Friday, April 9, 2010


The Los Angeles Lakers took care of business on their home court Friday evening, closing out the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the Western Conference finals. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers averaging 29.2 points per game during the series and he shot 53.3% from the field. To me, however, the bottom line in the series was Manu Ginobili’s inability to get it going.

A combination of a sore ankle and terrific Lakers defense led to Ginobili’s struggles. Ginobili is a game-changing wing player, who relies on running, cutting and leaping to be effective. Swelling and chronic arthritis in the ankle has bothered Ginobili since late June, but he was able to work through it and play well at time. However, the Lakers defensive schemes against the Spurs guard cannot be understated. The Lakers emphasized forcing Ginobilli to the right and crowding his penetrations. They forced him to expend a great deal of energy on the defensive side of the ball by posting him up and forcing him to defend bigger players.

Coach Phil Jackson and the Lakers decided to use several different players to defend Ginobilli one-on-one in an effort to make sure he did not get too comfortable playing against one specific defender. Both Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic took turns guarding Ginobilli throughout the series. In the five game series, Vujacic played 25.5 minutes per game, up from his regular season average of 17.8 minutes per game. Vujacic was able to use his quickness and size to shadow Ginobilli all over the court. Bryant, a 2007-08 NBA All-Defensive First Team member, had similar success slowing down Ginobilli's effectiveness for the Spurs.

In the four Spurs losses, Ginobilli really struggled mightily. He was only able to get to the free throw line sixteen times in the entire series. Additionally, Ginobilli was unable to create opportunities for the Spurs by getting into passing lanes and creating steals. During the regular season, Ginobili ranked seventeenth in the NBA in steals with 1.5 per game. In the entire series, Ginobilli had one steal, which occurred in game one. Here is a look at Ginobilli’s offensive production in the Spurs four losses:

Game # FG% FT Made Assists Points +/-
1 23% 2 3 10 -22
2 25% 3 2 7 -12
4 25% 2 1 7 +4
5 33% 2 7 9 +1

Game three was the one big night for Ginobilli. He showed no trace of his lingering ankle injury and single-handedly carried the Spurs offense when the game was still in the balance. Coach Popovich changed his teams’ offensive game plan to limit screen-and-rolls in favor of spreading the floor. By keeping the floor spread, the Spurs were able to create open spaces for Ginobilli and Parker to drive into. The spread of the offense also was beneficial because it did not allow the Lakers to double-team.

Ginobilli’s numbers in game three were stunningly opposite from the rest of the series. A direct relationship with his performance occurred in relation to the Spurs success against the Lakers. In game three, Ginobilli played well and the Spurs were able to win, 103-84.

Game # FG% FT Made Assists Points +/-
3 60% 7 1 30 +17

With Kurt Thomas, Robert Horry, Michael Finley and Damon Stoudamire all entering into free agency, it is likely that the Spurs will have changes to their roster. Youth on the perimeter, a reliable backup point guard and another big body inside will be atop of the Spurs needs. However, their top priority to me will be for a healthy and effective Ginobilli all the way through the playoffs. Without that third scorer next to Parker and Tim Duncan, the Spurs do not have enough to reach the NBA Finals.

No comments: