Breaking Down How San Antonio Spurs Are Defending Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol

The San Antonio Spurs made relatively quick work of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of their first-round series on Sunday, but they didn’t do it in the way you would expect. The Spurs didn’t carve up the suspect Lakers defense; rather, they held L.A.’s offense in check.

A big key to this was the way San Antonio defended pick-and-rolls. 

With Kobe Bryant out and Steve Nash hobbled due to injury, the strength of the Lakers is their big men—Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.

The Spurs crafted their pick-and-roll defense strategy around those two pillars, forcing Lakers ball-handlers to take a disproportionate number of shots as compared to Howard and Gasol on the roll.

According to the video tracking service mySynergySports, the Lakers finished 26 plays with a shot, turnover or foul drawn by a pick-and-roll ball-handler or roll man. Of those 26 plays, only six were completed by the roll man, compared to 20 by the ball-handler. In those 20 plays, Lakers ball-handlers finished 3-for-17 from the field. 


The Spurs defended nearly every pick-and-roll the exact same way: The man being screened fought over the top while the big man—either Tim Duncan or Tiago Splitter—hung back near the free-throw line to cut off any potential driving lane. This created a pocket of space near the elbow, which Nash and Steve Blake more than willingly dribbled into time and time again. 

With all that seemingly open real estate, Nash and Blake repeatedly pulled up for mid-range jumpers, otherwise known as the least efficient shot in the game.

Only 22.5 percent of the Lakers’ total field-goal attempts during the regular season were of the mid-range variety, per, but that number shot all the way up to 39.7 percent in Game 1, largely due to the Spurs allowing them to take those shots out of pick-and...

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