Clash of the Titans (Part 1 of 3): Pacers vs. Spurs preview

By Dave Searle (@DaveSearle)

Tim-Duncan-San-Antonio-Spurs-Indiana-Pacers

The Indiana Pacers enter a brutal three game stretch with a very tough test against the San Antonio Spurs. What can you say about the old stalwarts at this point? This Duncan-lead Spurs franchise have proven themselves to be one of the greatest teams of all time. After four rings and a trip to the 2013 NBA Finals, here they are again in the conversation for another Finals trip.

Let’s touch on a few strengths and weaknesses of this excellent Spurs squad:

Spurs Strengths 

– In the top 10 in both Offensive and Defensive Rating (points scored/allowed per 100 possessions). No big surprise here.
– Third in the league in eFG%. The Spurs have a highly efficient offense from all spots on the court.
– Second in transition defense. More on this is in a minute.
– Third in post up defense. Duncan and Splitter are huge, and their wings have good size and cannot be bullied. Roy Hibbert might lack touches in this game.

Spurs Weaknesses

– 29th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage. Popovich is a devout screw-the-offensive-glass, stop-transition-attacks coach. There is a school of thought that this approach is unnecessary, but you can’t argue the results the Spurs get defensively on the break.
– 29th in Free Throw Attempts. Parker, Splitter, Ginobili, and Leonard all average at least one fewer FT attempt per game in this young season.
– 23rd in spot up shot defense. This is the only real crack in San Antonio’s defense, and is a sign of a collapsing defense that isn’t athletic enough to close out on open shots. The Pacers are loaded with shooters in positions 1-4. Indiana shoots spot up jumpers over 16 percent of the time (their second most frequent shot attempt), and are seventh in the league in spot up efficiency.

Tony Parker

Tony Parker made a leap from “very nice point guard” to “elite NBA force” midway though his career by developing a deadly midrange jumper. So far this season, Parker has struggled a bit with his shot at the top of the key.

2102-13

Shotchart_1386349545031

2013-14

Shotchart_1386349531823

It will be interesting to see how quickly the Pacers pick up Parker defensively. Will they hound Parker from 20 feet, or will they wait until the free throw line to pressure him?

My guess is that they let Parker try his luck from 17+ feet in the first half, and adjust as necessary out of the halftime locker room.

Kawhi Leonard

After last years Finals, Leonard was pegged as a future star. The 2013-14 season was pegged as a possible breakout year for the swingman.

So far, he is only averaging 11 points per game. His stats have been stagnant across the board in relation to his 2012-13 stats (save for an uptick in steals).

His shooting percentage inside the arc has increased, but he is getting to the line less. Most importantly, Leonard is only 6-23 from the corners so far this season. Nailing the corner three is a cornerstone of the Spur’s offense, and Leonard isn’t getting it done.

The Pacers will use Paul George on Leonard in this game. George might get away with slacking off on Kawhi, helping to pester Tony Parker as the elusive point guard tries to cause havoc in the paint.

Whataburger

The Pacers had a journey from Utah to San Antonio straight out of a Steve Martin-John Candy film. A thick fog was to blame, grounding their plane and fogging up their windshields.

A bus broke down, a Whataburger was tragically under construction, and CJ Watson got locked in a bathroom.

Ball Don’t Lie has all of the gory details. Here is a ‘Gram that Hibbert made of the Watson incident:

Red Rocket vs. Arcade Fire

Last year, Matt Bonner was the internet’s favorite player. The online community rallied around him, voting him into the All-Star Game Three Point Shootout.

This year, the internet hates Arcade Fire. Their shift towards a disco-influenced sound and their “audience dress code” has caught the ire of Twitter.

Believe it or not, these two forces collided a few years ago at a charity event. Watch as Win Butler and the Red Rocket duke it out on a basketball court for charity:

Jeff Ayers

You might not recognize the name Jeff Ayers, but you will certainly remember the goofy-looking jumper by the Spurs’ big man. Jeff Ayers is the new name of the man formerly known as Jeff Pendergraph. A fan favorite in Indiana, Ayers changed his name to honor his biological father. Pendergraph comes from his stepdad, a man that hasn’t been in Jeff’s life since high school.

His name may have changed, but we still remember his excellent game against Brooklyn last season:

Final Score

I am less optimistic about the Thunder matchup, but I think the Pacers have a few advantages to exploit here. Shooting, athleticism, three-point defense. Pacers 92, Spurs 89.

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