San Antonio Spurs at Washington Wizards: Pop’s Chessboard
By Drew James
As one of the most successful coaches in the history of the NBA, Popovich is best known for pushing efficient team basketball and for his eccentric interview style. Rarely, though, do we highlight the day-to-day strategies he employs in his games. Introducing: Pop’s Chessboard, where every move by the future Hall of Fame coach can be analyzed and evaluated.
Challenging the Wizards with Their Own Magic
In the first quarter, the Wizards starters were able to get the upper hand with their high-octane offense, and Popovich responded with a three guard set of Parker, Joseph, and Ginobili.
The extra ball handler created a mismatch in the Spurs favor (Rasual Butler on Cory Joseph) and provided enough speed to keep up with Washington’s more athletic team. However, the red-hot Wizards were able to maintain the lead.
Jan 13, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; San Antonio Spurs guardDanny Green
(14) dribbles the ball as Washington Wizards guardBradley Beal
(3) defends during the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Popovich inserted Matt Bonner to space the floor for two excellent penetrators in Parker and Ginobili, in an effort to keep up with the Wizards offense that was firing on all cylinders. The obvious downside to this lineup was mostly irrelevant, because the better defensive five man-units were already serving up an all-you-can-score buffet.
The Spurs were able to slow the Wizards down and near in closer to them with this lineup on the floor.
Jan 13, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; San Antonio Spurs guardManu Ginobili
(20) prepares to pass the ball as Washington Wizards centerKevin Seraphin
(13) defends during the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sport
The next offensive strategy Pop threw in was especially entertaining to watch. It involved a heavy dose of three-point shooting that was set up by deceptive off ball cuts. One player would either penetrate or receive the ball in the post, and another would spot up behind the arc.
The speedy Wizards defense closed in too fast for their own good to try to help on the cutter, leaving an easy pass to the perimeter for the playmaker inside. As the Wizards begin to finally catch on, they were forced to leave cutting scorers an opening in the paint, and this lineup ultimately got the Spurs back into the game.
A Clingy Defense
In an effort to finally slow down the Wizards offense, the Spurs begin playing tight all the way up on their guards and wing players. Washington had made an exercise of slicing through the paint and kicking the ball out to their shooters, so Popovich had to make the decision to stick on their shooters. This was only made possible by pairing Duncan with Splitter inside to play help defense when the Wizards were able to penetrate against the aggressive defense.
Wizards Coach Randy Wittman responded to this by focusing more on pick and roll, and was able to force the Spurs back into their normal defensive identity.
Pop Calls For Poise
After the Spurs were able to get themselves back into position, Popovich kept recent games in his mind. Closing out quarters has been a problem for San Antonio all year, but they found some comfort and familiarity by running the offense through Duncan.
From the end of the first half through a good portion of the third quarter, the legendary power forward touched the ball on nearly every offensive possession.
Jan 13, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) dribbles past San Antonio Spurs forwardTim Duncan
(21) during the second half at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 101-93. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
The Gatorade Squad
With the heavy minutes John Wall had logged in the third quarter, Popovich knew that he would sit out for a good portion of the fourth quarter.
This was his best chance to let Patty Mills and Tony Parker play up top with Duncan still sitting on the bench, while also keeping his defensive lineup of the future freshened up for when it was their time to come in (hence the name: The Gatorade Squad).
However, Parker, Diaw, and Jeff Ayres played with such great chemistry that they ended up playing longer than anticipated. Eventually they fizzled out and allowed what was unfortunately the start of a timely scoring run for the Wizards.