TrueHoop: San Antonio Spurs

San Antonio Spurs: Special Forces

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
Abbott By Henry Abbott
This show is about the truth: The San Antonio Spurs are actually a team of covert international commandos. In this episode, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich tackle the case of a missing child.

Special thanks to Matt Hill (@TweetofMattHill) and TrueHoop Network affiliate BallerBall.

When Larry Met Stanley

August, 29, 2014
Reisinger By Adam Reisinger
Since beating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs -- the NBA's most international squad -- have been letting their players take the Larry O'Brien Trophy on tour in their native countries. This week it was reserve guard Cory Joseph's turn with the trophy, and the third-year vet from Canada paid a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum in Toronto for an historic meeting of the trophies.

Since the NBA formed (as the BAA) in 1946-47, there hasn't been a single season in which the NBA and NHL champion came from the same city. The most recent close call came in 2003, when the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup, while the New Jersey Nets lost to the Spurs in six games in the NBA Finals.

Will Game 7 rewrite record books?

June, 20, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTonight's Game 7 will be an epic battle between the Heat and Spurs.
We are down to the final game of the 2012-13 season to decide the NBA champion.

Let’s take a look at what a win would mean for the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena (9 ET on ABC).

What’s at stake for the Heat?
The Heat are trying to become the first team to repeat as NBA champions since the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009-10 and the first Eastern Conference team to win back-to-back titles since the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls won three in a row from 1996-98.

With a Heat win, LeBron James would be a two-time NBA champion and would join Bill Russell and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to win back-to-back regular season MVPs and NBA titles.

The Heat went 66-16 this season, a win percentage of .805. They are trying to avoid having the best regular-season record by any NBA Finals loser.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the highest win percentage by a team that lost in the NBA Finals is .797 by the 1949-50 Syracuse Nationals.

The Heat suffered a 36-point defeat (113-77) in Game 3 of this series. If the Heat win Game 7, they would become the first team to win an NBA title after losing a game by 35 or more points at any point in the postseason.

What’s at stake for the Spurs?
The Spurs are seeking to win their fifth NBA title. They would be the fourth franchise to win at least five rings, along with the Celtics (17), Lakers (16) and Bulls (6).

The Spurs are 4-for-4 in NBA Finals series and will try to remain as one of two NBA teams to with multiple titles and no Finals series losses. The Bulls are 6-0 in the NBA Finals.

If the Spurs win, it would mean that no team would have won consecutive games in this series.

According to Elias, it would be just the sixth time that an NBA Finals series went seven games and no team won back-to-back games. The last time it happened was in the 1974 NBA Finals, won by the Celtics.

Not only would the Spurs would become just the fourth road team to win a Game 7 in the Finals, but they would also be the first team to ever defeat the defending NBA champion on the road in a NBA Finals Game 7.

Tim Duncan is one of four players to play in the NBA Finals in three different decades, along with John Salley, A.C. Green and Elgin Baylor. If the Spurs win, Duncan would join Salley as the only players to win a NBA title in three different decades.

Should Heat play LeBron, Wade separately?

June, 20, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsThe LeBron-Wade combo has not been working for the Heat in the NBA Finals.
Fifteen down, one to go. Both the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have 15 victories this postseason but in order to win a NBA title, you need to reach that win number 16.

We’ve already taken you through the historical storylines and the coaching adjustments made so far in the first six games.

Now let’s take a closer look at the question that has everyone buzzing after LeBron James took over in the fourth quarter of Game 6 with Dwyane Wade on the bench:

Should Miami should play LeBron and Wade separately?

James was more aggressive without Wade on the court on Tuesday night, with seven of his nine field goal attempts coming inside five feet, a trend that has been present the entire NBA Finals.

As you can see in the chart to the right, James is scoring much more efficiently with Wade on the bench, especially on shots close to the basket.

However, in the 194 minutes played this series with LeBron and Wade both on the court, the Heat have been outscored by 56 points.

No other two-man tandem on the Heat has been outscored by more points in this series than the James-Wade combo.

To be fair, Wade has had similar success without LeBron James. Wade has shot 63 percent from the floor without James in the NBA Finals, compared to 44 percent with James on the floor.

In Wade’s breakout Game 4, he was 5-of-7 shooting with 10 points in seven minutes with James off the court, and 9-of-18 shooting with 22 points in 33 minutes with James on the court.

