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Monday, May 26, 2008

Manu the Magnificent: Ginobili Stars as Spurs Roll in Game Three

The high energy version of Manu Ginobili finally showed up in the Western Conference Finals--and not a moment too soon for the San Antonio Spurs, who are still very much alive after his 30 points in 31 minutes propelled them to a 103-84 victory over the L.A. Lakers, L.A.'s worst loss of the 2008 playoffs. Ginobili's injuries have been the subject of much discussion--though to his credit he has consistently refused to make any excuses. In any case, Ginobili certainly did not look like someone who is nursing a variety of ailments; the difference between this game and the previous two had nothing to do with Ginobili's physical condition and everything to do with his mental state and the mental state of the players who guarded him. Ginobili had a determined, aggressive attitude right from the start. Tony Parker also had a strong game (20 points, five assists); he and Ginobili each shot 9-15 from the field. Of course, it is always easier for the little brothers to slash to the hoop and make open jumpers when big brother provides a physical presence in the paint: Tim Duncan had 22 points, a game-high 21 rebounds and five assists.

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 30 points on 13-23 field goal shooting but it was all "butter knives" and no guns for Bryant in this game: the other Lakers shot 22-59 (.373) from the field, including 14-41 (.341) by starters Pau Gasol (7-18), Lamar Odom (2-11), Derek Fisher (1-4) and Vladimir Radmanovic (4-8). Gasol is marvelously skilled but he is a finesse player who sometimes bails the defense out with soft moves when he is in traffic--or, as Lakers Coach Phil Jackson described them to TNT's Doug Collins prior to game three, "weenie shots." Bryant probably set Gasol up for half a dozen easy shots that Gasol botched. Odom also sometimes has a problem finishing point blank shots in the paint, something that we have seen throughout the first three games--and the few times that he made strong moves and drew fouls in game three he missed the free throws (3-8). Although Odom had team-highs in rebounds (11) and assists (six), his missed shots and turnovers (a game-high five) really hurt the Lakers. Opposing defenses will always focus on Bryant and they have to be mindful of Gasol as well, so it is vital that Odom take advantage of being the third option. To his credit, Odom was brutally honest about his role in this debacle: "I put this one on myself. I take the blame, totally, for this game."

In game one, Bryant got his teammates involved in the early going before erupting for 25 second half points. Perhaps sensing that his teammates were not quite ready for the challenge of playing the defending champions in their home arena, Bryant did not wait to look for his shot in game three; he scored eight points on 4-7 field goal shooting in the first 7:03 as the Lakers took a 15-8 lead. Then Ginobili answered with back to back three pointers and by the end of the quarter the Lakers were clinging to a 24-21 advantage.

Bryant got his customary rest at the start of the second quarter and by the time he returned to action the Spurs were up 27-26. He immediately made a strong move to the hoop to put the Lakers ahead 28-27 but that turned out to be their last lead of the game. Ginobili scored nine points in a 1:04 stretch to put the Spurs on top for good. By halftime Ginobili already had 22 points and San Antonio was up 49-39.

Duncan opened the second half with a strong move against Gasol in the low post but Gasol answered by scoring six straight points, helping the Lakers cut the margin to 56-47 but that is as close as the Lakers would get in a low scoring third quarter. The Spurs led 69-57 heading into the final 12 minutes.

Before the fourth quarter, Collins wondered whether Jackson would give Bryant his normal rest or if he would try to ride Bryant to the finish line as he did in game one. Collins has mentioned several times during this series how important it is for the Spurs to take advantage of whenever Bryant is not in the game. Jackson elected to rest Bryant this time and when Bryant first stepped on the court in the fourth quarter the Lakers trailed 77-60. On Bryant's first offensive possession, Odom drove to the hoop and committed a charging foul. On the next two possessions, Odom missed a jumper and split a pair of free throws and the Spurs pushed their lead to 81-61. Bryant then missed a jumper but Odom converted a nice putback; Odom is much better coming in for weakside scores then he is when he initiates the attack. I never understood why people ever compared Odom to Scottie Pippen; the Jordan-era Bull who Odom's game most resembles is Horace Grant, a good defender and rebounder who was not a primary offensive option. Odom has a better--or at least more flashy--handle while Grant had a more reliable 15 foot jump shot.

After a Parker shot again put the Spurs up 20, Bryant apparently decided that he had seen enough of the Gasol and Odom brickathon and he drilled three three pointers in a 1:12 stretch to put the Lakers in striking distance. He even had a four point play opportunity after Bowen fouled him but Bryant missed the free throw--his only free throw attempt of the game; the Spurs' mantra is to defend without fouling, which is a lot different from the hands-on approach taken by the Jazz in the previous round--or the fouling without defending approach that the Wizards tried against LeBron James in the first round. Bryant added one more trey to make the score 88-76 with 5:00 left but Duncan answered with five points in a :55 stretch to end the Lakers' comeback hopes and Jackson pulled the plug at that point, sitting down Bryant and Gasol

Although the Lakers' offensive problems in game three were obvious, there were some important defensive lapses as well. The Spurs shot 38-74 (.514) from the field, including 10-18 (.556) from three point range. The Lakers had their best offensive quarter of the game in the final stanza (27 points) but could not gain any ground because they gave up 34 fourth quarter points.

