Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Notebook: Anatomy of an Overtime

Last night's double overtime thriller against the Mavericks was a return to form for the Spurs: After two solid losses were dove-tailed by two blowout wins, I forgot that so many of our games this season have come down to the wire. From start to finish the game was exciting, but I want to take this opportunity to stop and think about the specifics of the two overtime periods. This is only our second overtime game of the season, the first of which was a double overtime victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Regulation ended after Parker missed an open 20 footer from the left side, a shot that had been dropping consistently last night. Unless he is going to the hoop, I generally disapprove of Parker taking the final shot: He has never shown me that he can consistently hit jumpers in pressure situations. I overwhelming prefer the ball in the hands of Ginobili, although in Popovich's defense (who clearly called the play for Parker) Ginobili had not been shooting well.

Ginobili would continue to struggle offensively throughout overtime, missing a wide-open three pointer and a reasonably contested but certainly make-able layup that could have ended the game after the first overtime. But it's important to note that Manu, like many of his teammates, stepped up big-time on the defensive side of the ball during overtime. He helped produce turnovers, made quick and precise rotations and for the most part played mistake free basketball on the defensive end.

Ginobili's outside shooting struggles weren't a huge issue anyways because the Spurs did an excellent job working the ball in order to find high percentage shots. Both overtime periods began with quick mid-range shots by Duncan, which not only provided a small lead but also the key psychological edge that comes with being able to score first and seemingly at will.

Duncan would be the centerpiece of our offensive efforts for the remainder of the two overtime periods. Nearly every offensive possession found Duncan with the ball in the post or running the high pick-and-roll with Ginobili or Parker. As I noted in my State of the Season post from December 3rd, our offense doesn't always react to difficulty with such reasoned efficiency:
The problem with our proclivity towards taking the outside shot isn't merely a matter of sheer volume, but a matter of timing: the number of 3-pointers we are taking when down is oppositely indicative of how composed we are. When calm and focused, Ginobili and Parker (and now Hill) will slash with confidence, putting points on the board via layups or the free throw line. Duncan will take hook shots from the block, rather than from a couple of feet out of position. When unnerved or intimidated, we hope that some hot perimeter shooting lets us off the hook.
Last night the Spurs thankfully responded to a pressure-filled situation with the former approach.

That's not to say that members of the Spurs didn't hit big outside shots down the stretch, none more notable than Bowen's three-pointer from the corner with 1:47 left in the second overtime to put the Spurs ahead 127-125. It was Bowen's first make of the night and only his second shot.

Bowen was the quiet hero of overtime. As I just mentioned, he was a tertiary figure on the offensive side of the ball, but his defense was smothering. Over the course of the double overtime, Bowen covered J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, and Dirk Nowitzki, all tough assignments in drastically different ways. In order to really capture how effective Bruce was on the defensive side of the ball, I'll turn it over to L.J. Ellis (known at SpursTalk as timvp):
Bowen led the team with a plus/minus of +21. To fully comprehend how dominant he was defensively, consider that the Spurs gave up 88.8 points per 48 minutes while Bowen was on the court and 117.7 points per 48 minutes when he was on the bench.
Although exciting, the length of last night's game may take its toll on the Spurs as we head back to San Antonio today to take on a young and very athletic Atlanta Hawks squad. The Hawks are on their last leg of the infamous Texas three-step but have yet to come up with a win against Mavericks or the Rockets (who defeated Atlanta 92-84 last night). The game starts at 8:30 Eastern/7:30 Central.

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