Another key difference for LeBron without Wade is how the Heat have performed off his drives.

In the second quarter of Game 6, LeBron drove to the basket and Danny Green, who was playing off Wade at the three-point line, was able to stop LeBron and block his shot near the basket.

Then late in the fourth quarter with Wade on the bench and three shooters plus Chris Bosh on the floor, James was isolated on Boris Diaw and blew by him on a driving layup to the basket with no help from the other Spurs’ defenders.

During the regular season the Heat outscored its opponents by 14 points per 48 minutes with both Wade and James on the court together, but that chemistry doesn’t seem to be working against the Spurs.

Will Erik Spoelstra make yet another coaching move in this back-and-forth NBA Finals to keep Wade and James on the court at different times in Game 7?

What's wrong with LeBron in Finals

June, 13, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Info

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron James is averaging 16.7 PPG on 39 percent shooting against the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

LeBron James has scored just 50 points for the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, his fewest over a three-game span (regular or postseason) since the 2011 Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

After shooting 62.7 percent against the Milwaukee Bucks, James’ highest shooting percentage in any career playoff series, he’s shooting 38.9 percent in the NBA Finals, his lowest shooting percentage in any postseason series with the Heat.

If it holds, James’ field goal percentage would be the third lowest of all time in the NBA Finals by a player who won the regular-season MVP, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

How is this happening?

Getting farther from the basket
One factor is shot distance, as James has moved farther away from the basket throughout the playoffs.

His average shot distance has increased in each series, beginning with an average distance of 8.5 feet in the first round versus the Bucks to 13.3 feet in the Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs.

Midrange struggles
James continues to struggle with his midrange jump shooting (outside the paint and inside the 3-point line) in his NBA Finals career. He’s shooting 23 percent from that area, including going just 4-for-17 (23.5 percent) in this season’s Finals.

The Spurs have had success keeping him out of the paint. James has attempted 17 midrange shots through three games after attempting 22 such shots in the 2012 NBA Finals.

No freebies
In Game 3, James failed to attempt a free throw for the first time in his Heat playoff career. In fact, he has shot just six free throws in three games this series.

To compare, James averaged 7.7 free throw attempts per game in the Eastern Conference finals versus the Pacers. Even that was down from the 8.5 per game he averaged in the first two rounds this postseason and the 10.3 he averaged in his playoff career entering the 2013 postseason.

The significant reduction in looks from the charity stripe could explain why James’ scoring average has dropped to 16.7 PPG in the Finals. That would be the lowest of any individual playoff round in his career if it holds up.

Rest or rust for the Spurs?

June, 4, 2013
By Zach Jones, ESPN Stats & Info

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Spurs’ success has provided the team lots of rest between series in the past. But is that the best way to go into an NBA Finals series?
On Thursday, the 2013 NBA Finals begin with the San Antonio Spurs taking on the Miami Heat. After wrapping up the Western Conference finals with a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Spurs will have had nine days of rest. The Heat will have had just two.

This poses the question: Does rest really matter?

This will be the seventh NBA Finals matchup between a team that swept its previous round against a team that had a seven-game series since 1958. (That’s when the round immediately preceding the NBA Finals went best-of-seven). The teams that swept are 4-2 in those NBA Finals.
The seven-day rest difference is tied for the largest for NBA Finalists under the current playoff format (since 1984).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, teams with fewer days off than their opponents have a playoff series record of 69-101 (.406 win percentage).

San Antonio’s nine days off is tied for the second-longest layoff since the NBA went to the current playoff system. Teams are 3-2 in any Game 1 following a layoff of at least nine days. Between a conference final series and the NBA Finals, that mark is 2-2.

Spurs are often rested

In three of the previous four years that the Spurs won the title, they had at least seven days off before the Finals.

• The Spurs won their first NBA title in 1999 after having nine days off. That year, the Spurs reached their first Finals after dispatching the Trail Blazers in four straight games. They showed no rust holding the New York Knicks to just 79.8 points per game and won the series in five games.

• The Spurs entered the 2005 Finals after a seven-day layoff to face a Detroit Pistons team that just played a seven-game series. The Spurs took advantage of their rest by handily winning Games 1 and 2. The Pistons did bounce back, eventually forcing Game 7, which the Spurs won.

