not getting as many shots as he usually does, Aldridge made 57.9% of his field goal attempts in games 3 and 4. Aldridge has the ability to reignite the Spurs’ offense in this series but the Spurs have to get more shots for Aldridge. Davis Bertans has also given the Spurs a spark on offense when he is on the court, going 3-5 from 3 point range in 22 minutes in the previous two games.

Many of the offensive struggles outlined here could be strengths for the Spurs in game 5 if shots start falling.  The Spurs did make a higher percentage of their 3 point attempts than any other team in the league during the regular season, after all. While the Grizzlies are an above average team at defending the 3 pointer, though, their defense really shines inside the arc. This means that the Spurs will need their perimeter threats to make their long range attempts to space the floor and get the offense flowing again.

All stats from nba.com/stats

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