Sunday, May 22, 2005

Nice D

The human layup drill
Things don't look good for the Suns. Despite the Spurs' obvious flaws (exposed by Seattle) and the supposed Duncan ankle injury, Phoenix got ran off its own court on Sunday. Unless Joe Johnson can get back in the lineup quickly, San Antonio can forget about the fact that Nash can't guard Parker, and Q can hit a few shots, this is going to be ugly.

For all thoughts on Spurs-Suns, click on the comments link.


Anonymous said...

That's it? Nice post, good detail.

Adam Hoff said...

Hang on ... the rest is on the way.

Adam Hoff said...

I've come around on Nash and loved his "magical" play against Dallas (thanks to my Dad for spotting that Bill Walton term, one that works so well in describing Nash's game); however, we're now seeing the big problem with the Great Canadian. He can't guard anyone. The Suns have been fortunate that both the point guards they've encountered thus far - Jason Williams and Jason Terry - are more comfortable bombing from long range than they are going to the basket. That has all changed. Tony Parker - the same Tony Parker that has been short-arming jumpers and clanging free throws when the chips are down for the past 2.5 postseasons - got to the basket at will against Nash.

In the Seattle series, the keys to beating the Spurs were to keep Ginobili from scoring, to win the battle of the last three minutes ever quarter, and to get Ray Allen plenty of shots. All of that is secondary though to keeping the Spurs' guards out of the lane. Tom Tolbert did an outstanding job of breaking this down in the semis, pointing out that Antonio Daniels was the key to keeping Parker on the perimeter where he could shank big shots. In fact, Daniels is the reason that Parker was so bad. If the Frenchman drives, he's good. If he doesn't, he's bad. It's as simple as that.

As we all know, Nash is no Antonio Daniels. He's ten times better on offense and ten times worse on defense. Parker was shooting layups or handing the ball off to Duncan every play in the fourth quarter. It was disastrous. If you don't regularly follow the NBA and happened to turn the game on in the fourth quarter, you'd A) have been calling for Nash to be benched for getting beat 19 straight times, and B) figuring that the Suns have no chance of winning this series. You'd be wrong on both counts. For starters, you obviously can't bench Nash. More to the point, the Suns can fix this. But it's going to take some work:

1. Get a witch doctor for Joe Johnson. Do whatever it takes to get this guy healthy and back on the floor. With JJ in the lineup, the Suns can use him and Q to guard Parker and Ginobili, leaving Nash to keep tabs on Bowen/Barry and double Duncan (which he's actually pretty decent at). Without Johnson, Nash has to guard either Parker or Manu, and if you thought Parker was shredding him, you don't want to imagine what Ginobili The Great (Flopper) would do to him. So they need Johnson. If he's back and healthy, he changes the entire complexion of the series ... and that doesn't even factor in his offense.

2. Stop going over the screen. I don't know if this is Nash's decision, D'Antoni's, or if it is just a league mandate that you can't go under screens, but Nash has to go under and make Parker hit jump shots. If you saw the previous posts, you know that TP is shooting 34% from the field in all playoff games decided by single digits. The guy is not what you would call clutch. If you don't believe me, throw on some footage from the Conference Finals last year, where you'll see Parker jacking up a series of airballs and clangs off the glass. Speaking of last year ...

3. We all have short memories, so you probably don't recall Parker torching a 75-year old Gary Payton in Games One and Two of the Western Conference Finals last year. He was being anointed as the next big star of the playoffs and the Lakers were supposedly done. Then, the LA made adjustments. They started putting a body on Parker. They started trapping him hard on every pick-and-roll (ironically, the very maneuver employed by Pop in the fourth quarter to stop the Nash-Amare version). They dared him to hit jumpers. The result? They forced him into horrific basketball and wrestled the series away from the Spurs.

All Phoenix needs to do is address their strategy on the pick and roll and focus their energy on keeping the Trophy Lovers out of the lane, and they can get right back in this series. Well, that and get Joe Johnson back in the lineup.

J said...

The Spurs get so lucky. Just look at the 13 fourth quarter points tossed in by Brent Barry. That stuff never happens to other teams.

Jack Wang said...

While you're right about Nash's defensive deficiencies, I think you're being a little hard on him. NOBODY on the Suns really guards anyone. Of course, this will have to change, at least a little bit, for the Suns to have a chance to win, since the Spurs play some of the best team D this side of Detroit. Getting Joe Johnson back will be key, as you point out. He would give Le Parker some problems, and I would put Nash on Bowen despite the obvious height differences. Bowen can't hit an open shot if he were Ike and the basket was Tina. It's pathetic. If he could score 15 points a game, he'd make the All-Star team.

On the other side, the guy who put up the most three-pointers this year and tied for the most makes has turned into a Bruce Bowen clone with one exception: he doesn't play defense. I'm talking about Quentin Richardson of course, who better stop knocking his head with his fists and knocking down some shots. Johnson being out has really hurt Q, primarily because Leandro Barbosa has been playing more like Captain Barbosa - with a hook for a hand, matey. Since Barbosa can't put any pressure on the defense, the Spurs are right on top of Q and will let Barbosa take whatever shot he wants, which he will miss most of the time.

I'd disagree with the Spurs being "unlucky" though. They're one of the best-coached teams in the league, and know exactly how to exploit weak defenses. They also have an "experience" advantage - no one is better at drawing touch fouls as a big man than Timmy D, and Manu has channelled the flopping powers of Vlade, Derek Fisher, and a freshly caught sea-animal. How can someone be the "toughest player in the league" but get knocked to the floor 527 times a game? On offense, he'll fight through five defenders to get an and-one layup while being hacked, while on D a Steve Nash screen will send him flying headfirst into the 8th row. Please. I don't doubt that it's part of an explicit strategy, given the depth (or lack thereof) of Phoenix, but give me a break.