• In 2007, the Spurs had another seven days off before facing the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. After playing a tough, six-game series against Detroit, LeBron and the Cavs were no match for the well-rested veteran Spurs, losing in four straight.

Is there a difference between other sports?

Since the current playoff format began in the 1983-84 season, NBA teams have a 20-10 playoff series record after having at least seven days off between series. According to Elias Sports, NHL teams are 26-26 in such cases since the 1983-84 season. Major League Baseball has never had that much time off between series.

Did you know?

Since the NBA adopted its current playoff format in 1984, there has been just one team to win the NBA title after having just one day of rest after winning the conference title. The 1990 Pistons defeated the Bulls in Game 7 on June 3 and began the NBA Finals against Portland on June 5. They went on to win the series in five games.

What's on the line Wednesday night

April, 17, 2013
By Gregg Found, ESPN Stats & Info

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
The Lakers have a chance to move as high as the 7 seed, or miss the playoffs completely.

Wednesday is the final day of the NBA regular season, and there’s no shortage of reasons to tune in. There are still playoff spots to be clinched, seeds to be determined and individual honors to be claimed.

Wild West Playoff Picture
Here’s how much we know for sure in the Western Conference entering Wednesday. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the 1 seed, and the San Antonio Spurs are No. 2. That’s it.

The Denver Nuggets have the inside track for the 3 seed. They’ll lock it down with a home win over the Phoenix Suns, or if the Los Angeles Clippers lose what could be the Kings’ final game in Sacramento. If Denver loses and the Clippers win, the Clippers take the third slot.

The worst the Nuggets or Clippers could do is the 4 seed and a First Round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, but who hosts the first game of that series is still to be decided.

If Memphis, currently with the same record as the Clippers, ends with a better record, it will have home-court advantage of the series, despite being seeded lower.

From six on down, it gets even more convoluted. If the Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 ET, ESPN) and the Golden State Warriors lose to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets knock the Warriors out of the 6 seed.

The Warriors can’t fall any lower than seventh, but Houston could potentially fall as low as eighth. If the Lakers beat the Rockets, the Lakers take the 7 seed, knocking Houston to eighth.

If the Lakers lose to the Rockets, it opens the window for the Utah Jazz to get the final playoff spot with a win over the Grizzlies (8 ET, ESPN).

East is Much Simpler
If the Western Conference scenarios were too confusing, you might like the Eastern Conference much better.

Six of the eight playoff seeds are already locked in. The Chicago Bulls hold the 5 seed, and will hold onto it with either a home win over the Washington Wizards, or an Atlanta Hawks road loss to the New York Knicks.

Of course, with the 5 seed comes a potential Conference Semifinals matchup with the Miami Heat.

Individual Honors on the Line
The biggest head-to-head battle Wednesday night seemed to be Kevin Durant chasing Carmelo Anthony for the scoring title, but news that Durant will not play means that Anthony becomes the second Knicks player to win a scoring title, joining Bernard King.

Stephen Curry
But there is still history to be made. Golden State’s Stephen Curry enters Wednesday one 3-pointer behind Ray Allen’s NBA record of 269 in a single season, set in 2005-06.

Curry is averaging 3.5 3-pointers this season, meaning the odds are in his favor to break the record.

With Durant not playing, it also means Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard will likely lead the NBA in total minutes. He’d be just the third rookie in NBA history to lead the league in minutes played. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain (in 1959-60) and Elvin Hayes (1968-69).

Rodeo time for the Spurs

February, 6, 2013
By Gregg Found
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The Big 3 for the Spurs will be well-traveled the next few weeks.
Break out the cowboys hats and the...spurs…it’s the start of the San Antonio Spurs annual Rodeo Road Trip. And this one starts with the Spurs owning the best record in the NBA.

They won’t be back home for a game until February 27 -- meaning they’ll have 25 days in between home games.

A look at the NBA’s best team as they start their trip:

About those Spurs
The Spurs …

•  Are riding a 10-game win streak, their longest of the season.

• Are riding a 18-game home win streak, which they won’t get a chance to extend until February 27.

• Have the NBA’s best record by a 1 1/2-game margin over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

• Have the NBA’s best home record (22-2).

• Have the NBA’s best road record (16-9).

