Author: Darius Soriano

Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game Four

The Spurs need more from Manu Ginobili, but can he provide it?


There’s no easy way to say this, so let’s just get right to it: Manu Ginobili is having, for his standard, an awful NBA Finals.

The Spurs’ super-sub who’s a charter member of their vaunted “Big 3” simply doesn’t resemble the player who has, for years, struck fear into the opposition with explosive scoring outbursts and sustained overall excellence.

Beyond what our eyes are showing us, the numbers back this up. Through four games of the Finals, Ginobili is averaging 7.5 points on 34.5% shooting (18.8% on threes), 1.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.8 turnovers in 24 minutes a night. Compared to the regular season — where he played nearly the exact same minutes per game — these numbers (save for the turnovers) are all down dramatically.

Further, these individual failings negatively impact the team’s performance when Ginobili is on the floor versus when he’s off it. Per’s stats tool, the Spurs are scoring 108.6 points per 100 possessions while holding the Heat to 89.7 while Ginobili is on the bench. But when he comes into the game, the Spurs offense suffers, dipping to 101.2 points per 100 possessions while their defense falls off a cliff to the tune of allowing 123.9 points per 100 possessions.

Some of these numbers are obviously related to who Ginobili is coming in for when subbed into the game. When Manu gets his number called, it’s almost always for either Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard, two of the Spurs’ better defensive players and, in the case of Green, one of their best offensive players this series. Any Spur replacing either of these players will see a dip in the team’s effectiveness simply because they’re removing one of the Spurs’ best performers.

However, while we can attempt to explain away why the team is performing so poorly when Ginobili enters the game, it doesn’t erase his individual struggles. Ginobili can’t buy an outside shot but is also having trouble converting at the rim, making only 5 of his 11 shots in the restricted area. And while he’s done a good job of avoiding the types of long two point shots that could drag down his efficiency even further, if he can’t knock down the three point shot and can’t finish in the paint, that’s a real problem.

Where Ginobili has been good is in creating shots for others and in generally running the offense when Tony Parker is on the bench. Manu still has the instincts and flair of a matador when handling the ball in the pick and roll and has done well to dodge the blitzing Heat defense while picking out shooters on the wings and his roll man diving to the cup with equal effectiveness.

But Ginobili needs to be more than a great passer to make an impact on the game; he needs to find a way to score some points. After game 4, Tim Duncan said that the Spurs needed Ginobili to be “more selfish” in looking for his own offense and while that may lead to more misses, if it also allows him to establish a good rhythm the Spurs will likely live with those results.

Ginobili is a proud player and has been a warrior over the course of his career. He’s made his name not just through his stellar play, but by raising his game in the biggest moments, even carrying the Spurs for long stretches and winning games almost single handedly. You never want to count out a player like that — just look at Dwayne Wade to see that can turn out — but right now the doubt he can significantly raise his game is real.

The fact is, however, is that the Spurs will probably need at least one vintage Manu performance over the course of this series if they’re to claim the championship. The problem is that he’s done little to inspire confidence that he can reach that level.

Danny Granger understands trade is possible, but seems to want to stay with the Pacers

Danny Granger

Danny Granger finds himself in an interesting position with the Indiana Pacers.

After being the team’s best player and franchise cornerstone for nearly his entire career, he missed most of this season with chronic knee pain that forced him to have surgery. With him on the bench for the entire playoffs and all but five regular season games, the Pacers took another step forward as a team by advancing to the Conference Finals, ultimately falling in 7 grueling games to the Miami Heat.

As Granger sat on the bench, he saw younger teammates — Paul George and Roy Hibbert specifically — step up and take up the mantle as the new franchise cornerstone players. And now, he enters into the final year of his max contract with no clear defined role and an uncertain status.

In a sit-down with David Aldridge that appears in Aldridge’s must read Morning Tip column, Granger seems to understand that his days in Indiana may be numbered:

I’ve been here my whole career. I look at things objectively, and it’s very rare for a player to stay with a team his whole career. It just don’t happen. So when the trade talks come, you can say, okay, it’s my time to go. I love the organization and I had a great time here [but] we understand it’s a business. You get older and you move on. That’s just the way it is. There’s no hard feelings about it; you don’t get your feelings hurt. I take it as a business arrangement, basically.

It is clear that Granger can see the writing on the wall. After all, as much of a history he has with the Pacers, they have a team to continue to build and trading him in order to find more, better fitting pieces is a real possibility. In this era of a new CBA, Granger’s expiring deal may net the team more than one useful player who could step in and provide the Pacers some much needed depth on the wing and/or in the front court.

All that said, Granger also seems to understand that there’s a new pecking order and expresses some level of comfort that he would need to take a step back in order to fit into the team that went so far without him:

I’m not 25 anymore. Going to get 22, 23 points a game, it’s tough, it’s hard, when you have teams gunning for you. I’m 30 now. I’ll gladly defer to the younger teammates and put more of the burden on them than on myself. I can still carry a heavy load, but not as much as I did in the past. And I don’t want to. It’s not even a question.

