Heat Shut Down the Pacers Pick and Roll in Game 3

After my post on the Pacers pick and roll in Game 2, Jared Wade of 8 Points 9 Seconds was kind enough to allow a Bulls fan to guest post on the same topic for Game 3.  In stark contrast to Game 2, the Heat absolutely throttled the Pacers pick and roll game.

Here's the link.

Indiana's Game 2 Adjustment: The Hibbert Pick and Roll

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Indiana Pacers’ Game 2 upset of the Miami Heat was the ease with which Indiana scored against Miami’s defense.  The Pacers gashed the Heat for 97 points on 86 possessions.*  That offensive efficiency of 112.8 against Miami’s ostensibly vaunted defense would have led the league by two points during the regular season.

*Per John Schumann of NBA.com. Only two of these points were via end-of-game free throws when the Heat were forced to foul.  This also does not include the runt Pacers possession with 1.6 seconds left when they did not attempt a shot.

Oddly enough, this fantastic result for the Indiana offense clashed with what appeared to be the consensus while watching the game.  The broadcast team noted that Indiana’s guards got pressured up by Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, and even Ray Allen on the perimeter and appeared to have trouble getting into their offense.  Indeed, the Pacers often found themselves shooting near the end of the shot clock.  The Pacers scored only 6 points on the typically more efficient fast break while turning the ball over on a miserable 19.7% of their possessions, 5% worse than the league-worst Rockets’ regular season mark.  Indiana did shoot 41% on 3s for the game, but on a low enough volume (5/12) that long-range marksmanship was not their offensive savior.

A Chicago Bulls Postmortem And a Look Ahead to the Summer

Finally this season has come to what many would term a merciful end for the Chicago Bulls.  While this was a trying season, I will have many fond memories from it.  Foremost is the March 27 win against the Miami Heat, where a Bulls team missing Joakim Noah and playing a hobbled Taj Gibson broke the Heat’s amazing 27-game winning streak.  While it was not quite the 1985 Miami Dolphins giving the Chicago Bears their lone loss, that win perhaps prevented the Heat from making a run at the 1996 Bulls for the title of greatest team ever.*

*Considering the relatively mediocre field the Heat will navigate should they win the title, I would not have found this a valid comparison even had they set the consecutive games record.  That Bulls team beat a 60-win Orlando Magic team (that had beaten them the previous year) and a 64-win Seattle Sonics team in the finals.  That Bulls team also had a point differential about 4 points higher than these Heat.

There are two counterarguments though.  The first is that 1996 was an expansion year.  The second is that the mid to late 90s was in general a down time for talent in the NBA.  Take a look at the 1988 through 1991 drafts.  They were absolutely miserable in terms of star power, and 1995-1998 is when those draftees should have been coming into their prime.  The lack of talent in those drafts is part of what allowed older stars like Jordan, Malone, and Stockton to remain among the best players in the game even as they reached their mid-30s.

In addition, the Bulls’ 14 point comeback in the final 3 minutes and the overtimes in Game 4 against the Nets was one of the greatest moments in franchise history, as was the road Game 7 win in that series without Deng or Hinrich.

The Bulls D Failed Again in Crunchtime

After the Bulls outscored the Heat in crunchtime of the streak-buster and with a shocking 10-0 run in Game 1, the Heat reverted to their season-long crunchtime dominance in Games 3 and 5.  I already covered the Heat’s Game 3 dominance, and Game 5 was a sadly familiar script.  The Bulls led 77-69 at the start of the 4th period.  The Heat would go on to score 24 points on 13 possessions over an 8 minute stretch, including scoring on 7 straight possessions.  With 3 minutes left, the Heat led 93-86 and the game was over.  During that time, the Bulls scored only 9 points on 12 possessions--bad, but not so horrible that an acceptable defensive performance would not have saved them.  Sadly, despite all of my calls to his home phone Tom Thibodeau did not listen to my advice to play Taj Gibson down the stretch or, if he insisted on playing Boozer, to have Noah guard Dwayne Wade while Booze guarded Bosh.  I don’t know if these strategies would have worked, but given that the Heat scored basically the maximum possible number of points down the stretch in Games 3 and 5, I certainly know they couldn’t have been any worse.  And Boozer’s continued presence in the game was all the more galling considering the Bulls shut down the Heat in Game 1 with Gibson on the floor.