• Have a 20-1 record against sub-.500 teams (best in NBA); the only loss came at the New Orleans Hornets

• Are 29-1 when ahead at halftime this season (best in NBA).

Breaking down the road trip
The rodeo road trip features …

• Four games against teams with .500 or winning records and five games with sub-.500 teams.

• Four games against teams that would currently be in the postseason.

• Five teams in the Western Conference, four teams in the Eastern Conference.

• A visit through seven states (Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Illinois, Ohio, California, Arizona – not counting to/from Texas).

But the Spurs don’t mind
The Spurs have never had a losing record during a Rodeo Road Trip (which began in 2003).

They are 58-24 in those 82 games, a .707 winning percentage.

What does a .707 win percentage equate to? It would have been good enough for the third-best overall record in the West last season and second-best the season before.

Surviving Duncan’s Absence
The Spurs got a scare when Tim Duncan left Saturday’s game after getting his legs rolled up on.

As of now the injury has been called both a sprained right ankle and sprained left knee by the Spurs.

Duncan is enjoying a great season – he’ll make his 14th All-Star appearance (injury notwithstanding) after missing out last year. His PER of 24.8, if maintained, would be his highest in a season since the Spurs title-winning team of 2006-07.

But the Spurs have been fine in the few games he’s missed so far this season. They’re 5-1 in games without Duncan and 10-4 without him over the last two seasons.

If Duncan is out for a while, it will be a rarity for the reliable forward. He hasn’t missed 10 games or more since the 2004-05 season.

Thunder boom in second half to win West

June, 7, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Info

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesKevin Durant led the Thunder's big second-half comeback to beat the Spurs and reach the NBA Finals.
For one half Wednesday night, Tony Parker was well on his way to carrying the San Antonio Spurs to victory and forcing Game 7.

Then Kevin Durant woke up… and Parker’s hot hand went ice cold.

Trailing by 15 points at the half, the Oklahoma City Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 in the second half to oust the West’s top seed and advance to their first NBA Finals since 1996, when the franchise was in Seattle. It was San Antonio’s largest blown playoff halftime lead ever.

The Thunder become the first Western Conference champion outside of the Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks since 1998. Coincidentally, Oklahoma City defeated all three during its current playoff run.

Durant, who played all 48 minutes, scored 20 points after halftime to key the Thunder’s huge comeback. He finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs, and knocked down 12-of-15 free throws. Russell Westbrook played a solid supporting role with 25 points and eight boards.

Durant joins Xavier McDaniel and Gary Payton as the only members of the Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.

While the Thunder’s 3-point shooting was a major spark – they knocked down 10-of-18 from beyond the arc – they balanced it by scoring efficiently inside. Oklahoma City was 15-of-25 from inside 5 feet in Game 6, including a blistering 10-of-14 from that distance in the second half.

The Spurs watched their season end on a season-high four-game skid after running off 20 straight wins. After a dominant first half in which they scored 63 points on 54.5 percent from the field, they hit more iron than net in the second half, converting just 32.5 percent of their field goals.

A key was the Thunder limiting the Spurs’ pick-and-roll offense, allowing 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting on such plays (3-of-10, 6 points in 2nd half). The Spurs scored over 20 points on pick-and-rolls just once (Game 5) in the last four games of the series after scoring 30 in each of the first two games.

No player exemplified that more than Parker. The point guard had a first half for the ages, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter and reaching halftime with 21 points (8-14 FG) and 10 assists. He became the first player since at least 1996 to have at least 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff half.

Tony Parker
But Parker could not find his stroke in the second half, going just 4-of-13 from the field for eight points and two assists.

The Thunder become only the third team in NBA history to win four straight games in the conference finals after trailing 2-0 and now will wait to see if they will face the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. With home-court advantage in that series, Oklahoma City has a prime opportunity to win its first title since 1979.

Spurs, Parker look to roll at home in Game 5

June, 4, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Info
Matthew Emmonsj/US PresswireTony Parker needs to get back on track if the Spurs are going to win Game 5.
The Western Conference Finals head back to San Antonio for Game 5 tonight at 9 ET with the series knotted at two games apiece.

Spurs Keys to the Game
The San Antonio Spurs are looking to bounce back after suffering back-to-back losses following their near-record 20-game win streak. Both of those losses came on the road, however, and a return to the AT&T Center should provide a spark to the Spurs.

