Boston: 107.3 points/100 possessions (T-14th)
San Antonio: 109.9 points/100 possessions (9th)
Boston: 102.3 points allowed/100 possessions (1st. Yup. 1st).
San Antonio: 104.9 points allowed/100 possessions (10th)
Probable San Antonio starters:
George Hill, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess
Thumbnail: The Spurs come to Boston needing every win they can get to avoid the 8th spot in the West and a first-round loss series against the Lakers. Manu Ginobili might be the hottest player in the league right now.
WHAT THE SPURS DO WELL
• Protect the rim. There has been much hand-wringing this season over the decline of the Spurs and the difficulty Gregg Popovich has faced integrating so many new players. But the 2010 Spurs are, in many ways, a classic Popovich Spurs team, only slightly worse. They protect the rim and the three-point line on defense and want a high percentage of their shots to come from those areas when they have the ball.
It all starts with Tim Duncan’s interior D. The Spurs rebound 76.3 percent of opponent misses, the 4th-best mark in the league. That’s still elite, but it’s down from their league-best defensive rebounding rate of 78 percent last season, according to Basketball-Reference. Boston’s nice offensive rebounding run will likely come to an end tonight.
And, as always, Duncan and the Spurs make it difficult to convert baskets at the rim. Only three teams (Cleveland, Orlando and the Bulls) hold opponents to a lower shooting percentage at the rim than San Antonio does (58.2%), according to Hoopdata. Boston hits 64.5 percent of its shots at the rim, the 2nd-best mark in the league. Who wins this battle will go a long way to deciding the game.
• Take care of the basketball.
The Spurs, always careful, turn the ball over on just 12.8 percent of their possessions—the 9th-best mark in the league, according to BR. They led the NBA last season with a turnover rate of 11.7 percent. Again: They’re still good, just not quite as good.
• Defend the three. It’s not just that San Antonio’s opponents shoot poorly from three (though they do); it’s that they barely shoot threes at all. The Spurs allow just 14.1 three-point attempts per game, by far the lowest number in the league, according to Hoopdata.
• Get to the rim. Though pace matters a bit, the fact is the Spurs did not attack the rim as often last season. Their 20.8 shot attempts per game per game was the lowest mark in the league. That number is back up to 26.1 this season, a league-average mark. Tim Duncan’s continued great play and the emergence of DeJuan Blair have a lot to do with this.
WHAT THE SPURS DO POORLY:
• More fouling. This is a section you have to write carefully, because the Coach Pop Spurs always rank at or near the bottom of the league in offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers because they choose to de-emphasize those things. Saying they do those things “poorly” isn’t really accurate.
And they’re still a relatively low-foul team on defense. Teams hit about .215 foul shots per field-goal attempt against the Spurs, the 11th-lowest mark in the league, according to BR. (The C’s, if you’re wondering, are among the most foul-prone teams in the league; they allow .250 opponent made foul shots per field goal attempt).
But that .215 number? That’s a big jump for the Spurs. They had the lowest opponent free throw rate in the league last season at .191.
• Get to the line. Only seven teams get their less often, per shot attempt, than San Antonio. That’s actually an improvement from 2009, when they finished last in foul shots per field-goal attempt.
PLAYER/S WHO MAKE ME WORRY:
• Ginobili. Utterly terrifying in late-game situations and on fire since the All-Star break. He’s throwing up a 21-5-5 since the break on 49 percent shooting, including nearly 42 percent from deep, according to ESPN’s statistics research group. Everything runs through Manu with the game on the line. As Kobe once said, Manu is a bad, bad boy.
• Blair. Terrorized Boston with an 18-11 on 9-of-11 shooting in the teams’ first meeting this season. He was getting around and by Perk, KG and Sheed on screen/rolls with ease, and the Manu/Blair screen/roll is already a legit NBA weapon. Glen Davis might be a better defensive match-up for him. (Baby didn’t play the first game).
PLAYER/S WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY:
• Jefferson. Often looks lost on both ends and is slumping again after a recent burst of vintage Jefferson aggression and rim-attacking on offense. Has not given the Spurs what they hoped for in dealing for him. Perhaps the most overpaid guy in the league, non-Eddy Curry division.
• Tony Parker. He’s hurt and his country cheated to qualify for the World Cup. (Relax. I love Tony Parker, and the refs were blind).
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM BOSTON TONIGHT:
• Front-line defense. Without Perkins, KG and Sheed will share Duncan responsibilities. We all know how good Duncan is on the screen/roll and in isolation. Toss in the threat of Blair on the screen/roll and McDyess as a pick-and-pop guy or an escape hatch, and the bigs will have to be on their game tonight.
• Guarding Manu. Is Ray up to the challenge?
• Creativity from Rondo and the offense. George Hill, with his long reach, is going to guard Rondo, and he’s going to give him a lot of space to shoot jumpers. This has occasionally stalled Boston’s offense, especially when the team can’t force turnovers and get out in transition.
• The battle of the bench swing men. Daniels vs. TA vs. Finley for post-season minutes. Enjoy.
This feels like a win. Boston 101, Spurs 95.