It really is remarkable how much homecourt advantage means even to an experienced championship team like the Spurs. I said after the Lakers' big game two win that the Lakers "will have to perform at a very high level" to win in San Antonio; obviously, the Lakers did not even come close to bringing the energy and efficiency that it takes to win on the road in the playoffs, let alone to beat the Spurs. The tendency after each game in a playoff series is to overreact to what we have just seen, a fallacy that I studiously try to avoid; the Lakers' 2-0 start did not make me believe that they would sweep the Spurs and this loss does not make me think that the Lakers are in trouble. Obviously, the Lakers squandered an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the Spurs but I expect that Gasol will play much better in game four and that it will be a closer contest down the stretch. If Odom can cut down on his miscues the Lakers will have an excellent chance to take a 3-1 lead heading home.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:44 AM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Monday, May 26, 2008 7:17:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

These looked more like the Lakers I've been familiar with in recent years. Perhaps I'm too hard on them as a fan, but I keep having nightmares of most of the Lakers transforming into what they were before this year. I'm wondering if Kobe is going to have an off game in the playoffs (other than when he was a little banged up against Utah). The man just looks possessed, and you can sense how close he feels to getting another ring.

What do you make of how trendy it's become among writers and sportscasters to call Ginobili the Spurs' "best player" or "most valuable player"? I really admire Ginobili's game, but that's just ridiculous. People are confusing the term "x-factor" with "best player". Because of Ginobili's streakiness and inconsistency, his importance to the team is easy to analyze. Duncan is consistent (even in his off shooting games, he'll get the boards, provide the defensive presence, and draw the double teams), so we rarely get to see how bad the Spurs would be if Duncan went through a game without making much of an impact. Ginobili, by contrast, has a lot more games (or long stretches) when you can hardly tell he's on the court, and when he plays well, his contributions come in flurries. The Spurs need each of their big 3 to play reasonably well, but since Ginobili is the most streaky, he comes off looking like the difference-maker. In he sense, he is the decisive player, but he is only in that position because of the greater consistency of Duncan and (to a lesser extent) Parker.

Maybe Ginobili's "best player" praise also is also a result of how boring people think Duncan is. Duncan has got to be the most underappreciated superstar in history. It's true that he's lost a step, but he is still the foundation of the Spurs' success.

I think the Grant/Odom comparison is a very good one, though I'd take Grant over Odom for his superior defense.

 
At Monday, May 26, 2008 10:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Vednam:

I think that the Lakers have enough talent around Kobe to win a championship but I agree that the Lakers' supporting players are not as good as they are touted to be.

I think that "possessed" is a very good way to describe Kobe this postseason (and regular season); after all, he is playing with a mangled pinkie finger that will require surgery. He does indeed feel close to getting another ring and when the best player feels that way it gives confidence to the rest of the team. His field goal percentage this postseason is off the charts for a shooting guard who averages 30-plus ppg and the rest of his game has been outstanding as well.

I think that the idea that Ginobili is the Spurs' best player is incorrect and I have made that point--directly and indirectly--in several posts this season. Everything that the Spurs do offensively and defensively revolves around Duncan. I agree with your summary of why Ginobili is not more valuable than Duncan and I have in fact made several of those points in previous posts.

I agree that Grant was a better defender than Odom but my point is that at no time did anyone speak of Grant as a sidekick or second option on a championship-level team. He was a good, solid player who knew his role. Odom's ability to dribble the ball in open court situations has apparently mesmerized a lot of people, even though his pell mell drives often result in missed shots, turnovers and offensive fouls. Odom is at his best when he is rebounding, defending and getting his offense as a result of weakside scoring opportunities. Yes, he can postup in certain mismatch situations but he is not a true postup player who can score in the post against anyone (a la Tim Duncan or Shaq in his prime).

 
At Monday, May 26, 2008 11:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ANYMOUS REGGIE

the lakers played terrible i love pau gasol but he is soft SHOW SOME HEART HAVE SOME TESTICUALR FORTITUDE. odom played terrible is odom 22 11 20 12 26 13 or 8 8 7 11 13 9 thats what he has done the last six games.

kobe played good he got to them easy shot i think people shouldnt compare everything he does too jordan thats what doug colllins does he is not close to mike in hisprime let mike be mike and kobe be kobe please collins.

 
At Tuesday, May 27, 2008 4:32:00 AM, Blogger Allen said...

David - What's your take on Bowen's defense on Kobe?

 
At Tuesday, May 27, 2008 7:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ESPN once again said that Manu was the best player on the Spurs and that Duncan has passed the torch?! REALLY? The Spurs built up a 20 point lead in game 1 without Manu. In game 3, the guy with 20-20-5 "passed the torch?"