The Spurs are 6-0 at home this postseason, and the big difference has come on the offensive end. They are averaging 15 more points per game at home than on the road, and have thrived around the basket at home, where they are outscoring their opponents by 17 points per game in the paint.

Tony Parker needs to get back on track if the Spurs are going to take Game 5. He really struggled in Games 3 and 4, averaging just 14 points per game on 41 percent shooting.

He wasn’t as efficient running the pick-and-roll, making just 2-of-7 shots on those plays in the last two games, compared to 9-of-15 in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 the Spurs failed to produce on the interior, scoring a postseason-low 22 points inside five feet in the loss, nearly half has many points as they averaged in that area in the first two games.

In Game 4, San Antonio couldn't contain the Thunder's perimeter shooting. The Thunder were 19-of-37 (52 percent) from 15 feet and beyond on Saturday, after the Spurs had held them to 42 percent shooting from that distance in the first three games.

Thunder Keys to the Game
It may seem that the Oklahoma City Thunder have seized the momentum by winning Games 3 and 4 on their homecourt, but history suggests that is not necessarily true.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, entering these conference finals, 66 teams did what the Thunder did, winning Games 3 and 4 of a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games. In only 13 of those 66 instances did the team that evened the series with two wins go on to win the series.

In winning the last two games, the Thunder received huge contributions from their “non-Big 3” – Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. That trio nearly tripled their scoring output in Games 3 and 4 compared to Games 1 and 2.

Thabo Sefolosha has been the key defensive player for the Thunder in their two victories over the Spurs. Over the last two games, the Spurs are averaging almost 20 fewer points per 48 minutes when Sefolosha is on the court compared to when he is on the bench.

He has been effective limiting the Spurs guards on pick-and-rolls and when coming off screens. As the on-ball defender in those situations in Games 3 and 4, he allowed just four points (2-of-7 shooting) and forced five turnovers on 12 combined plays.

Stat of the Game
The Spurs have won each of the last five best-of-seven series they have played in which the series was tied 2-2 after four games. That is the second-longest current streak of its kind in the NBA behind the Los Angeles Lakers, who have won eight in a row, according to Elias.

Thunder paint Spurs into corner in Game 3

June, 1, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe Thunder excelled with Russell Westbrook (L) on the floor in Thursday's Game 3 win over the Spurs.
The San Antonio Spurs may have been due for a loss, but not this kind of loss.

The winners of 20 straight contests, San Antonio lost in grand fashion Thursday night to the Oklahoma City Thunder, falling 102-82. It was just the Spurs' third loss this season by 20 points or more, and it was their lowest offensive output in the playoffs.

The Thunder, who now trail 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals, dominated in virtually every way in Game 3, but their advantage in the paint proved to be the difference. Oklahoma City outscored the conference’s top seed 44-24 in the lane. Nearly half of the Thunder’s shots came in the painted area, and they made 52.4 percent of those attempts.

Inside of 5 feet, the Thunder not only excelled offensively but also locked down the opponent. They scored 38 points (19-33 FG) from that distance Thursday night, holding the Spurs to a playoff-low 22 points on 11-of-20 from the field.

Pressure defense was also a key for the Thunder. They had 14 steals, including six by G Thabo Sefolosha, and San Antonio finished with 21 turnovers. That is the most turnovers by the Spurs in a playoff game since 2007, when they committed 23 against the Jazz in a win.

Those turnovers allowed Oklahoma City to get out and run. The West’s second seed outscored the Spurs 23-9 in transition, converting 10 of their 14 field goal attempts. San Antonio managed only two buckets in transition.

In the half court, the Thunder were able to take away one of the Spurs’ main weapons: the pick-and-roll. San Antonio scored 30 points off pick-and-roll plays in each of the first two games of the series, but the team was held to only 12 points on such plays in Game 3.

Tim Duncan finished with 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. He did set a milestone by passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most blocks in playoff history (478), but it comes with a caveat: Blocks were not an official stat until 1973-74, Abdul-Jabbar’s fifth NBA season.

The Thunder were able to triumph despite star G Russell Westbrook scoring just 10 points. Westbrook contributed nine assists and four steals, though, and Oklahoma City outscored the Spurs by 29 points when he was on the court. Westbrook averaged 22.0 points in losses in Games 1 and 2.

