The Portland Trail Blazers will have to turn to unlikely heroes if they hope to upset the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the NBA playoffs, a series that starts Tuesday night. After relying on the hot shooting of LaMarcus Aldridge and the continued spectacular late-game shot-making of Damian Lillard in their six-game first-round victory over the Houston Rockets, the rest of the Blazers will have to step up, for one simple reason: In the playoffs, the Spurs are extremely adept at stopping their opponents’ top options.
Below is the scoring efficiencies of teams’ top threats during the regular season compared with their performance in their series against San Antonio in the 2013 playoffs and the 2014 first round, as measured by True Shooting Percentage:
In the playoffs against the Spurs, these players saw their True Shooting Percentages decline 8.54 percent, on average, from the regular season. This translates to around 17 points per 100 possessions, an enormous drop. For sake of comparison, the league-average True Shooting Percentage dropped from around 53.6 percent to 52.9 perecent from the regular season to the playoffs., a 0.7 percent drop. These numbers in effect mean Aldridge and Lillard will likely have a tougher time scoring at volume against the Spurs than they did against Houston in the first round.
To whom does Portland turn, then? One weapon over the season has been the post-up play of Wes Matthews. Matthews has been one of the more proficient guards in the league in terms of play from the block. However, the Spurs are well equipped to counter him: Matthews’s likely defender, Danny Green, is a big, physical guard who has defended extremely well in post-up situations over the season.
The secret weapon might just be the unlikely yet delightful combo that is the Nicolas Batum-Robin Lopez pick-and-roll. Per Synergy Sports, Lopez was the fifth-most efficient finisher in the pick-and-roll this season, and according to the latest publicly available data from Stats Inc.’s SportVU system, the Batum/Lopez combo was the eighth-most efficient screen-and-roll tandem in the league through the end of February.
Blazers Coach Terry Stotts rarely calls for this look as a primary option. In Portland’s intricate “horns” sets, Batum and Lopez are either a secondary action or arise opportunistically. From there, Batum’s ability to see over the defense to find a passing angle and Lopez’s surprising ability to catch and finish in traffic on both lobs and bounce passes takes over:
As San Antonio’s defense keys on Lillard and Aldridge, look for Portland to use Batum and Robin to try and save the day.
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