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San Antonio Spurs' 3-Point Assassins Are Biggest X-Factor in NBA Title Push

Jimmy SpencerNBA Lead WriterMay 19, 2013

The visiting locker room of the San Antonio Spurs is often filled with the collective what-are-we-supposed-to-do shrugs of mystified opponents.

Welcome, Memphis Grizzlies.

The Spurs' collective of diverse talent and an offensive scheme that’s harder to figure out than a silver-and-black puzzle was at it again Sunday in San Antonio’s 105-83 Game 1 blowout of Memphis.

The Spurs execute opponents—to yeah, death—through offensive sets that present multiple high-percentage options.

In Game 1, the Spurs got plenty of looks and connected on 14 of their 29 launched three-pointers. The trio of Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner and Danny Green combined for 11-of-17 three-pointers for San Antonio.

That’s just unfair. The Spurs don’t sway far from their routine. When they settle into a rhythm that includes hitting jump shots, they are nearly unbeatable. Now imagine that Memphis locker room.

“You got your guy?”

“I helped on your guy.”

“Well, I was helping on his guy.”

Annnnnnd that is how a barrage of 14 three-pointers are landed.  

The Spurs’ deep threat has become the biggest X-factor this postseason—a difference-maker that could carry them past the Grizzlies and act as an equalizer against the league favorites, the Miami Heat.

"Looking past Memphis" alert: Miami allowed 7.6 three-pointers per game in the regular season, the highest mark of any remaining postseason team. Could the Spurs’ outside shooting, buoyed by a veteran core and the game’s best coach, Gregg Popovich, be enough to overcome the Heat?

San Antonio has now averaged 7.8 of 21.0 (37.2 percent) three-pointers per game this postseason, the highest of the remaining teams.

The rest of the field:

  Memphis Pacers Heat
Three-point rate 4.6-of-14.3 (32%) 6.8-of-22.2 (31%) 7.1-of-20.9 (34%)

 

Bonner, Leonard and Green each unloaded in Game 1, as the Spurs collapsed the Grizzlies defense despite the scoring (or, lack thereof) of two-thirds of the Spurs' veteran core: Tim Duncan (six points) and Manu Ginobili (8 points). Duncan needed to play just 27 minutes, while Ginobili played 21 minutes.

But with the sharpshooters populating every region of the three-point arc, the Spurs become unmanageable, and the task of the team’s primary scoring threat, Tony Parker, becomes even more dangerous.

As opponents are forced to play deeper out on shooters and less in defensive help, Parker’s abilities to attack the basket become more potent. Parker shot 59.7 percent from within eight feet in the regular season.

On Sunday:

The Spurs shot 37.6 percent to make 8.1 three-pointers per game in the regular season, including Green, who hit 2.2-of-5.2 (42.9 percent) per game. Three other Spurs averaged more than one three-pointer per game: Leonard (1.8), Ginobili (1.4) and Gary Neal (1.3).

The Spurs' shooting breakdown:

Mid-range 42.3%
Corner 3 41.1%
Above the Break 3 41.1%

 

However, their perimeter shooting also creates issues aside from just the three-point shot in itself. If San Antonio is hitting, the interior defense of the Grizzlies is left paralyzed. The lane-clogging presence of Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol will allow the Grizzlies’ perimeter defenders to overplay shooters, but that only works if one or two Spurs shooters are hitting.

Gasol’s ability to help defensively inside will allow for Memphis to defend the corner three. But because the Spurs move the ball so well around the perimeter to multiple shooters, defenders cannot move fast enough around the arc and are simply too late on close-outs.

All Memphis was able to do Sunday was shrug its shoulders. If the Spurs' systematic offense continues to shoot with such precision, they’ll make quick work of the Grizzlies and give Miami a run in the NBA Finals.

When it's falling, the three-point shot levels everything.

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