Originally written on Project Spurs  |  Last updated 11/6/14
The San Antonio Spurs probably won a game they shouldn't have in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers. They dominated the Lakers while only shooting 37% (32-85) while the Lakers shot 41% (30-73). The biggest difference for the Spurs was the 3-point shooting with the silver and black outshooting the Lakers 31% (7-22) to 20% (3-15) and the bench production with the Spurs bench pouring in 40 points to the Lakers' 10. The long range shots helped the team, but that's an aspect of the game they can't rely on for the entire series, let alone for the entire playoffs. While the Spurs defeated the Lakers in Game 1, there's four (two offensive, two defensive) adjustments the Spurs could make to possibly defeat the Lakers easily in the next game at the AT&T Center. #1)  Make the Lakers one dimensional Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant had the same advice for Mike D'Antoni in "post, post, post!". Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard shot a combined 53% (15-28) from the field this game with Gasol playing 43 minutes and Howard playing 41 minutes. Although this is probably the best strategy for the Lakers, it's also the most demanding with those two in the game resting less than 10 minutes for four quarters. Gregg Popovich may have the same problem as Mike D'Antoni with having to play Tim Duncan more minutes than he'd probably like to, but there's a huge difference between the two teams as Popovich showed in Game 1. The Spurs have more big bodies to throw at the Lakers for hard fouls or "Hack-A-Howard." Duncan will likely get rest from a big pounding the ball inside when he's covering Gasol with Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair, or even Aron Baynes being in the game to foul the poor free throw shooting Howard. The proof of this was Howard and Gasol's influence late in the game disappearing. If Popovich chooses to, he can switch his bigs every defensive possession on the floor so the bigs don't get too worn out for the Spurs. The Spurs forcing the Lakers to post up consistently for 48 minutes would not only wear the Lakers' bigs by having them play hard on both sides of the floor, but it would keep the shooters cold throughout the night. One thing to look forward to in Game 2 is to see how Dwight Howard reacts to fouls. When the Spurs would force him to post up and they'd foul him hard, he didn't look as comfortable or determined shooting free throws as when Coach Pop went to a "Hack-A-Howard." The Spurs weren't going to let him have anything easy, especially if you remember the hard fouls Matt Bonner gave him throughout the game and Howard will certainly wear down as the series goes on. #2) Force a hobbled Nash to run the show If adjustment one doesn't seem too comfortable, maybe this one is more ideal. Steve Nash shot 6-15 for 16 points in 29 minutes. While those stats seem like a well played game for some players, the 3 assists Nash dished out was anything but ordinary for him. He's admitted he's hobbled, hurting, and not able to move well. His teammate Steve Blake has assumed some of the point guard duties and has tried to create his own offense against Tony Parker. Whoever Parker is guarding seems to be the better matchup in the Lakers favor over the taller, quicker, and longer Danny Green. One adjustment the Spurs can make is to force a hurting Nash to run the Lakers offense. With Popovich moving Danny Green to guard a healthier Steve Blake, this would force Nash to try to match Parker's speed when he's creating his own shots and move around the floor like he did during his Phoenix Suns days. Nash has gotten slower this season even when he's been healthy, but one of the main adjustments he's had to make playing alongside Kobe Bryant was becoming an off the ball shooter/scorer. This would force Nash to revert back to his old mindset, which wouldn't be easy to do and would also have his teammates play a style they haven't been used to playing yet this season. If Nash can't move, Parker's speed may kill the versatility of Nash's pick and roll and also would null any mismatch Nash would have if a big switches off to him. #3) Don't be afraid to go small One of the points Magic Johnson made in the pre-game show before the Lakers/Spurs game was that Gasol should take advantage of his matchup against Kawhi Leonard. While Spurs fans know this matchup isn't likely to be close to happening, it wouldn't be in the Lakers' favor if it did. Leonard may be slimmer than most in the league, but he isn't one of the weakest either. He did get pushed around by Metta World Peace, but who wouldn't? If you compared World Peace and Gasol in post ups, most likely you'd get World Peace as the tougher guard in the post with his mass. Leonard wouldn't have as much trouble against a lankier Gasol and Leonard has done a good defensive job on Dirk Nowitzki during post up attempts. If the Spurs were to go small, the offensive possibilities would outweight the defensive mainly because the Lakers' bigs would be forced to expand more energy on the defensive end than they'd like to and it would effect their offense. With Leonard being able to shoot the 3-point ball from every area on the court and able to create his own shot off the dribble, a big like Gasol would have a horrible time on defense and would force the Lakers to rotate. As we saw in Game 1, L.A.'s rotations were a huge weakness for them and had their best defensive possessions when Steve Blake would try to cheat and pressure the ball handler off the dribble. #4) Move around to score One of the problems the Spurs had was relying too much on their Big 3, especially Manu Ginobili in the 3rd quater. Ginobili had a huge game (18 points in 19 minutes), but this isn't a sound strategy for the remainder of the postseason. Every Spur outside the Big 3 of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan stood around on offense waiting for a superstar to create a shot for them without movement. The team needs Kawhi Leonard to be in motion the majority of the time, especially with a slower World Peace guarding him out on the perimeter. The Spurs would benefit with having the Lakers think twice about rotating or playing off the ball defense and not relying on each other's invidiual game's. That's one of the main problems the Spurs ran into against the Oklahoma City Thunder. If the Spurs move around more on offense, it will make the game easier for the superstars and not have the game take its toll on them. We'll also see a far better selection of shots also and probably won't see Splitter trying those terrible post ups on Howard again. Even though the Spurs won, there's room for improvement. The Lakers were a low seed when they were mostly healthy with the exception of one player in Nash and now they're missing their best player in Kobe Bryant. This is one of the main reasons why the Spurs won Game 1, even with less than stellar all around play from the team and their struggles on offense. The Lakers will look to improve the next game and the Spurs need to find new ways to adjust to what the Lakers already brought in Game 1 to kill any hope they may have in winning the series.
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