Manu is one of my favorite players, it seems that a lot of analysts overrate the value of high scoring guards and underrate the value of bigmen.

oh, and Spurs in 6 :)
Z

 
At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 7:13:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Allen:

Bowen plays aggressive, man to man defense and does his best to make Kobe shoot contested jumpers. Of course, it helps Bowen that he has an All-NBA/All-Defensive Team member (Duncan) protecting the paint behind him. Bowen and Tayshaun Prince probably guard Kobe as well as anybody in the NBA--but Kobe cannot really be stopped; all a defender can do is try to take away driving lanes, avoid fouling and hope that Kobe misses some shots.

 
At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 7:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

I enjoy watching Manu and really respect his game but he is definitely not the Spurs' most valuable player nor is he even remotely close to being as good as Kobe (something that some "stats gurus" repeatedly assert for reasons known only to them and their spreadsheets).

As for "Spurs in 6," obviously that is now mathematically impossible--and "Spurs in 7" seems very unlikely at this point.

 
At Wednesday, May 28, 2008 11:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hehe sticking with Spurs in 7 then :))

again the Spurs attempted a ridiculous amount of three pointers. if they're going to insist on playing "Phoenix style" then yes they'll be humiliated in game 5. Pop's infatuation with small ball is ridiculous.

It took a while for Popovich to smarten up and stop using Finley, now he needs to smarten up again and stop using Horry and Oberto.

Z

 
At Thursday, May 29, 2008 8:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

The Spurs ranked ninth this season in three pointers made, 10th in three pointers attempted and 11th in three point field goal percentage. The three pointer is an important part of their offense, albeit not to the extent that Golden State and Phoenix use it. What has happened in this series is that the Lakers have stayed at home on the three point shooters, which inevitably lowers their shooting percentages. Ironically, this is essentially the strategy that San Antonio has used for years against Phoenix.

The Spurs do not match up particularly well with the Lakers primarily because Kobe is impossible to guard. Also, the Lakers have more team speed, though the Spurs have shown--by beating Phoenix every year--that they can deal with that issue if that is the only problem. Popovich is searching for player combinations that will be effective offensively and defensively. It is easy to say bench Finley, Horry and Oberto but who are you going to put on the court in their places? Players who played 20 mpg or less during the season will not be very effective if they are simply thrust into action for extended minutes.

I definitely don't expect the Lakers to win game five in a blowout; I expect the Lakers to win a close, hard fought game. The Spurs are well coached and, as I noted in the post, they find ways to hang around even when they are being outplayed.

 
At Thursday, May 29, 2008 10:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My point about the threes is just that, the Lakers are contesting them, so why are they still jacking them up at a ridiculous pace?
Adding to the fact that the Lakers feast on long rebounds, and are softer inside than both Phoenix and New Orleans, I don't understand the bombs away approach.
When it comes to threes I put a lot of emphasis on MISSED threes; even more than the raw percentage because it is a greater indicator of how your team is bailing out the defense and giving up fast break opportunities to their opponents.
The Lakers have a lot of three point shooters: Kobe, Fisher, VRad, Vujacic, Farmar, Walton, even Odom. They're not chucking as much as the Spurs.

"It is easy to say bench Finley, Horry and Oberto but who are you going to put on the court in their places? Players who played 20 mpg or less during the season will not be very effective if they are simply thrust into action for extended minutes."
Barry, Udoka, Thomas. I want them to play more than 5 minutes that's all. Horry has been useless for the entire season.
With Ginobili hobbled, Tim Duncan is the ONLY Spur who rebounds well for his position.
The worst offenders for the Spurs are Oberto, Horry, and Finley. Bowen gets a pass here because he's shadowing Kobe, but he must never ever dribble.

Z

 
At Friday, May 30, 2008 9:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Z:

The 24 second shot clock is a major factor that fans often overlook. At some point, someone has to shoot the ball, even if he is covered. As you indicated, you don't want to see Bowen dribbling. You also may not want to see Finley or Horry doing too much dribbling at this point. So when those players get the ball, they are going to shoot jumpers, whether they are behind the three point line or in front of it.

Odom is definitely not a three point shooter--at least not a good one. Kobe, Fisher, Farmar and Vujacic are all better off the dribble than Finley, Horry and the other guys you are talking about. The Lakers are better able to create shots in the paint and shots off the dribble than the Spurs are.

You are trying to find a strategic solution to something that cannot be solved: the Lakers have a better team than the Spurs this year. Kobe Bryant is the main reason that is true and I think that the Spurs would sweep the Lakers without Kobe but with Kobe on the court the rest of the Lakers are slotted into roles that they can fill very nicely: they play defense, hit open shots and keep the game close enough for Kobe to go off in the fourth quarter. Sometimes, everything clicks and they win by so much that Kobe does not have to go off.

Barry is coming off of an injury, so that may be why his minutes have been limited. Udoka's minutes steadily declined in this series so he probably did not do what Popovich wanted him to do during his time on the court. It is also possible that Udoka has been outplayed or outworked in practice by the guys who are getting more minutes than he is.

Popovich is a master of creating favorable matchups for his team but there is nothing he can do about Kobe and the trickle down effect from that impacts all the other matchups--i.e., Gasol gets dunks when Duncan traps Kobe on the pick and roll.

 

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