What the Pacers decide to do is still unknown. But if Granger really is willing to take a back seat to George, maybe even accepting a bench role, the Pacers could be an even more dangerous team than they were this season. Granger is no longer the 20 point per game scorer he was pre-injury, but he is a viable perimeter threat who can do damage as a shooter and slasher when playing off of George and Hibbert.

On the other hand, the Pacers still could try to maximize Granger’s trade value and try to get more parts who could help the team take that next step. How much value Granger has after his injury limited him to so few games remains to be seen, but the Pacers could be willing to simply cut bait and continue to add to the roster who was so close to the Finals.

Either way, Granger seems to be good with the outcome.

Pacers’ starters are controlling the conference finals

Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West

The Miami Heat have the best player in the world in LeBron James and two other top flight players in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh anchoring what is rightfully considered one of the best starting lineups in the NBA.

And they’re getting their hats handed to them by the Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup.

The group of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert has run roughshod over the vaunted Heat and is the main reason this series is tied (and why it should probably be 3-1 in the Pacers’ favor).

In the 4 conference finals games to this point, the Pacers’ starting five has posted an offensive efficiency of 120.0 and a defensive efficiency of 105.1. To put those numbers in perspective, during the regular season the Heat posted a league best offensive efficiency of 110.3 while boasting a stingy defensive efficiency of 100.5.

The Pacers’ starters, then, have turned those numbers on their head by holding the heat to 5 fewer points per 100 possessions while scoring nearly 20 points more per 100 possessions than the Heat allowed during the regular season.

These numbers are meaningful not just because they show the discrepancy in production between the Pacers’ starters and the counterpart lineups they’re facing, but because of how often they’re on the floor. Over the first four games of this series, the Pacers starters have shared the floor for 107 minutes, or an average of a 26.9 minutes per game.

Maximizing the time his starters share the floor is nothing new for Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel. Two seasons ago Vogel deployed his starters for 253 minutes longer than the 2nd most used lineup in the league. This season the Pacers’ starters trailed only the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starters as the lineup with the most minutes shared, boasting an incredible 1218 minutes together as a unit.

Moving forward, there aren’t many ways for the Heat to change this. Save for a possession here or there, Vogel has insisted on not adjusting his lineups to match up with the Heat’s smaller personnel groupings. He’s gone as far as having David West guard Shane Battier or Ray Allen over stretches of games in order to keep his unit intact. So unless one of Indiana’s starters gets into foul trouble, I don’t see Vogel voluntarily surrendering the advantage his starters have proven to have so far this series.

Of all the problems the Heat are having with the Pacers so far – and there are several – solving this one may be the hardest. Vogel seems to understand that his starters, as a unit and over the course of a game, will out produce most any other lineup the Heat can put on the floor and he seems intent on riding this advantage as hard as he can.

Maybe the Heat has an answer with their star studded cast. Maybe this is the game where all five players click and prove they really are the top unit. If they don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised, though.

This is nothing new for the Pacers. They’ve been doing it all year.

*Statistical support provided by

Amar’e Stoudemire still thinks Knicks’ front court trio can work

Mike Woodson, Amare Stoudemire

Amar’e Stoudemire just dealt with one of the more frustrating seasons of his career. A variety of injuries limited him to only 29 appearances and 23.5 minutes per game when he was healthy enough to suit up. And while he made a return to the Knicks’ lineup in the 2nd round against the Pacers, he saw limited action and was benched in the 2nd half of games 5 and 6.

The question for Stoudemire now, then, is where he fits in a crowded Knicks’ front court that has big money and long term commitments to not only himself, but to both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler as well. This past season showed that Carmelo is best suited to palying power forward and that Chandler, while struggling in the playoffs, is still one of the game’s best defensive centers. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the player who was once the face of the Knicks’ franchise.

However, if you listen to him tell it, all he and his front court partners need is more time and that they can make it work:

“We never gave it a chance,” Stoudemire said after Indiana’s 106-99 victory eliminated the Knicks from the postseason. “So I think just the opportunity of allowing them to understand exactly what my style of play is and what I bring to the table is something that I think I’m going to have to sit down with Coach Woody and express to him.”

If Amar’e is talking about this season, he has a point. The Knicks trio of him, Anthony, and Chandler only shared the court for 222 minutes and were a +36 in their time together. They boasted an elite offense (115.5 points per 100 possessions) in those minutes and were able to show enough diversity to keep defenses off balance.

Of course, that’s not the entire story. What those minutes also showed is that the Knicks were horrid defensively when all three shared the floor, posting a defensive efficiency of 107.6 in that span. With Anthony back on the wing guarding small forwards and Amar’e — who’s never been known for his defense — asked to defend the pick and roll or serve as a secondary rim protector, the Knicks’ defense floundered. Not even Chandler’s presence in the middle could make up for it.

