When asked about Manu Ginobili’s third quarter cramps in Game 3, Coach Popovich stated that he thought his guard would be out for the rest of the series.
While it was a sarcastic, clever dig, there's reason for Popovich to at least be a little worried. Serge Ibaka did make his presence known in Game 3, as the Spurs only managed 40 points in the paint after averaging 60 points of this kind during Games 1 and 2. And the Spurs have been here before - back in 2012, after taking a 2-0 series lead, the team dropped four straight to the Thunder, losing the Western Conference Finals.
Our own Russell Peddle broke down Ibaka's impact, but what else happened to the Spurs in Game 3 this past Sunday? Let’s take a closer look at some areas San Antonio needs a big boost from in order to not repeat their fall from 2012.
Lost: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard just hasn’t been the same in this series, and is looking more like the Leonard from the first round of the playoffs. After posting higher points per game against the Blazers, Leonard is looking worse in many aspects of his game against the Thunder.
|Portland Trail Blazers||30.4||56.10%||7.6||14||17||109.4||91.5||66.40%|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||28.7||41.90%||3.3||6||10||114.4||105.6||45.80%|
Being guarded by Kevin Durant hasn’t helped Leonard, as it's been his toughest defender to date. In Game 3, Durant limited Leonard to only six shots on his 20 touches, blocking one of them.
Leonard’s true shooting percentage has dropped as well, as he’s shooting only 41.9% from the field after 49% against Dallas, 56% against Portland, and 52% on the season. Leonard hasn’t gotten to the free throw line as much in three games against the Thunder, either. After making it to the line for 38 free throws in the first two series, he’s only attempted four free throws so far this series.
It just seems as Leonard hasn’t gotten into his groove yet as his minutes per game have dropped a little from the other two series. Defensively Leonard has struggled as well. After having a 91.5 defensive rating against the Blazers, he has a 114.4 defensive rating against the Thunder.
Again, playing against Durant is a factor in the decline in some of his numbers, but the Spurs are going to need him in a big way if they want to win this series. Leonard has given us some great highlights, but some much needed assertiveness and a step up in a his overall game is much needed for the Spurs going into Game 4.
Missing: Additional Three-Point Shooters
Another aspect of Kawhi Leonard’s game that has suffered is his shooting from behind the arc, sitting at just 1 for 7 in the series so far. However, he hasn’t been the only one for the Spurs. Outside of Danny Green’s seven three-pointers in Game 2, the Spurs haven’t been the greatest from downtown.
In Game 1, if you take out the 7 for 9 combined effort from Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, the rest of the team only made 2 of 8 three-pointers. In Game 2, the rest of the team was only 2 for 13. Ginobili and Green shouldered the load one more time in Game 3 going 8 for 15, but, once again, the rest of the team combined for only two three-pointers.
While the Spurs have maintained a similar percentage behind the arc from the regular season to the postseason, a team full of sharp-shooters has not performed as expected.
|3-pt FG %||Reg Season||Mavericks||Blazers||Thunder|
It’s not surprising that the Spurs’ sharpshooters have dropped off in performance over the last three games against OKC due to the high shooting rates from the series against Portland. Everything tends to normalize at some point but it has come at a bad time for the Spurs.
Patty Mills was riding a hot streak at the end of the Portland series, scoring 38 points in three games. Marco Belinelli was the best three-point shooter on the team during the regular season, but outside of the Portland series, he's been relatively non-existent and has attempted only half of the amount three-pointers per game in the playoffs than he had in the regular season.
The Spurs have a bevy of weapons and multiple ways of beating you. But with Ibaka back, Popovich will be looking to his perimeter shooters more and more. If Ginobili and Green both have an off game, the Spurs could find themselves in a big hole rather quickly.
Wanted: Accurate Shooters
During the regular season, the Spurs were one of the best shooting teams in the league at 48.6%, second only to the Miami Heat (50.1%). That has translated well to the postseason as well as they are just barely second to the Heat in shooting percentage (49.2% to 49.4%).
At the same time, the Thunder were the third-best team in defending all field goals, holding teams to just 43.6% shooting. It has become inflated some in the playoffs, but OKC is still holding opponents to 44.3% shooting.
As the Thunder continue to lock down their opponents' shooters, the Spurs can’t afford to miss any possible opportunity, especially if it's an open look. But according to the chart below, the Spurs haven’t done themselves any favors.
|Game 1||Game 2||Game 3|
In looking at uncontested shots (no defender is within four feet of the shooter), the Spurs are doing worse than contested shots. It seems silly to say, but the more pressure the Spurs face, the better they're shooting.
No matter how the Spurs are getting the open look, the above percentages are low and took an extreme dip in Game 3. For all the ball movement and extra passes the Spurs use in their half-court set, the Spurs can’t afford to have such low percentages on uncontested shots.
We didn't even get into how Russell Westbrook limited Tony Parker or how only three Spurs scored double digit points in Game 3. But Popovich won't accept a repeat performance, knowing the window is closing with the aged Big Three.
To redeem themselves from the 2012 collapse, Pop will need Leonard at his best to keep up with the Thunder. The poor three-point shooting will come around as well. Despite the return of Ibaka, the Spurs have one of the deepest teams in recent memory. Popovich will use that to his advantage and prove that Game 3 was just a fluke for his team.