I understand the thinking behind leaving Boozer in the game, as the Bulls struggle to score and he had it going on offense early in the game.  But once it got to crunchtime and the Heat buckled down and ran their best stuff, they simply drove to the bucket or involved him in pick and rolls every time.  Meanwhile, Boozer had pretty much stopped scoring by the 4th quarters of Games 3 and 5.  He shouldn’t have been out there.  

Ultimately though, these crunchtime debates amount to reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic in this series where the Bulls were so outclassed.  I just hope Thibs goes with Gibson next year.

It Probably Does Not Make Sense to Use the Korver Trade Exception

Much has been made of the $5 million Kyle Korver trade exception, which would allow the Bulls to acquire a player with a salary of $5 million without having to match outgoing salary.  That exception expires in early July, but could be used to acquire a player after the start of the new league year.  However, it does appear increasingly likely that this exception will not be used.*

*Many have scoffed at the idea it would ever be used since the moment Korver was traded away.

There are a few reasons for this.  The first is that the Bulls would want to maintain maximum flexibility for the summer of 2014 when Luol Deng’s contract expires and Carlos Boozer will likely be amnestied, allowing the Bulls to get under the salary cap and sign high-salaried free agents.  They will not want to take on any salary that adds to their payroll that year, which means that any player acquired via the trade exception would have to a) make $5 million or less in 2013-14* and b) have a contract that expires in 2014.  Moreover, the trading team would c) need to be a team that wanted to either get under the cap this summer (2013) or reduce its potential luxury tax exposure.  Otherwise, the team in question would not be motivated to make a trade unless the Bulls sweetened it with a good draft pick or a prospect, and neither would be worth giving up for one year of the services of a player who makes $5 million or less per year.

*The trade exception cannot be combined with the trade of another player, although the Bulls could promulgate a second transaction with that team to “even out” the trade.  However, that trade would have to match salaries.

In examining the list of 2014 free agents, only a few names fit the three criteria above:

1)  Vince Carter.  The Mavs could potentially be looking to shed salary in an attempt to get under the cap and sign free agents, chiefly Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.  Carter would be an upgrade for the Bulls as a backup wing.

2)  Carlos Delfino.  Houston will also be trying to open up max cap space and might want to move Delfino.  He would likewise make an excellent backup wing with the versatility to swing between the 2 and 3 positions.

3)  Shannon Brown.  Phoenix may also be attempting to open up cap space, but Brown is short for a 2 and is pretty much positionally redundant with Kirk Hinrich.  Probably not worth it.

4)  Kevin Seraphin.  Acquiring Seraphin would be ironic indeed, as he was drafted in 2010 with the pick the Bulls sent to Washington as a sweetener for taking Kirk Hinrich’s salary off the Bulls’ hands.  Washington already has two centers (although both are fragile) and may draft another big man, making Seraphin redundant.  He would be a functional 4th big man for the Bulls.

Pretty slim pickings, aren’t they?  To make matters worse, the Bulls are not the only team with cap space and/or a trade exception that might want to take one of these players--they would have to offer more in trade than any other team.  Given the fact that the only real asset the Bulls would be willing to move for one year of these players is the 49th pick in this year’s draft*, it seems unlikely the Bulls would have the best offer.

*The 20th pick is too much to pay.

Finally, adding a player of this ilk without giving up any salary would greatly increase the Bulls’ luxury tax bill, which may well make Jerry Reinsdorf and his partners blanche.  In fact, this putative transaction of a 2nd round pick for one of the above players would be a true litmus test of whether Reinsdorf is willing to spend, because there is no possible downside in terms of 2014 flexibility.  Rejecting such a trade* could not be saved by the plausible deniability of “basketball reasons.”  In any event though, even getting to the point of making a trade like this is pretty unlikely.

*Not that we’d find out if they did.

