After having the Mavericks take them to a full seven-game series, the Spurs had to get back in the saddle once again with little rest Tuesday night to take on one of the hottest teams in the NBA. That’s not what you like to see when your three main players are on the wrong side of 30.
In Game 7 against Dallas, we finally saw how good the Spurs can be in the playoffs when the entire Big Three is running full steam. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 67 points (with 47 in just the first half alone) in a Game 7 drubbing of the Mavericks.
But at the center of it all is a 16-year veteran that continues to amaze in his ability to get up and down the court on a nightly basis. Tim Duncan knows how to keep his head down and just go to work. Once he gets rolling, there is very little that can stop him.
However, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers are waiting in the wings, hoping to halt the Spurs despite the big loss in Game 1. The Blazers have held the upper hand in recent seasons (14-7 record over the Spurs in the regular season since 2008) and split this season’s series 2-2. But if the Dallas-San Antonio series was any indication, it doesn’t matter how good the team has done in the past – it’s what they are able to do right now.
And that right now is two teams with similar styles. Each squad is capable of lighting up the scoreboard from downtown or pounding the ball inside. Damian Lillard and Tony Parker will set the tone for each offense and try to one-up each other. LaMarcus Aldridge will be taking on his childhood hero in Tim Duncan - and they happen to be the two players under the microscope today as we take a look at how they fared against their respective opponent as well as each other.
LaMarcus Aldridge vs. San Antonio
Aldridge was dominant in the regular season, but stepped up his game to the next level in the playoffs, boosting his points per game to 30. Boris Diaw and Duncan guarded LMA a majority of the time during the regular season, but as we saw in Game 1 (32 points), Aldridge will get his points no matter who is on him.
Getting into the numbers, we see that Aldridge was only slightly limited in his scoring when facing the Spurs compared to his overall numbers. He even showed he was more efficient from the field by the nine percent jump in his true shooting percentage, and 10 percent increase in his field goal percentage, which could have led to even more points if given the opportunity.
Even more telling about Aldridge is his PIE - Player Impact Estimate. This is a fairly advanced metric in the NBA world, but in essence, it measures a player's overall contribution to his team, similar to PER. It takes into account Aldridge's steals and rebounds, not just his shooting percentages. With this information, we can compare other players easier. Aldridge maintains his PIE when just facing San Antonio compared to his season overall; for Duncan, it's a different story which you'll see below.
The one concern about LMA is his minutes played. He's averaging over 41 minutes per game, which could come back bite the Blazers towards the end of the series. LMA is the driving force for the team, but longer minutes means more susceptibility to injuries and fatigue. Greg Popovich knows how to rest his players at the right time. Do the Blazers really want a tired LMA in a close game when Duncan, Diaw, Tiago Spiltter and others are fresher when guarding the rim? The Spurs will be aggressive in their matchups against LMA, but it might almost be the Blazers instead of the Spurs' defense that stops LMA from being effective every game.
Tim Duncan vs. Portland
While Duncan may have had a career low in points per game this season, he was still second on the team in points per game as well as the leading man in PER for the team (21.3). However, when facing the Blazers, Duncan had to work harder for his 15 points each game. His field goal percentage didn't drop much, but his total shooting percentage took a significant drop against the Blazers.
I mentioned how impactful LMA was throughout the season as well as against the Spurs, and how his PIE showed that he maintained his level of contributions. Duncan is a different story though. When facing the Blazers, Duncan struggled. We see a slight dip in shooting percentage and his rebounds and his effectiveness drops by 4%. It may not be a significant drop, but in the playoffs, every play counts.
If the Big Three are to succeed, Duncan will need to take advantage of every opportunity he gets in the paint or he may not get into a rhythm, creating a domino effect. With the tandem of Robin Lopez and Aldridge defending the rim (2.7 blocks per game between the two), the Blazers were slightly better defensively than the Mavericks according to our numberFire defensive efficiency ranks. They know how to hold their own against Duncan, which could spell trouble for the rest of the Spurs.
Master vs. Student
Could this be a passing of the torch from Duncan to Aldridge? Possibly, but if we know anything about the Big Fundamental and the Spurs, they won’t go down without a fight.
Aldridge holds the edge in points per game in their matchups, as well as the overall season (23 to 15 per game), but from an efficiency standpoint, Duncan has close to a three percent edge in true shooting percentage (53.5% to 50.7%).
If we look at each player’s PER, another efficiency rating, Aldridge has a slight advantage there as well (21.8 to 21.3). But if we break down each player's stats per 36 minutes, we see Duncan's point total rise from 15 to 18 points per 36 minutes and his rebounds per game is a full rebound more per 36 minutes than Aldridge.
So what do all the above numbers mean? It means we're looking at two players that know how to contribute effectively to their respective teams. Both players maintain a presence in the post and they provide leadership when it’s needed the most. Each team's offensive philosophy makes these two the focal point of which everything else works around.
The stats from Game 1 may look to initially favor LMA, but Duncan didn't play a lot of minutes due to the blowout of the game, and was still effective. Since there is the disparity in minutes, a look at the offensive and defensive ratings help as they show how many points would be produced (offense) or allowed (defense) over 100 possessions. Duncan takes the cake in Game 1 as his offensive rating was 28 points higher and his defensive rating was 23 points lower than LMA.
The master holds the edge over the student in experience and may still have a few tricks to show LMA throughout this series. LMA held the massive scoring edge in Game 1, but the Spurs still got the win. Whoever can gain – and hold – the upper hand in this matchup could determine the winner of this highly anticipated series of two very similar styles and evenly matched teams.