3/3/17: Spurs at Pelicans
Popovic opted to put Kawhi on Jrue for most of the game, hiding the inferior defense of Parker and Mills on the likes of E’Twaun and Hollis. Kawhi didn’t necessarily ratchet-up the defense into “Make You Wanna Quit” mode until later in the game, playing just sound defense instead. Jrue was mostly uninhibited from penetration in an anti-middle scheme using the Spurs bigs as help at the rim. This opened up the pick-and-pop game to which the Spurs bigs were entirely unequipped to defend. Dedmon fouled out at the 7 minute mark of the final quarter, and his 6 fouls counted towards the 16 total fouls called against him, Aldridge, Gasol and Lee.
Boogie pulling the opposing 5 away from the paint is truly an understated advantage. In his version of “Waiters Island” he was able to export assists addressed to much-needed cutting by Cunningham and Hollis.
Dante Cunningham’s basketball IQ has stood out as a godsend during this unfortunate run of 10-day contracts and injuries turning Pelicans games into tryouts for the team. Gentry started to pair him with Boogie bench lineups, to which he serves as a wonderful corner spacer. Unlike other visible indecisiveness from the wings, Cunningham has a nice feel for runs to the rim.
As the game progressed into another close one, E’Twaun Moore emerged as the necessary candidate to exploit Tony Parker cross-matching onto NOP’s 2-guard. Gentry’s go-to action to get Moore a touch are these wide pin-down screens that complement Davis well. Moore does a great job of using the screen twice to get a switch and reads Aldridge helping off of Cunningham.
Gentry went straight back to Moore vs. Parker. The Spurs predictably ice the ball-screen from Davis. Moore penetrates to force the look that ice defense concedes. Davis makes them pay with a big shot.
Neither team really established a noticeable tempo, and while there were 28 total turnovers (17 for NO) only 8 of them were counted as steals (3 belonging to Kawhi). Fast break points comprised a mere 12% of New Orleans’ total points and gave up 11 offensive boards to their 40 defensive. It did not appear either team wanted to get up and down the floor: New Orleans has their problems with turnovers and transition defense and liked their odds isolating the Spurs bigs in the halfcourt, and as evidenced in a mic’d huddle: Popovic values shot selection and getting back over potentially giving up easy baskets in a run-and-gun show on the road. Still, there were lowlights to add to the Pel’s 2017 reel when the Spurs picked their spots. AD is late getting back in this 5 on 4. Jrue looks like he decides to help on Pau and clog the lane. AD is late getting back and runs back to the free throw line, oblivious to Mills slipping right by him to set up for an open 3.
Solomon Hill drew the unfavorable responsibility of Kawhi Leonard and was completely outmanned. Hill was both a step slow and not quite strong enough to challenge Kawhi gliding to a 31 point game. The Zipper PNR is the set run most often for Kawhi and you can see how Hill needs help in a 1 on 1 scenario.
We see the same action here, and as previously covered in the Pelican game reviews, Gentry’s ball-screen defense involves forcing the ball handler to use the screen and then chasing them around it while relying on the big for a soft-hedge. This is a great example of where Davis needs to improve on defense: Kawhi hit a pull up 3 using a ball-screen early in the game, so Davis wanted to be on the 3-point line. After that he doesn’t pester Kawhi at all, opening the floodgates to Boogie in the paint. His reputation is that of a defensive maniac; he needs to use that remarkable athleticism and freakish 7’5 wingspan to wreak havoc in this situation.
Pick-and-roll coverage wasn’t the only aspect that made for a long night on defense for AD. You’d think, despite being a little on the weaker-side of the match up, Anthony Davis would be an ideal defender to harass Lamarcus Aldridge into a subpar night. The L-Train smoked Davis however, picking up 21 points on 53% shooting.
When the many factors of the game distilled into a tight competition down the stretch, I couldn’t help thinking that Dante Cunningham may have been a better defender to put on Kawhi. He is slightly less agile than Solo, but his length and strength looked to have a better potential to bother Leonard. The bulk of Kawhi’s points coming against Solo looked too easy. Cunningham put up more of a fight.
Neither team ever put together enough of a run to build a double digit lead, resulting in another tight game. After getting a switch on a Boogie PNR, Jrue was able to blow by Gasol on a nice cross, step-back fake. A pump fake, while in the air of his hop, froze Kawhi just enough to get off a push shot amongst the trees.
The Pels then had a chance to make it a 2 possession game under a minute before Kawhi forwarded another moment to be added to his “Baddest Man in the League” resume. Pay attention to how far away he is when he swipes his colossal mit for the clutch takeaway.
Once Overtime started, NOLA put up 5 quick points, only to see San Antonio swing the lead to 4 in their favor. On this play, the Pelicans got all kinds of switches in their favor with Kawhi on Boogie, Mills on Davis, and Aldridge on Jrue. Holiday went back to the cross, hesitation to blow by Aldridge and convert another clutch drive.
Kawhi caught Cousins making too casual of a pass earlier in the game, smacking the ball away. Here he makes his second clutch defensive play of the game and finds Mills for the wide open 3.
The Spurs run the exact same Zipper action the Pelicans use to set up a post up for Boogie. AD covers Aldridge on the high side looking to make the entry pass difficult. Leonard realizes this and knows he can blow by Hill. Paying attention to Pau, Boogie doesn’t see the drive happen quick enough to help AD. Crazy enough, Jrue may have anticipated Boogie not seeing the rotation, or it simply might have been the rotation; either way, Kawhi routinely finds Mills all by himself in the corner for a critical bucket.
Aldridge clanked the game-icing free throw, putting the ball in Cousin’s hands. Almost like they’ve drilled this regularly, San Antonio does a terrific job matching up with 4 guards or wings on the floor. No timeout to better figure this out, Cousins pushes with no clear plan. Jrue was in regular outlet position, but challenging Aldridge to contest a 3 wasn’t a horrible idea. AD curls to his left, and with no one particularly open, Cousins only has space to his right. Unfortunately, this becomes an even more difficult shot for a right-handed shooter because of the angle placing his non-shooting arm forward. Boogie, in full desperation, makes it even more challenging by turning the shot into a step-back instead of a drifter. Result: airball, game over.
Holiday, Cousins, and Davis combined for 76% of NO’s total points and not one of them hit 50% of their shots. Leonard and Aldridge accounted for 51% of San Antonio’s 102, also not connecting on 50%. New Orleans excellent free throw shooting (83%, thanks in large part to AD’s 14/16), but 17 turnovers (6 from Cousins), mixed with the Spurs cold shooting (3’s: 22%, FT’s: 60%) had a lot to do with this game being a wash.
Looking past his struggles (39%, 6 to’s), Demarcus wrestled down 23 rebounds and managed to play 43/53 minutes without fouling out. Hill, Moore and Thompson hurt the chances of winning by only knocking down 5 of their 20 shots. Gasol’s transition to the bench impacted a 35-16 bench scoring gap in favor of San Antonio. Both teams made a case for winning, and losing, in what wasn’t an overly sloppy game.
Cover Photo Credit: Eric Gross, flickr
Modified by Tommy Driscoll
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