While Kevin Durant poured in 22, it was a pair of unlikely players that provided the punch for Oklahoma City. Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka combined for 33 points in Game 3; they had just 22 points total in the first two games of the series.

If the Thunder continue to control the interior and transition game, they could give the Spurs fits. Tonight’s effort proved that the Thunder are very much alive in this series.

Chris Paul still not himself against Spurs

May, 19, 2012
Verrier By Justin Verrier

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
The Spurs clamped down on Chris Paul again, limiting him to 5-for-17 shooting in another Clippers loss.

LOS ANGELES -- The dais here in the bowels of Staples Center has lately served more as a stage for a budding stand-up routine than a postgame news conference.

In each of the Clippers’ two home wins in their first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul dolled themselves up, sometimes in suits with more pieces than a Lego pack, and with Paul’s adorable son on his dad’s lap, they would begin rolling out yucks like they were auditioning for a buddy comedy.

But the vibe for Saturday’s postgame greeting with the media was about as funny as a funeral. A banged-up Griffin, who didn’t rise from his seat afterward so much as he slowly detached himself from it, even came dressed in a black jacket.

Paul, however, was nowhere to be found this time.

Just another time that CP3 has gone MIA in the Clippers’ second-round series with the Spurs.

“I don’t know what Chris will say, but I don’t know if he’s 100 percent Chris Paul,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the Spurs took a commanding 3-0 series lead with a 96-86 victory.

Paul -- who skipped the bright lights and cameras for a good, old-fashioned media scrum in the Clippers’ locker room after another very non-#podiumgame (12 points on 5-for-17 shooting and 11 assists) in Game 3 -- swatted any concerns that the strained right hip flexor suffered over a week ago in Memphis, on top of other dings and dents he might have collected along the way, limiting his game.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Paul said. “I’m all good and well.”

But in general, he doesn’t disagree with Pop -- something’s not quite right.

“I’m just missing, I’m just missing,” he said. “It’s the toughest thing right now, but I’m fine [physically].”

While Griffin has gotten better offensively by the game, scoring 26 points on 62 percent shooting this time around after a 20-point performance in Game 2, Paul is averaging a very mortal-looking 9.3 points and 8.3 assists in 37 minutes per game. But Paul, who averaged 19.8 points and 9.1 assists a game in the regular season, isn’t one to always wow with his raw numbers. The proof that the league’s pre-eminent game manager is struggling can be found in his middling efficiency.

While he shot only 46 percent from the field in Round 1, Paul’s shooting percentage has dipped to 31 percent after a second game in the 20s. And while his showed more care of the ball after coughing it up eight times in Game 2, Paul already has totaled 16 turnovers.

Even in the fourth quarter, when he is supposed to be at his best, Paul hasn’t had much go right, as he’s shot just 2-for-8, with both makes coming in Game 3.

(Then again, there hasn’t been much to play for that late in the game these days.)

“Trying to, trying to,” Paul said when asked why he hasn’t made a Paul-like impact on the series. “But a lot of those shots in the lane and stuff like that, they're just coming up short, and missing.”

San Antonio was particularly effective limiting Paul’s impact on the pick-and-roll, the bread and butter of the point guard’s game. Paul was the ball handler on the pick-and-roll nine times in Game 3, according to data logged by Syngery Sports, and the Clippers came away with points on only three of those possessions.

The Spurs easily collapsed on Paul when he ran it early on with DeAndre Jordan, one of the team’s biggest offensive black holes among a patchwork post rotation. And while he had more success with Griffin as his partner, it often came off Paul pull-up jumpers from midrange, a shot the Spurs are likely OK with conceding.

Paul also struggled in isolation, missing all four attempts, perhaps a telling sign that the burst and quick-cutting ability that his game thrives on aren't where they should be.

“Chris is battling,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Chris is giving us everything he has. … We’re not in this position without Chris, in terms of being in the playoffs and everything he means to the team and this organization. He gives you everything he has.

“I’ll go to battle with him every day of the week.”

He’s still battling. Soon, though, there may not be much left to fight for.

“Devastating,” Paul said. “We had an opportunity to put this thing [to] 2-1. We let it get away. I’ve gotta play better. At the end of the day, I’ve got to play better. If not, we’re gonna be in trouble.”