Nate Robinson Likely Will Not Be Back

Much as it pains me to say it, it is very hard to envision a scenario in which Nate Robinson comes back.  I will always love Nate for some of the great moments he provided this year, but a number of factors conspire against his return to the Bulls.  The biggest is that the Bulls will be trying to preserve flexibility in 2014, and Robinson will likely command a multi-year deal for at least $3 million.  Second, even if Robinson were willing to accept the taxpayers’ mid-level exception of $3 million for one year, the Bulls only get one such exception for next year.  The Bulls already have 3 point guards in Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and Marquis Teague.  Even more importantly, while Nate might be a good offensive fit with Derrick Rose, he likely could not play with Rose defensively against many teams, including the Heat.*  And how they match up with the Heat should be the paramount consideration in any offseason for the Bulls, considering that with a healthy Rose the core should bring them to a top 2 team in the East no matter the ancillary moves that are made.

*Against the Heat, Nate would have to guard Cole or Chalmers while Rose guarded Wade.  This fared extremely poorly in the 2011 playoffs, when the Bulls tried to play Kyle Korver and Rose was forced onto Wade.  And if the Heat went with their big lineup without a point guard, Robinson would really have no one to guard.

The one big argument for keeping Nate around is the possibility of injuries.  Hinrich is always hurt, Teague probably isn’t ready, and Rose will hopefully have his minutes a bit more limited than in the past.  However, the opportunity cost of the taxpayers’ mid-level is a steep one to bring someone back who would basically be an insurance policy for the regular season.  That exception is better spent addressing the backup wing and backup big man positions.  With this being the first year of the more punitive luxury tax and more teams beginning to eschew mid-level contracts, the Bulls might be able to get exceptional value with a $3 million contract for one year.  Thus, it really only makes sense to bring Robinson back if Rose suffers another setback or if he is willing to take another minimum deal.

Bulls Could Get Immediate Help in the 2013 Draft

While this draft lacks top end talent, the Bulls could very possibly fill the biggest hole on their roster with the 20th pick.  Many potential 4th big men might be available.  While Kansas C Jeff Withey and Duke C Mason Plumlee lack upside due to the fact that both are already 23, they are both smart athletic defenders who could conceivably fill the role of Omer Asik lite for the Bulls as a backup center right away.  20 year-old Frenchman Rudy Gobert (who I saw at the EuroCamp last summer) or Gorgui Dieng (another 23 year-old) could also theoretically fill that role, although Gobert would likely need more time to develop and learn Tom Thibodeau’s scheme. Should the Bulls want a stretchier, more skilled big man, Kelly Olynyk or perhaps even Cody Zeller might fall to them.  Any of these players has good potential to help next year.

BULLets (see what I did there?)

  • It was absolutely hilarious to hear the Heat fans chant “ref you suck” at Bennett Salvatore.  How could they forget Salvatore basically handed them the 2006 Finals with a very questionable foul call that sent Dwayne Wade to the line in the closing seconds of Game 5 against the Mavericks?  It’s almost like a lot of these Heat fans just jumped on the bandwagon in the last couple of years....

  • Watching Zach Randolph absolutely beast the Thunder’s small lineup by posting up right under the rim and bludgeoning them for offensive rebounds made me wish Boozer tried the same thing a little more often.  But oddly enough, it seems like Boozer isn’t in the type of shape that Randolph is,* despite the fact Boozer is more cut.  One mitigating factor of this critique is that Randolph has Marc Gasol throwing him high-low passes.  Gasol is deadly from the foul line and has a quick release, forcing his defender up and opening up the passing lane under the rim.  Joakim Noah, while a great passer, does not present the same threat to give Boozer room to operate.

*Or, he simply lacks Randolph’s will.

Poorly Chosen Matchups Doom Bulls vs. Heat

It was a sad night for fans of the underdog, as the upstart Bulls lost what was likely their last chance to keep their series against the Heat interesting.  The key stretch in the game started at the 4:14 mark of the 4th quarter.  Carlos Boozer had just made 1 of 2 free throws* to bring the Bulls within 2.  The Heat would reel off 14 points in their next 6 possessions, with only one of the makes (a 26 foot LeBron James 3 with the clock running down) a difficult attempt.  The Bulls’ problems in this stretch were threefold:  Carlos Boozer, a bad choice of matchups, and two tough loose ball fouls on Joakim Noah that sent Chris Bosh to the line.

*I can only remember him making both free throws once in a clutch situation, in the last minute of the Bulls’ streak-busting win against the Heat on March 27.

