Offence has been the best defence for the San Antonio Spurs in slowing down the Houston Rockets’ high-octane attack and gaining control of the second round series.
After getting hammered in a 27-point loss in Game 1, the Spurs have turned it around by focusing as much on scoring efficiently as they have on limiting James Harden and Co.
The adjustments have clearly worked, with San Antonio evening the series through a lopsided 121-96 win in Game 2 before taking the lead with a 103-92 victory in Game 3 on Friday.
Not by coincidence, the Spurs’ surge has aligned with LaMarcus Aldridge finding his rhythm as the big man has improved his scoring output from 4 points in the opener, to 15 in Game 2 and 26 in the recent outing. His shot attempts have also gradually increased from seven to 15 to 20, while his defence has allowed coach Gregg Popovich to leave him on the floor longer.
Houston shot 13-of-26 when Aldridge served as the primary defender in the first two games, but that figure dropped to just 3-of-14 in Game 3, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“This was his best game, obviously,” Popovich said. “He felt good tonight. He was loose as far as his physical nature, his legs and everything. He wasn’t too stiff. It showed. He moved up and down the court well. He was able to push off on the block, and he felt good shooting the ball, in addition to busting his butt on D and trying to get the boards for us. He was a big help tonight.”
The Rockets’ blueprint for success was on full display in Game 1, when they shot 22-of-50 from long range and had 27 fast break points.
Houston has struggled to replicate that kind of performance ever since as San Antonio have tightened their offence to shoot 49.7 per cent overall and 36.7 per cent on 3-pointers over the past two games.
The increased efficiency has left few chances for the Rockets to get out and run after misses, lowering their fast break points to 13 in Game 2 and 9 in the most recent contest.
“It sounds kind of counterintuitive, but it’s not really about defence,” Popovich said about defending the Rockets in transition. “It’s really about offense. Bad offense leads to transition.
“If you’re making shots, if you’re shooting free throws, there’s not a whole lot of transition you have to worry about.”
Houston have also flat-out missed open shots, converting just 19-of-67 uncontested field goals (28.3 per cent) in their losses.
As dominant as they already are, the Golden State Warriors’ invincibility is taken to a new level when Draymond Green is turning his biggest weakness into a strength.
Green has been red-hot shooting 3-pointers and his confidence in his range was on full display in the Golden State Warriors’ 115-104 win over the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena on Thursday.
The all-encompassing forward nailed 5-of-8 from long range to score 21 points, while also doing his customary stat-stuffing with seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
“We love that shot. It gives us a huge lift,” Stephen Curry said of his team-mate’s aggressiveness from deep. “Hopefully that jumper travels when we go to Utah because those shots will be open.”
Draymond Green has 18 3-pointers this postseason, more than Eric Gordon (17) & Klay Thompson (14), the 2 most recent 3-point contest champs— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2017
Green made 2-of-5 triples in Game 1 of the series and has hit 18-of-33 in the playoffs overall for a percentage of 54.5, the best among all players in the postseason who’ve attempted at least 20 shots.
All but three of his 33 attempts from beyond the arc have been uncontested looks, with Green converting 18-of-30.
It’s no surprise the Jazz have chosen to give Green space and instead diverted their defenders to greater offensive threats like Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Green, who is a career 33.4 per cent 3-point shooter, has taken full advantage of the strategy.
“Obviously [Utah’s] gameplan is to have whoever’s guarding Draymond sit in the lane,” Golden State coach Mike Brown said.
Even when Green’s not making 3s at his current rate, the Warriors benefit from him knocking it down at a near-average percentage. In the regular season, he hit at 32.4 per cent in the 64 wins, compared to 24.0 per cent in the 14 losses.
With Utah and future opponents likely to continue daring him to beat them from outside, the opportunities will be there for Green in Game 3 and going forward. “I feel particularly open every game we play,” he said. “So, yeah, I do. I’m pretty sure I’ll stay particularly open. That probably won’t change.”
LeBron James passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5,762 points) for second place on the all-time play-off scoring list (5,777) after netting 39 points against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday morning.
Only one player is ahead of James on the list, Michael Jordan, who holds the record with (5,987) points. LeBron could surpass that record in the play-offs if the Cavs are to earn a place in the NBA finals, but Jordan’s record will fall sooner than later.
The King of Akron has been in impressive form in these play-offs so far, averaging 33.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 8 APG, as the Cavs remain unbeaten after six games in the post-season.
It was a historic night for James as he also became the fourth player in NBA history with 300 made three-pointers despite not being considered a deep threat.
LeBron is also third all-time in playoff assists (1,392), trailing only Magic Johnson (2,346) and John Stockton (1,839). It seems conceivable that James would ultimately pass Stockton by the end of his illustrious career.
James will have an opportunity to crush a number of play-off records as he looks to advance to his seventh straight NBA Finals, but the paramount accomplishment will be another title for the Cavs.
Tyronn Lue’s side head to Toronto for game three of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Saturday night, where they struggled last year and allowed the Raptors to come back and tie up the series.
That will not be the case on this occasion should LeBron continue to dominate like he did in the opening two matches.