Adam Hoff said...

Good work, Jack. I personally am so sick and tired of the Spurs, so I really want to get on board the "lucky" train. However, the truth is that nothing that happened yesterday was luck. At first glance, it looked like luck that Brent Barry happened to be on the floor in the fourth quarter and knocking down shots. However, a look at the box score shows that is not the case. He played a whopping 34 minutes, which means that he had played 22 minutes going into the fourth quarter and had scored only 8 points. Yet the Spurs still sent him out there to finish the game.

Similarly, Bruce Bowen - who averaged over 40 minutes per game while chasing around Ray Allen in the Seattle series - played only 26 minutes. The Spurs realized that there was no Suns player worthy of demanding Bowen's defensive attention, so they opted for offense. Bowen isn't going to guard Nash or Amare and Q, Marion, and Jackson don't have a game that needs to be locked up, so his individual defensive abilities went from a necessity to a luxury. As Charles Barkley has said many times, the key to beating the Suns is to outscore them, rather than try to slow the game down. I would add one extra thought to that: outscore them or keep pace for 45 minutes, then slow things down and execute down the stretch. That's exactly what the Spurs did here.

Not only did Pop recognize the need for an extra offensive weapon (you have to believe he's got the number "120" up on the white board) over his best individual defender, he also made a huge late game adjustment by trapping the pick and roll. Those two coaching moves were the key to the game. That and the fact that Horry/Barry outscored Q/Marion 33-to-10. Ouch.

Adam Hoff said...

Time for some halftime chatter for Game 2.

- The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Nash situation continues. His defense ranks right up there with the worst I've ever seen and his turnovers are too high, but his offense has been amazing. He has 18 points and has only missed one shot, which is incredible. However, he's allowed Parker to get into the lane at will, which is leading not only to layups for the Frenchman, but also to wide open San Antonio threes. I counted four times that Parker blew by Nash and forced rapid switches, eventually leading to WIDE open shots for Horry and Ginobili. It's been bizarre watching Nash.

- The Ginobili Flop/Fake count is at 4. The last one came on a score and he flew into the photographers and writhed in pain. Meanwhile, both the live announcers and studio analysts pointed to that play as an example of the Suns NOT putting a body on Manu. They failed to note his flopping, but it’s telling that on a play which they scolded Phoenix for not fouling, he acted like he'd been shot by a sniper.

- If the Suns win this game, the key sequence will be the flurry in the middle of the second quarter when they got four straight strange and intense stops, all followed by baskets. The first and most exciting came when Jimmy Jackson tallied two of his four blocked shots (good for the Crazy Stat of the Day award) and the last came on an unforced error by the Frenchman. Big stretch and the only reason the Suns are in this thing.

- Oh, Q. Not a good time to choke. Marion has been brutal on offense as well, but at least he's got 9 boards, a steal, and two blocks. Richardson isn't doing anything. He either needs to commit himself to being a defensive stopper, or the Suns have to get him on the block. I know that D'Antoni isn't a fan of posting guys up a whole lot, but they have to do it. Richardson has scored on like 10 of 12 postups in the playoffs and it’s a great way to take advantage of his size (their most pronounced mismatch when either Manu or Barry is guarding him) and get him going. What are they waiting for?

- If the Spurs win it all, can the league officially protest the title on account of collusion? Isiah Thomas is the San Antonio MVP for the Nazr Mohammed trade. The worst part is that everyone knew it was going to be this bad at the time it happened. The only guy who didn't realize that the Knicks were giving their only viable center to the best team in the league in exchange for one of the NBA's worst contracts was Thomas himself. That guy sucks. I was thinking that the NBA should have a promotional contest to see if a lucky fan could be a better executive than Isiah, but then I realized that every man, woman, and child on planet earth would win the contest.

- Last thought. You might have wondered were my daily "Joe Johnson" factor was, so here it is: one more loss with Joe out of action is the inability to bench Q when he's in one of these funks. I had Richardson on several fantasy teams so I can attest for his propensity to slump horribly. During the season, they would simply play Jackson instead of Q and all would be well. Now Jackson is already playing the whole time for Johnson and no one can relieve Q. I have a bad feeling that we've got a sweep on our hands.

And now that Manu has started the second half by hitting Jackson in the face with a forearm shiver and then flopping on the ground, I guess its time to get back to the action.

Adam Hoff said...

We interrupt this program to complain about the officials. I usually save my comments for halftime and for the end of the game, but this is ridiculous. Yes, I'm talking about the T on Amare. Horry hammers Stoudemire after the play and Amare pushes the ball away as if to say "stop grabbing me" and he gets hit with a tech! Horrible. Then they give the ball to the Suns on the side (they would turn it over on an offensive foul which was followed by a phantom foul in favor of Duncan). If you want to call a T on Amare, you have to say that Horry mugged him on the shot. If you send it out on the side, then all of that post-bump (on the dribble, which is where they claimed the foul occurred) hacking has to be after the whistle and therefore MUCH worse than what Amare did. By calling it a non-shooting foul, they indicted their own technical call. What a bunch of idiotic morons. Or is it moronic idiots? I'm trying to tone it down with the refs, but that was just ridiculous. Huge game, easy screw-up to avoid, and they blew it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I've been keeping a close eye on your "final three minutes" rule and in this one, the Suns are: -2, +6, and -1. Total: +3. Can they do it when it matters most here in the fourth? So far each team has a 3 under 3 minutes and the Spurs have the ball with a one-point lead.

Adam Hoff said...

May the Spurs have their flight delayed. Many times.