Its Thursday night and we should might be watching the Suns close out the Spurs in game 6. My NBA body clock has not adjusted to the new reality of being bounced in April for the first time in a long long time.
To scratch the itch, the basketball jones if you will, I decided to break down the Spurs-Hornets series and provide our new BFF's in NO with a winning game plan against the evil empire. If we can't do it maybe they can.
But first, three reasons why you should stop right here and go watch The Office instead of reading this:
1) The obvious - why on earth would anyone with affiliation or even passing alligence to the Phoenix Suns claim to have the answer to the Spurs. Great point. You can stop now.
2) I have only really watched the Hornets play four times this season so I don't know all that much about them. Of course they won all four of those games (against the Suns) and I have watched a lot of Spurs playoff ball for a lot of years.
3) I am just a stupid blogger and obviously anything I say, type or think should be rejected out of hand for the total blather that it obviously is.
You can read on if you want, but don't say you weren't warned.
The Suns Winning Game Plan
In defending the Spurs over the years there are some things that worked well for Phoenix and others that didn't. Mostly the Suns choose the later but perhaps the Hornets and Byron Scott can learn from those mistakes.
Defending Duncan with single coverage. It is crucial that teams don't double down on Timmy in the post. The only time the Spurs really move the ball well is out of the post and their aged perimeter players will make open stand still 3's if you let them.
If you do double Duncan what seems to work best is to come late after he's started his move to the middle. If you are going to do this of course you have to overplay the baseline hand and be very smart and timely when your come across the lane with another big man. Come quick. Come hard. Or stay home.
The Hornet's should matchup well with Tyson Chandler. Beyond him, Hilton Armstrong can be effective fronting as well but he better be prepared to work his ass off because Duncan is going to battle for every inch of position.
I think the Hornets are well equipped to give Duncan a battle and that bodes well.
Stopping the pick and roll. The Spurs offense isn't all that imaginative. They aren't going to drive and dish or cut through the lane or use back cuts to drive the baseline. What they will do is pick and roll you to death. And while Parker and Ginobili are dangerous they NEVER play off each other. Having them on the floor at the same time is kind of useless which is the real reason why Manu doesn't start.
I am guessing that in isolation and transition Paul can do as well as anyone possibly can against Parker and I hope Pargo and Mo Pete can at least try and stay in front of Manu (and make him drive right!). But the Spurs aren't just going to face up in iso like the Mavs do.
The Suns went into the series thinking that they needed to stay home on the perimeter guys - Bowen and Finely mostly but also Udoka and Barry - and switch the pick and rolls and lay back in the lane with Shaq. That was a disaster.
What worked best was old fashion hard working full effort energetic help defense with rapid recovery. Parker isn't a great passer in the lane on the move and so if you collapse on him hard you can force turnovers or at least make him dish the ball out in way that will allow you to recover and contest the shot. The Suns did this to some success in games 4 and 5.
And at the end of the day, you want Oberto, KT, Bowen, Finely and Horry taking those shots. Even if they are making them stick with it but if you work hard enough you can recover and disrupt their rhythm. Nash was even able close out on Bowen fast enough to force him to put it down and drive a few times. That didn't go so well for Bruce. And Nash isn't all that fast anymore.
Beating the Spurs D
First off just expect a few things to be different against the Spurs in the playoffs.
You are not going to score your average. They are going to clutch, grab, flop, trip and kick and they are going to get away with it. Nash comes out of these series like he's been kicked by a field full of 8 year olds in cleats and his arms are scratched and mauled as well. In the lane Duncan never gets called for a foul and always is in exactly the right place. If your game plan is attacking the rim with your bigs - forget it.
Draw their bigs as far out as possible and post up your 3. We all saw how well this worked with Diaw - he really is a very good post player - and Peja can do the same thing. When the Spurs put Bowen on Paul that will leave a much lesser defender on Peja, Pargo or Wells. Take advantage of that.
I am not sure if the Hornets are prepared for this and clearly the Spurs understand that the key to stopping the Hornets is stopping Paul. They knew this about Nash and shut him down as well as any team ever did. Bowen will saddle up on CP3 and ride him hard. The more the hive can run the offense through someone other then Paul the better. It will loosen things up and force Bowen to move around a bit.
At a minimum Paul will need to make great passes out of the lane b/c the Spurs will collapse and contest everything he's trying to do. Spread the floor and hit the open three's if you can get them. But don't expect many. Their help D is the best anywhere. Not only do they work hard they are very smart about which guy helps and when and how they rotate to cover behind that. It really is the most beautiful part of Spurs basketball. Not that that's saying much.
Otherwise, West should be able to do well against Kurt Thomas away from the rim. Take and make open jump shots and he will have to play up tight and he can't stay in front of West that way. Oberto either. But those guys are tough and smart and you have to beat them.
They really are old
The Spurs go deep but its kind of a mirage. Their big three still play a TON of minutes and they can be wore down. Especially if you can avoid blowouts and have a run of games that are only one day apart. Make them work for 48 minutes even in a loss and it will pay off. Manu particularlly is looking worn and Duncan will tire as well. Run hard early in the game and especially right out of the half and you might just take their legs.
You are going to need it. Forget everything you saw from the Spurs in the regular season. I have never seen a team turn it on like these guys do. They are smart and tough and they don't beat themselves. You have to want it and play hard every second of every game. And if you do that - perhaps you can explain to the Suns how you managed.