If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that if Dick Stockton and Chris Webber are announcing Game 1 of a series one should never turn off the TV until it’s over.* Last night the San Antonio Spurs accomplished almost as great a comeback on the Golden State Warriors as the Game 4 stunner the Chicago Bulls pulled on the Brooklyn Nets. Oftentimes, such a comeback is deemed a choke job by the leading team, but my analysis of the Bulls comeback found that it was mostly attributable to a brilliant individual effort by Nate Robinson. Not so in the Warriors’ case. In the last 3:57 on Monday night, the Warriors played just about the worst basketball an NBA team could play. Over that period, the Spurs scored 18 points on 9 possessions while the Warriors scored 2 points on 8 possessions. But this was not even close to the most amazing statistic of the run. During their 8 offensive possessions, the Warriors never made more than one pass before shooting.
*That duo announced the Clippers’ 27 point comeback in Game 1 over the Grizzlies last year.
After Draymond Green narrowly misses a reverse layup, San Antonio trails 104-88. Parker dribbles down, gets a switch on a 1/2 pick and roll, and drives baseline against Klay Thompson. Thompson tries to cut him off from the baseline isntead of just sliding along with him and picks up a stupid 6th foul with 3:57 remaining. Chris: “Luckily for him, they don’t need him for the rest of this game.” Perhaps the most critical aspect of Thompson’s foulout was the entry of Richard Jefferson, who would finish the game -14 in 3 minutes of playing time. Parker makes both free throws.*
*Prior to this possession I was speculating on whether Popovich would take out his starters, given his penchant for giving up on lost causes and resting players. It is ironic that Tom Thibodeau and Gregg Popovich, two polar opposites philosophically on rest, would coach perhaps the two greatest playoff comebacks ever.
The Warriors run the most sophisticated play they would run in the last 4 minutes, a common “set” in which Jarrett Jack comes off a left baseline screen by a big man, then the big man (Green in the case) clears out for Jack to isolate. Harrison Barnes is also wide open for a skip pass as Gary Neal drops into the free throw line area to guard Green. Jack doesn’t see him. Thwarted by Diaw coming over to stand on the left block, Jack never really attempts to get by his defender and misses an 18-footer with 10 on the shot clock. The Warriors pass once on the possession.
Ginobili rebounds and gives to Parker. Parker accelerates up floor, uses a Diaw pick and roll to his right and jets past Diaw’s man Barnes for a layup. There was no help at all. It is worth noting at this point that the Warriors’ tallest player is 6’7”. Bogut, who was fantastic protecting the paint in the Denver series, remains on the sideline.*
*Jackson justified Bogut’s removal today by stating that he was worried about Bogut being intentionally fouled, but said the main reason he’d been removed was because Tim Duncan was out of the game. Of note, Bogut performed just fine in the overtime guarding Diaw, who in my opinion is not a “stretchy” enough power player to justify the removal of the team’s best defender.
Curry runs a pick and roll and gets the switch with Diaw guarding him. J.A. Adande tweeted during the game that Diaw “was offering some suggestions to Popovich.” I would posit that suggestion was to allow Diaw to switch the pick and roll onto Curry or Jack, and as it turned out the portly Frenchman (originally drafted by Atlanta as a guard) was up to the challenge. On this play, he was slightly beaten, but Gary Neal slid over to draw an incredibly weak charge call with minimum contact from Curry well after he’d passed the ball.* Of note, Curry passed to Jefferson, who immediately flipped to Barnes for a 3 as the whistle blew. The shot went in. Because of the turnover, this still counts as no passes.
*Can we get rid of offensive fouls on pass offs? If the defender is still standing there for a charge after the pass, there is simply no way he’s trying to actually play defense.
The Spurs seek out Parker again, who gets the switch onto Green and blows by him for another layup. The lack of players with any rim protection instincts kills Golden State here, as no one remotely tries to help out despite the fact that Parker was switched onto a slower player. The possession took a mere 7 seconds off the clock. Absolutely atrocious defense from the Warriors. 104-95 with 3:05 remaining.