Most Bulls fans at this point have accepted Boozer for what he is defensively.  He brings physicality against bulky post-up players, a quick strip move, adequate defensive rebounding, and absolutely zero help or transition defense.*  Against Brooklyn, Boozer had a perfect offensive matchup against Reggie Evans.  It was a rare chance for Boozer to attack a defender who was neither taller nor quicker than him, and he largely made the Nets pay until Kirk Hinrich was injured.  Even more importantly, Brooklyn lacked the personnel to exploit Boozer’s defense without resorting to the defensively inattentive Andray Blatche.

*One of Boozer’s most maddening habits is that he almost invariably waits a beat before getting back on defense.  Whether it’s because he’s “contesting” an already secured defensive rebound, attempting to hopelessly block an outlet pass, complaining to the refs after a missed shot, or simply mentally gathering himself for the arduous trip down court, his first move on a change of possession is never to sprint back.

Against Miami, by contrast, Boozer has always matched up horribly.  Even in the dark days before Miami’s switch to small ball, Boozer was mercilessly exploited by the Heat in pick and rolls.  Once Dwayne Wade or LeBron James got a head of steam, Boozer was powerless to stop their forays to the basket even if he hung back below the foul line while guarding Joel Anthony or Udonis Haslem.  And if he guarded Chris Bosh, Boozer’s weaknesses were further exacerbated by Bosh’s abilities to shoot the midrange jumper or drive past a close-out.  Moreover, Miami’s ball pressure on Chicago’s guards and fronting tactics have made it difficult for Boozer to assert himself on offense.*  The Bulls have basically abandoned Boozer postups against the Heat.
*For having such a big body, Boozer is also surprisingly bad at sealing his man in the post.  When the Bulls do try to post him, Boozer’s man is usually able to get around him to steal or deflect an entry pass a couple times per game.

For this reason, the Bulls have often closed games with a frontcourt of Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah against Miami.  Indeed, it was this group that so heroically finished Game 1 with a 10-0 run by forcing the Heat into difficult shots throughout.  I had hoped that Gibson would again close Game 3* but Boozer’s hot (10-16) shooting night apparently merited crunch time minutes in Tom Thibodeau’s eyes.

*Or at least merit an offense/defense substitution, which Thibodeau eschewed until the final minute.  This was in contrast to Spolestra, who freely subbed in Ray Allen on offense and Shane Battier or Udonis Haslem on defense on free throws throughout the last 4 minutes.

As it was, Boozer’s poor help failed to prevent two key layups in the key stretch (one a James and-one) that Gibson could have made a difference on.  But the failure to insert Gibson was exacerbated by the matchups chosen by Thibodeau.  In other words, he chose....poorly.

The Heat largely deployed a unit of Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Dwayne Wade, James, and Bosh.

The Bulls matched up as follows:


The Bulls deployed similarly against the Heat in Game 1, except with Gibson on Allen and Noah on Bosh.  Either way, I disagree with the matchups.  There is absolutely no reason to deploy one of the two best help defenders* on Allen, whose defender must be tethered to him at the 3 point line to avoid giving up perhaps the most efficient shot in the Heat arsenal.  

*Or, in Game 3, the only help defender.

In the future I would like to see the following matchups:


This lineup allows Gibson and Noah to help as liberally as could be hoped for against the Heat.  Wade, while dangerous, is not a spot-up threat and can be credibly guarded in isolation or on spot ups by Gibson.*  In fact, Gibson’s long arms and leaping ability make him one of the best in the league at closing out.  Subjectively, it seems rare that a spot up shooter makes a shot over him because of how well he challenges shots.

*Another possibility is putting Gibson on LeBron while Butler guards Wade.  I’ve advocated for this previously, especially as James has evolved more to posting up over the last few years.  Gibson was switched onto James late in the first quarter due to Butler’s foul trouble and he did a credible job.

These principles can also be applied whenever Boozer is in the game and the Heat are not playing two big men together.  Boozer has to guard Bosh or Chris Anderson, but Gibson or Noah should be on the worst shooter on the court, regardless of size.  While putting a big man on Wade may defy convention, putting one on Allen defies it even further.  It is the best of the unpalatable options for the Bulls defensively when Boozer is in the game.