Rust versus rest out West

May, 15, 2012
By Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Information
Coming off a pair of 1st-Round sweeps, the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are each on the front end of series against teams coming off a seven-game series.

The Thunder had eight days off prior to their 29-point demolition of the Los Angeles Lakers (one day of rest) on Monday. The Spurs, who will have had seven days off, open their series Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers (one day of rest).

Is it possible for a team to have too much time off between series? At what point does "rest" lend itself to "rust"? If recent history is any indication, "rust" is overrated.

Over the last 15 seasons, teams with at least seven days off are now a perfect 6-0 against teams with just a single day to recover. What's shocking might not be the perfect 6-0 record, but the fact that the games haven't even been close.

The average margin of victory in those six games is nearly 25 points per game. The only one of those six games to be decided by single digits was Game 1 of last year's Western Conference Finals in which the Dallas Mavericks beat the Thunder by nine after leading by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter.

Just how important is that extra day of rest for the team with the quick turnaround? Whereas teams with a week off are perfect when their opponents have just a single day to recover, they are just 5-7 when their opponents have two or more days of rest while averaging 23.5 fewer points per game.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that over the last 10 years, there were six series played between one team coming off a sweep and the other off a seven-game series. Five of those six series were won by the team coming off the sweep, with the lone exception being the Orlando Magic's elimination of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.

Clippers-Spurs Key Notes

- The team that wins Game 1 of a seven-game series goes on to win 78.2 percent of the time (337-94, including the 1st Round this year).

- This is their first-ever meeting in the postseason.

- The Spurs are 26-2 at home against the Clippers since drafting Tim Duncan. The .929 win percentage is tied for their third-best at home against any team over that span (27-0 vs Golden State Warriors; 14-0 vs Atlanta Hawks).

- To say these teams have differing levels of success in the postseason would be a drastic understatement. Despite being in the NBA for six fewer seasons, the Spurs have more NBA titles (four) than the Clippers have series wins (three). The Spurs have more than four times as many series wins (34) as the Clippers have playoff appearances (eight).

- Much of the focus will be on the matchup between Chris Paul (third in MVP voting) and Tony Parker (fifth in MVP voting). The two have faced off seven times in the postseason, with Parker winning four times. Paul has enjoyed the statistical advantage, averaging 23.7 points per game and 10.7 assists per game (19.4 PPG, 5.7 APG for Parker).

Statistical support for this story given by

Spurs up tempo to dispatch Jazz

May, 8, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information
With more than their share of 30-somethings, the San Antonio Spurs may not seem like a logical choice to have the best transition offense in the league. But after running the NBA's most effective transition attack in the regular season, the Spurs took their full-court game to another level in their sweep of the Utah Jazz in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

San Antonio scored 19.8 points per game in transition against Utah, an increase of nearly four points per game from its regular-season average. And the Spurs pinpoint shooting when on the break (62.2 percent from the floor) allowed them to average 1.30 points per play in transition, an increase from their NBA-best 1.24 transition points per play in the regular season.

But it isn't solely fast-break offense that has San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals for the 12th time in 15 seasons. The Spurs dominated the Jazz from the 3-point line as well, making 33 3-pointers to the Jazz's nine during the series. While San Antonio made 41 percent of its 3-pointers in the first round, the Jazz shot just 20 percent from 3-point territory, including an 0-13 performance Monday that was the Jazz's worst from beyond the arc in the regular season or postseason since Game 4 of the 2008 Western Conference first round vs. the Houston Rockets.

When a team performs as well as the Spurs did both on the run and from 3-point territory, it's not surprising that they often win by a substantial margin. San Antonio outscored Utah by 64 points in the first round, its second-best point differential ever in a playoff series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Spurs outscored the Denver Nuggets by 67 (664-597) in the 1983 Western Conference semifinals.

Elias also tells us that it's the Spurs' sixth postseason sweep since Tim Duncan's rookie season in 1997-98. Only the Los Angeles Lakers, with seven, have more in that span. For the Jazz, it's the second straight playoff series they've failed to win a game after being swept by the Lakers in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals. Utah's eight-game postseason losing streak is the longest in franchise history.

Outscoring opponents in the clutch

April, 17, 2012
By Henry Abbott, Trevor Ebaugh, Stats & Info
Mike Brown
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The last four years he has coached, Mike Brown's teams have led the league.

