The veteran team dispelled any doubts created during their series against the Golden State Warriors, easily defeating the Warriors in the final two contests before annihilating the Grizzlies in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs are miles away from solidifying themselves as the West's champion, but they have emerged as the favorites following their early victory.
Despite the efficiency and ease with which they beat their opponents in Game 1, the Spurs—like all teams—are flawed, and even the slightest imperfection could prove fatal to their title push.
With Gregg Popovich running the show, one can trust that the team's most monumental defects will be addressed, as ignoring them will be detrimental to their chances of a fifth title.
Among the biggest concerns is Manu Ginobili's inefficient and inconsistent shooting. As a member of the team's esteemed Big Three, the shooting guard has been a prominent fixture in the offense for a decade. However, as of late, Ginobili has hurt the team with his shaky decision-making and inability to hit open shots from beyond the arc.
At the same time, the veteran has connected on several game-changing shots, even in off games.
In Game 1 against the Warriors, Ginobili shot just 25 percent and connected on just two of his nine three-point attempts. Despite his poor percentages Ginobili exited as the game's hero, having hit the game-winning three-pointer in the closing seconds. Just moments earlier, a missed three-point attempt from Ginobili nearly cost the Spurs the game.
Popovich shared his thoughts on his sixth man following the game, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I went from wanting to trade him on the spot to wanting to cook him breakfast," Popovich said. "That's the truth. I stopped coaching him a long time ago."
Popovich's statement is true, as Ginobili has marched to the beat of his own drum for years and possesses the ability to calmly sink a crucial shot even amid a subpar shooting performance.
Aside from your average shooting drills, little can be done to ensure that Ginobili's shooting issues are solved. However, while there isn't a specific solution to the problem, the Spurs must not bench Ginobili, nor should they discourage his shooting.
Ginobili is a rhythm shooter, but he isn't bound by his streakiness. While his shooting certainly follows a nightly pattern, he still possesses the ability to score when struggling. He knows when to shoot and when not to shoot, and as a talented player, he must continue to take advantage of open opportunities; otherwise, he'll never get going.
Pop once answered a question about his streaky star, stating, "he's Manu Ginobili." Though simple, his answer is truthful. Manu will mess up one second and then do something heroic the next. He has done it throughout his career and will continue to do so for the rest of it. Though his inconsistency may be a concern, it would be even more problematic if the Spurs attempt to solve it by taking away his green light.
The only way for him to recover from his slump is to continue to shoot, and Popovich must recognize this going forward.
Another concern for San Antonio is its poor rebounding ability. The team ranked outside the top 20 in the regular season and showed no sign of improvement against Golden State in the second round.
The Grizzlies roster revolves around their post tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Both Gasol and Randolph are known for being talented rebounders, despite poor showings in the series' opening contest.
If San Antonio wants to reach the NBA Finals, it'll have to address its issue on the boards before it grows to be too severe.
As of now, the team's starting frontcourt remains its best three rebounding options. Aside from the unathletic Matt Bonner and the unused Aron Baynes, only Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter stand above 6'10''. Outside that duo, only Kawhi Leonard consistently makes a big impact on the boards.
If the Spurs find themselves severely lacking on the glass, they shouldn't hesitate to give DeJuan Blair a chance to prove himself.
Though he is undersized for a center, Blair is a proven rebounding workhorse. While he is shaky defensively, Blair is strong enough to make Zach Randolph work inside, and Randolph's poor leaping ability gives Blair a fair shot at defending him.
Playing Blair would not only help San Antonio's rebounding problem. Giving Duncan extra rest when possible is always a welcomed luxury, and having Blair as a reliable backup option would help when either of the Spurs' top big men fall into foul trouble.
For one reason or another, Popovich has been against giving Blair significant opportunities this season. However, Blair's presence should be welcomed as a solution to help solve the Spurs' problem inside.
The Spurs' most immense problem is something that has plagued numerous teams throughout the playoffs, though it will need to be addressed if the Spurs are going to truly make a significant run.
Though cliche, the Spurs offense has been the epitome of a well-oiled machine for years. From their remarkable ball movement to their constant desire to take the best possible shot, it has been difficult to find fault on that end of the floor.
Recently, we've been presented with a completely different story.
Grantland's Zach Lowe highlighted the unprecedented faults in San Antonio's offense during its series with Golden State, recognizing that by defending the pick-and-roll a certain way, the Warriors were able to force the Spurs to become far too reliant on their mid-range jump shot:
The Spurs are a pick-and-roll offense at heart, and the Warriors have attacked those pick-and-rolls the same way almost every time: by having the guard defending Tony Parker (or Manu Ginobili) slide between Parker and the big man setting the pick, so as to block Parker from going around that pick at all. At the same time, the Golden State player defending the screener (Andrew Bogut in an ideal scenario) will drop down toward the paint to meet Parker at a predetermined location. In very simple terms, the Warriors are saying, “You will go here because we said so, and you won’t go any further.” If Parker can’t past the foul line, he can’t draw extra help defenders away from dangerous shooters spotting up around the 3-point arc. And if the pick-and-roll takes place on the side of the floor, the Warriors’ strategy — blocking off the pick — functions to keep the ball on that side, preventing Parker from darting around the pick and into the center of the paint, where he can stab a defense in the heart.
While the Warriors were unable to defeat the Spurs using this defensive strategy, they certainly gave San Antonio difficulties during the first few games.
Lionel Hollins and the Grizzlies will be in search of a new defensive strategy after witnessing complete disarray in Game 1, and whether they look toward a similar strategy to Golden State, their response could trouble the Spurs unless they amend their offense.
As Lowe mentioned, the Spurs offense is predicated on the pick-and-roll. The Grizzlies, though, are skilled enough defensively to exploit San Antonio's reliance on the pick-and-roll going forward.
To avoid being hampered, the Spurs need to mix things up a bit. While the pick-and-roll should still be an option, the Spurs must give Duncan more opportunities in the post, among other things.
However, above everything else, Parker and his squad must look to get out on the fast break more often. Of the teams remaining in the playoffs, the Grizzlies and the Indiana Pacers are the top two defensively. The Miami Heat also possess a top-five defense, and they have the top defense in the playoffs thus far.
With such strong opposition, the Spurs must avoid giving the defense time to set and should look to push the ball rather than stick with their current focus on the half-court offense. All three remaining teams rank outside the top 20 in pace, and by moving at a faster rate, San Antonio should be able to control more aspects of the game.
Duncan's ability to make pinpoint outlet passes and Tony Parker's speed and distributing abilities allow for the Spurs to be one of the best fast-break units in the NBA.
Going forward, they must take advantage of that as often as possible if they want to thrive offensively.
Despite their recent victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs remain lengths away from being completely sound on both ends of the floor. However, by addressing these issues and implementing these solutions, they will bolster their chances of a fifth championship.
All statistics were taken from NBA.com.
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