  • Many have deemed the Bulls’ fouling tactics “throwback,” and some have even questioned Thibodeau’s integrity for allegedly encouraging these hard fouls.  Certainly, the Bulls have extensively resorted to intentional fouling to prevent layups and fast breaks by Miami.  And there is also a very good argument that intentional fouls should be eliminated from the game.  But that is a far cry from the hard fouls from playoffs of yore, where dangerous plays that could have easily injured players were more commonplace.  To suggest the Bulls are reminiscent of the old-school Knicks or Pistons does them a disservice.  Do any of the Bulls’ fouls in this series compare to these?

  • I think this series has proven that those who decried the departure of Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer for Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler were premature.  Belinelli has been much better against the Heat than Korver could have been.  Against a team with two wing scorers, Korver would have been essentially unplayable on defense.  Even in 2011 when Korver guarded Mike Bibby, the Heat consistently exploited Korver in isolations following a 3/1 or 2/1 pick and roll.  Belinelli can at least avoid being completely roasted in isolation, and can run some pick and rolls on the other end.  All told, I would much rather have Beli for this year and the $5 million trade exception for this summer, even if the latter never gets used.  What’s more, Korver would have been a free agent at the end of this season, in which the Bulls correctly calculated they could not win the title.
  • Butler has been even more of a revelation the last few months.  This season has been worthwhile if only because Butler has nearly developed into the two-way shooting guard the Bulls have long coveted.  His defense has proved outstanding, but more importantly he has shown the ability to be a positive and multifaceted player on offense.  His spot-up shooting on 3s from the corner has been reliable, but he has also shown the ability to be efficient with 1 dribble pullups, finishes at the basket, getting to the free throw line, and even the occasional pick and roll or postup.
  • Letting Omer Asik go to the Rockets is a far thornier move to evaluate.  It’s hard to say he would help much against the Heat now or in the future, and that is really the essential inquiry for a Bulls team that is the clear second-best team in the East with a healthy Rose.  When the Heat played Joel Anthony or Udonis Haslem, Asik was a fantastic matchup due to his ability to contest Wade and LeBron at the rim without fouling.  But with Haslem now a relative afterthought and Bosh the biggest player on the Heat, Asik would really have no one to guard.  Moreover, he cannot play with Noah, and I don’t think anyone would claim that Asik should play over Noah.  Against Miami, not having Asik simply doesn’t matter that much.*  Perhaps the best argument I’ve heard for retaining Asik is that the Bulls should not have let an asset go for nothing and could have traded him later.  This point has merit, but it is also worth remembering that had Asik remained with the Bulls he would not yet have proven himself worthy of the large contract he received.  Asik’s $14.5 million salary in year 3 (had the Bulls retained him) would have been a very difficult pill for another team to swallow for a player who had never been more than a backup center.  Were the Bulls unable to trade him, they would not have flexibility in 2014.  In any event, I believe it has ultimately turned out that there were in fact “basketball reasons” for letting the former Bench Mob go.

    *The regular season is a different story, as was the series against the Nets.

  • Wade was shockingly passive again in Game 3, taking only 7 shots in 36 minutes.  Even more amazingly, it seemed like Miami almost never passed him the ball.  He had two shots in the 4th, one off an offensive rebound and one a wide-open dunk.  An assist to Bosh on a pick and roll was his only other 4th quarter box score contribution, and I do not remember any other plays where he was involved in the primary action.  It has been said that Miami cannot win the title unless Wade returns to health and becomes more aggressive, but I disagree.  With Russell Westbrook out for the Thunder, who exactly scares the Heat even with a diminished Wade?  This year’s Heat could be the rare team that wins the championship without playing a team whose quality exceeds “gritty” (Memphis) or “smart” (San Antonio).  If the Heat win this year, Rose’s injury will mean that the Finals last year against Oklahoma City was their only series against another great team in their two championship years.

Warriors' Collapse Was a Failure on All Levels

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.

Possession 1

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.

Possession 2

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.

Possession 3

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.

Possession 4.

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.

Possession 5.

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.

Possession 6.

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.

Possession 7.

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.

Possession 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.

Possession 9.

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.

Possession 10.

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.

Possession 11.

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.

Possession 12.

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.

Possession 13.

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.

Possession 14.

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.

Possession 15.

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.

Possession 16.

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.  

Possession 17.

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.