Realizing the Clippers don’t have a lot to work with, I’m not sure that a zone is a viable defensive option against San Antonio. With all their firepower from beyond the arc, the Spurs can stretch a zone silly, which is exactly what they do to begin the second half down one to the Clippers:
- [3rd, 12:00] Dunleavy started the game with Skinner in the lineup, but goes small to begin the second half with Collins-Gordon-Jones-Thornton-Camby. The Clippers look like a team that’s not terribly comfortable in a zone, and I can’t imagine Dunleavy ever zoning up except in extenuate circumstances…like now. The zone appears more like a 1-2-2 or a point zone [with Gordon as the point defender] than it does the 2-3 zone that you usually see in the pro game. The ball goes into Duncan in the high post. The confusion is immediate. Does Duncan belong to one of the guards, or is Thornton — who’s out of position as the 4 and who started in the back right — supposed to pick him up? Ultimately, Thornton follows him to the left side. Duncan catches, kicks it out, then reposts deeper against Thornton. Camby can’t really help because he’s got to attend to Matt Bonner, who’s camped out underneath. Duncan gets the entry pass, backs Thornton in, and hits the easy hook with his right.
- [3rd, 11:07] Zones are particularly problematic in transition because, by definition, no one is position. Spot shooters love this dynamic, because they don’t have to worry about being picked up by a defender. Parker pushes the ball up quickly. The Clippers are backpedaling, but completely scattered, not sure if they should hold the perimeter against the Spurs’ shooters. Parker dribbles across the court at about the foul line, which completely disorients the Clippers. Bonner has been trailing the play. He spots up at the top of the circle, where Parker shovels him a little pass. Easy 3PM. The Spurs now lead by four.
- [3rd, 10:33] This set is vintage Spurs and a perfect illustration of why they play in June. Parker/Duncan run a S/R high on the left side. Duncan’s screen is solid, and it catches Gordon. Camby picks up Parker on the left side of the basket. Once EJ recovers, he traps Parker about three feet off the baseline. The challenge for any Spurs’ opponent here is that Mason and Finley are set up out on the weak side arc, with Bonner on that side as well. Any rotation onto Duncan means leaving one of these three guys open. Normally, you can buy some time rotating off the guy in the weak side corner. Problem is: Tony Parker has won a lot of games making that baseline pass. Starting to get a better feel for why Matt Bonner and Roger Mason are #1 and #3 in the NBA in 3PA percentage? Parker kicks it out to Duncan. Collins rotates over to Duncan because someone has to. Jones remains on Mason. Bonner is now in the lane, and Camby is in very close proximity. Thornton is…well…Thornton is low because that’s where he belongs in the zone. But this has quickly, if unintentionally, become a man-to-man defensive set. Finley is now wide open at the top of the arc with no Cipper within ten feet of him. Duncan passes it over. Both Jones and Thornton futilely try to close. Forget about it. Spurs by seven.
This is only a sampling. The third quarter is filled with sets like these as the Spurs shred the Clippers’ zone, or what’s left of it. The Spurs’ ball movement, perimeter potency, and ability to fill space are like kryptonite to the Clippers.
Gordon is merely very good tonight: 21 points on 53.4% TS, working himself three trips to the line [5-6 FTA]. Thornton has a solid game shooting the ball, finishing with 21 points, 6 turnovers, and 5 rebounds. He nails his open looks tonight, and gets plenty of them — particularly in the third quarter when he scores six against Matt Bonner who, accustomed to playing bigs, leaves Thornton out on the perimeter unattended.
New Orleans could be very ugly. The only consolation is that there will be little inclination to go small against the Hornets.