If you go back to the 2011-12 season, the numbers weren’t as bad defensively, but the team struggled to produce on offense consistently, scoring a meager 98.5 points per 100 possessions when all three were on the floor together. Some of that was related to the dysfunction that was the Knicks’ season and the change in head coaches, but mostly what we saw was an overlap in role between Stoudemire and Chandler along with Anthony struggling to find space to attack in isolation from his pet spots on the floor.

Moving forward it’s unclear what the Knicks will try to do with this trio, but it’s doubtful that this group will ever fully sort out their issues. Carmelo has shown that his best position on the floor is power forward while Chandler has proven that he can be the anchor of an elite defense from the pivot. That leaves Amar’e as the odd man out and the player who will have to sacrifice his game the most in order to be part of this particular Knicks’ outfit.

That likely won’t sit well with him as he laments not being on the floor even though he acknowledges it is “the coaches decision.” But in reality, there’s really nothing to he can do but accept a role where he’s no longer a feature player — or at least not a starting one. He can still have value as a back up who can terrorize 2nd units with his ability to score. As he continues to improve his post game, he offers the team versatility in their attack and can be an anchor for the offense.

He just shouldn’t expect to provide these skills or serve in that role when paired with Anthony and Chandler. Because even though he says they never gave it a chance, the results tell us there’s really not a reason to.

Spurs ramp up defense to beat Warriors, advance to Western Conference Finals

Kawhi Leonard

The Warriors had a great run, but their magic ran out. In a hard fought, defense driven effort the Spurs defeated the Warriors 94-82 to advance to their 2nd consecutive Western Conference Finals.

Golden State battled all night, trying to stave off elimination but simply didn’t have enough.

Stephen Curry scored 22 points, but never found the range on his jumper while going 10-25 from the floor. Jarrett Jack tried his best to keep the Warriors in it by hitting half his 12 shots to score 15 points, but with off shooting nights from Klay Thompson (4-12, 10 points) and an awful fall that kept Harrison Barnes from finishing the game (while limiting him to 4-10 from the field), even the home crowd trying to will them to a win wasn’t enough to get them over the top.

Credit the Spurs for the Warriors’ inefficient output. As they’ve done over the past several games, San Antonio clamped down defensively and kept Golden State from ever finding a rhythm offensively. The Spurs hedged high in the pick and roll and funneled shooters into mid-range shots and flips at the rim, contesting nearly every look along the way. And while some of those attempts found the bottom of the net, those aren’t the types of shots the Warriors want to take nor are they the kind that can sustain a high powered attack to match what the Spurs were able to produce.

So the Warriors struggled all night to keep pace, falling behind by double digits multiple times throughout the contest. If not for some timely shot making, some inspired defense of their own, and a crowd that would not let them surrender, this game could have gotten out of hand.

So credit the Warriors too. They displayed a lot of heart and showed off the type of young talent that should keep them competitive for years to come. The future looks bright in the Bay Area.

But now is the Spurs’ time. The veteran group showed a combination of physical and mental toughness, displaying a discipline and adherence to their game plan that kept them a step ahead all night.

Tim Duncan was huge early, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the first half. With Tony Parker struggling to get into a flow, Duncan provided the ballast his team needed as both a scorer and a drawer of attention that opened up opportunities for others.

Kawhi Leonard was also big all night, hitting timely shots and while erasing Klay Thompson defensively. Nearly every single one of Leonard’s 16 points seemed to come on a big basket, as he hit jumpers to nip a potential Warrior run in the bud or converted a shot inside to bolster the Spurs lead.

And while Parker and Manu Ginobili struggled all night to score for themselves — they combined to shoot 4-22 from the floor for 18 points — they more than made up for it by creating good shots for others, tallying 19 assists between them. Both were so good in maintaining their aggressiveness off the dribble, threatening the defense and then picking out teammates for makable shots.

Of all the Spurs that deserve credit, though, head coach Gregg Popovich should receive a fair amount. As the series has advanced he’s made the right moves over and over again, putting his players in position to succeed. Down the stretch of this game he went small to spread the Warriors out, sitting Tim Duncan in the process. Pop relied on Tiago Splitter to man the middle and the big man delivered, playing strong defense on one end and occupying defenders as the dive man in the pick and roll on the other. Splitter’s activity was crucial in creating space on offense and taking it away on defense, allowing the Spurs to hold on down the stretch.

This truly was a fantastic series and, in a way, fans should feel a bit cheated that they didn’t get a game 7 to decide who should advance. But it wasn’t meant to be. The Warriors showed they had the heart, but they were just a bit too banged up and lacked that extra kick to break through.

Meanwhile the Spurs showed that they have that right mix of youth and veterans, talent, and coaching to get it done. Again.