Jack tries a pass to Curry coming off a screen as the Warriors attempt to run an actual play, but it’s a bad pass and Curry can’t handle. Another possession with zero successful passes for the Warriors.
Parker gets the steal after a deflection and pushes the ball down court. He draws help and and passes to Leonard who makes a difficult double pump with Green hustling back to contest. Timeout Warriors as the lead is trimmed to 8.
This was perhaps the 2nd-most egregious coaching failure by Jackson, as he ran nothing more creative than a Jack pick and roll after the timeout. Diaw switches onto him and Jack drives, trying for contact against Diaw who was basically sliding beside him. This was probably a good no call as Jack initiated the contact by changing his path. Jack throws up a wild shot that misses. No passes again for the Warriors.*
*Unless you’re counting the backcourt pass from Curry to Jack prior to bringing the ball up. I’m not.
The Spurs run two Parker pick and rolls that get switched. Parker gets Barnes on him and tries to drive, but Barnes moves his feet well* forcing a risky pass which Green intercepts.
*Barnes appeared by far the Warriors’ best defender on Andre Miller in the Denver series, and probably is the best option (in a vacuum without considering who else he could be guarding) against Parker in this series.
Green kicks ahead to Jefferson, who slows up for the dunk and gets fouled. If Jefferson goes for the layup he probably beats it. Jefferson misses both free throws, and it remains 104-96 with 1:57 remaining. At this point it is inexcusable not to reinsert Bogut, as the Spurs cannot intentionally foul under 2 minutes.
Ginobili and Leonard run a series of pick and rolls up top as Jack and Green switch repeatedly. Finally Ginobili gives it to Leonard at the top of the key, who hits the 3 over a C+ contest from Jack. Jack certainly could have closed out harder, especially considering he has the quickness advantage over Leonard. Warriors by 5.
Warriors run another pick and roll to get Diaw on Curry. This was the possession where Curry’s fatigue from playing the entire game appeared the most obvious. He makes a really tired, lazy move for a step back 3 from the left wing (the only location where he shoots a mortal percentage from 3) and gets his 28 footer blocked. There was still 6 on shot clock, so he had plenty of time to maneuver for something better against a slower defender. Again, zero passes for the Dubs.
In semi-transition after the Diaw block Parker goes right to the basket between Curry, Barnes, and Jefferson for a layup. This was absolutely pathetic defense, especially by Jefferson. He sprinted back into perfect position to pick up Parker, but instead decided to point for Jack to pick up Parker as Jack sprinted to the corner to get his own man. Neither Barnes nor Curry steps in front of Parker. Timeout Warriors, 104-101 with 1:18 to go.
Another horrendous play call out of a timeout. Jackson inserts Carl Landry, not Bogut, to run a simple cross screen for Landry against Diaw. Diaw is a good post defender who has quicker feet and as much size as Landry. It is not a matchup where the Warriors have an advantage. Landry takes a couple of jab steps and settles for a contested 17-footer with 10 on the clock. Draymond Green fights hard on the boards (he is truly a great rebounder for his size) to keep it alive, but Landry elbows Diaw in the head going for the loose ball. This was another pretty good call that had to be made.
Diaw makes both foul shots with no time coming off the clock.* 104-103, 59.8 left.
*A small idea for TrueHoop’s HoopIdea series: A loose ball foul before a team acquires possession of the ball should not put a team at the free throw line, even if the team is in the penalty. It really feels like a team should not be rewarded with free throws when it hasn’t acquired the ball yet--it should be treated the same way as an offensive foul. The downside to this scenario is that in late game situations players may be incentivized to go for the ball with reckless abandon when they have little chance at it, knowing that the only downside is a rather meaningless foul.