Basketball geekery has delved into crunch time in various ways.
  • First there was individual field goal percentage. That's where we learned that the players we thought owned crunch time (for instance Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups) actually miss a lot.
  • A year ago, we added something new, looking at team offenses. That's a more important measure, assuming you value wins more than highlights. Who cares who gets the bucket, so long as they're on your team? That's where we learned that most teams were about the same, with some exceptions, including Chris Paul's Hornets, which were amazing.

But all that is only part of the picture. Because as much as we love clutch buckets, clutch wins also have a ton to do with defense. If you're going to point to any team as elite in the clutch, that must be included, and now it is.

As John Hollinger has explained, a lot of what teams do in crunch time is likely random. Looking at tiny parts of games creates some wacky results without a lot of predictive value ... anyone who says they know a team will do well in crunch time is likely fibbing. All teams do both well and poorly at different times. But defense may be a bit of an exception. Teams do seem to play defense with a certain consistency late in games.

Using data from the last five years (current as of today), from games within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Trevor Ebaugh of ESPN Stats & Info. dug in and created this pretty Tableau table:

Some of what we noticed:
  • The Cavaliers of LeBron James and Mike Brown were unreal in crunch time, leading the league by a hefty margin for three straight years, with the best performances of any teams in the record. It's easy to see that LeBron James matters here -- once he left for Miami the Cavaliers’ plus/minus plummeted. The Cavs averaged plus-113 with James during those three seasons, and plus one in the two seasons since. Meanwhile, before James, the Heat weren't good in crunch time, but have since become very solid.
  • Mike Brown emerges as an interesting character in crunch time. With James in Cleveland three straight years, and now in Los Angeles after a year off, his teams led the league by this metric every year he has coached in the last half-decade. In this period, neither team has been as good with other coaches, either.
  • The Lakers have by far the best crunch time plus/minus this season (plus-79, the Pacers are second at plus-65). Pau Gasol (plus-78) has been their biggest individual star, followed closely by Andrew Bynum (plus-74). Kobe Bryant ranks third at plus-58. The Lakers achieved this number with the NBA's second-best clutch offense (behind the Magic) and the eighth-best defense.
  • Three teams have shone for five straight years: The Lakers, Celtics and Magic. The Nuggets are flirting with joining that club, too.
  • Superstars matter. Or, at least some do. LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul almost always end the season positive in this regard -- the only exceptions are Paul and Nowitzki this year, which could still change. Other big names, like Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade have had more mixed results.
  • Good teams in general do well in crunch time. The top six teams in crunch time plus/minus this season have already locked up playoff spots, for instance (Lakers, Pacers, Hawks, Magic, Spurs and Bulls). But it's hardly a perfect correlation. In fact, surely a lot of what we're seeing in this chart appears to be simple randomness. The Pacers, terrible for a long time, are suddenly leaders. The Kings are excellent crunch time defenders this season. The Hawks are a solid team that is way better than solid late in games. And plenty of good teams -- the Sixers, the Knicks -- are pretty bad with the game on the line.
  • Over the past half-decade, just two teams, the Knicks and Timberwolves, haven't had a single season in positive territory.
  • The top ten late-game offensive teams this season are the Magic, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Hawks, Pacers, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Knicks.
  • The Pacers are by far this season's best defensive team late in close games. They are followed by the Hawks, Kings (!), Spurs, Heat, Magic, Bulls, Lakers, Thunder and Clippers.
  • The Dallas Mavericks have been very good for the last five years, but also have had the biggest drop-off in crunch time performance, from a league-leading plus-117 last season to an anemic minus-16 this season.
  • The Hawks have been good in crunch time for four straight years.
  • The Spurs and Thunder have been up and down.
  • The Houston Rockets (plus-31) and Memphis Grizzlies (plus-28) are the best crunch time teams this season that have yet to lock up a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Clippers (minus-9) are the only playoff team with a negative clutch plus/minus.

Mostly, this feels like it's the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more to learn about all this, and one of the big questions on the horizon is something Bill James has wrestled with in baseball for quite some time: Is there such a thing as clutch time performers? Are there really players or teams who do better with the game on the line?

That's still not something we know. What we do know is that a lot of what we thought we knew was wrong.