Curry isolates on Leonard and shoots a step back 2 from the left baseline with 14 on the shot clock. It misses well short and right. It was again an awful shot that smacked of fatigue in both selection and execution. It should also be noted that Curry is not really effective isolating against athletic stopper-caliber wings, as he had little chance against Andre Iguodala in the last series either. With the preceding Diaw free throws there is plenty of time to call a good play from the bench but Jackson does not.
Luckily for the Warriors, Landry rebounds and passes it out to Barnes. Barnes has a wide open 3, but backs it out instead. Jack proceeds to isolate and drive to his left, pulling up for a 10 footer which he drains for a 106-103 Warriors lead with 29 seconds remaining. Timeout Spurs. Again, the possession featured essentially zero passes for the Warriors.
Down by 3, Popovich eschews the quick 2 that is so fetishized by announcers.*
*There are three main problems with the quick 2. The first is the assumption that the shot is easy, basically a guarantee. While the shot is likely easier than normal because of the defense’s preoccupation with the 3 point line, it still is by no means a surety. Let us generously assume a 60 percent chance of making the quick 2. The second drawback is that it is not always possible to get a “quick” 2. What often happens is that the defense shuts down the initial action, leading to increasing panic as the offense realizes time is running down and a 2 will no longer suffice. This often leads to an ugly 3 off an improvised action. Third, consider what happens after the quick 2. The offense almost certainly gets the ball into the hands of at least an 80% free throw shooter, if not better. An 80% free throw shooter makes both 64% of the time, likely more often than the “quick 2” is scored. That’s right, the leading team probably has a greater chance of making a 2 on its end than the trailing team does of making a “quick 2”. In this scenario, the trailing team is right back where they started down 3. Finally, consider the optimum realistic scenario for the trailing team: They make the quick 2, the leading team misses one free throw, and the trailing team then goes for a 2 to tie. There are, respectively, a 60% chance, a 36% chance, and perhaps a 40% chance (generous, given the usual success rate on tying shots under 24 seconds) of tying the game. The chance of all those things happening is approximately 8.6%. The chances of making a tying 3, even with the defense playing for the 3, have to be higher than 8.6%.
Parker gives to Diaw between the circles. He moves to his right into a dribble handoff to Ginobili. On this initial action, the Warriors’ apparent plan is to switch everything, perhaps the one advantage of having 5 non-big men on the court. Under the basket, Danny Green screens for Leonard, who Jack is guarding. Jack fails to switch on this screen for Leonard under the basket and follow Green, instead following Leonard for at least two beats too long as Curry gestures wildly at him to switch. Seeing this, Diaw very alertly screens his OWN man, Barnes, because Jack is nowhere near Danny Green and Barnes is the only player who could potentially switch out. Diaw absolutely mugs Barnes on the screen, which is again a smart move. NBA history is replete with uncalled offensive fouls on off-ball screens in the final seconds.* Green’s three is as wide open as you will ever see from a team down 3 in the final seconds, and it is pure.
*Check out the hold by Malone and Miller's push-off.
Unlike their blown-lead brethren the Brooklyn Nets, the Warriors cannot point to an extraordinary individual performance as their undoing. The collapse was a failure on all levels. Jackson’s X’s and O’s were horrendous during this stretch, both in his offensive playcalling and his failure to have Bogut in the game. Of the 9 Spurs offensive possessions, the Warriors played even passable defense on a mere 2 of them.
Even the horrible defense could have been saved by a mere two baskets in 9 possessions. But on more possessions than not during the collapse, the Warriors accomplished precisely zero passes before shooting.
For the Spurs, the big heroes were Diaw, Parker, and Leonard. Leonard made the two most difficult shots of the run and proved extremely difficult for Curry to score over in isolation. Diaw may have provided the coaching suggestion of the night to switch the pick and roll and let him guard Jack or Curry one on one. He delivered admirably in this roll. And Parker’s abilities to push the ball and drive to the basket proved lethal against a Warriors defense lacking any sort of interior presence. But looking back at the tape, there were no impossible plays or even lucky plays by the Spurs. They simply beat the Warriors one possession at a time.