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Hardwood Canvas » 2011 NBA Playoffs, Feature Stories » Spurs can’t replicate regular season 3-point success in playoffs

Spurs can’t replicate regular season 3-point success in playoffs

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The San Antonio Spurs charged through the regular season and into the 2011 NBA Playoffs armed with the league’s second-best overall record at 61-21 and the league lead in 3-point accuracy at just under 40% (39.7).

However, since postseason play began a little less than two weeks ago, the Spurs have shot just 31% from  behind the arc and have shown that through five games they can’t seem to replicate that same regular season success from 3-point territory.

Amazingly, Coach Gregg Popovich‘s brilliant experiment in switching up the veteran Spurs offensive philosophy, which meant speeding up the tempo and knocking down open threes during the regular season, appears to be backfiring somewhat in these 2011 NBA playoffs.

The Spurs were tops among the 30 NBA franchises shooting 39.7% from three during the regular season knocking down 8.4 three-pointers per game.

They also owned the league’s best three-point marksmen in power forward Matt Bonner who shot the ball from distance at a 45.7% clip on the season.

Richard Jefferson, the much-maligned Spurs’ athletic small forward, ranked fifth amongst all NBA players in 3-point accuracy shooting an extremely efficient 44% from long range on the year.

Not to be outdone by knocking down the big shot at 41.9% on the season, Gary Neal, the 26-year old Spurs’ rookie, sat confidently in 3-pt shooting percentage at number 13 on the season-ending NBA rankings.

The obvious point here being that the Spurs had a plethora of guys who throughout the regular season proved capable of hitting big three-pointers at a high clip.

And we didn’t even mention Manu Ginobili and George Hill.

Manu averaged just under two (1.9) 3-point makes per game shooting 34.9% during the regular season while Hill averaged one three-point make per game shooting 37.7%, respectively.

But that was during the regular season.

Memphis, playing the part of David in this NBA Playoffs 1-8 matchup, apparently went above and beyond scouting the 3-point happy Spurs because in five playoff games they have allowed just 31% shooting from deep on 27-of-87 from behind the arc.

To put those numbers in perspective during the regular season the Toronto Raptors proudly claimed the worst 3-point shooting percentage in the league at 31.6%.

Now granted the sample size of five games is relatively small, however being that the Spurs offense is predicated on their guys knocking down three-point shots off Ginobili and Parker’s dribble penetration the statistics simply can’t be ignored.

Even more the Grizzlies stingy defense has made life hell for Bonner and Jefferson.

These two perimeter-oriented players’ sole existence on this team has evolved into either hiding out in the corner for three or, in Bonner’s case, popping off pick-and-roll action in the Spurs’ dribble penetrating offense.

However, the Grizzlies have simply nipped that strategy in the bud as they have been wisely instructed to run Spurs’ key three-point shooters off the line at all cost – namely Bonner and Jefferson.

So far so good as coming into Friday night’s scheduled Game 6 Bonner and Jefferson have combined for just 10-of-31 threes in five games shooting just 32.3%.

Remember Matt Bonner, the “Red Rocket” as he has been so aptly nicknamed by his Spurs’ teammates, was tops amongst all players through the regular season shooting the three-ball at 45.7%, during the Spurs’ opening round series against the defensive-minded Grizz, however, he is shooting just 26.7% on 4-of-15 from long range.

Jefferson, still incredibly looking unsure and uncertain of his role in the Spurs’ offense, hasn’t been necessarily atrocious from 3-point territory connecting on 6-of-16 shots, but he definitely hasn’t increased his production in the postseason.

In fact R.J., the league’s fifth best 3-point shooter, has seen his percentage drop from 44% during the regular season, to just 37.5% against Memphis.

But its not just the “Red Rocket” and R.J. who are struggling for the Spurs, as a unit the team ranks 14th in 3-point field goal percentage during these playoffs knocking down an average of 5.4 three-point  makes out of 17.4 attempts per game.

Keep in mind the playoffs include just 16 teams, therefore San Antonio is ranked 14th among 16 playoff clubs in 3-point percentage in 2011.

For the league’s top 3-point shooting team this season their inability to connect from long range has to be frustrating as the numbers wouldn’t be so telling if the Spurs hadn’t made the 3-point shot their M.O. (Mode of Operation) this year.

The pressure appears to have gotten to this identity-transitioning veteran ballclub and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Unfortunately, they don’t have much time to figure things out.  With Memphis still leading the series 3-2, their next lackluster effort from 3-point range could be their last.

The good news, however, is that in the Spurs two victories over Memphis they’ve hit 14-of-39 threes for 35.8% shooting.

Which is a drastic improvement from their three losses in this series where they are just 13-of-48 from 3-point land for 27% shooting.

You do the math.

Okay we’ll do it for you, that’s an average of 7 made threes in the two wins and just 4.3 made threes in the three losses.

It’s no surprise that a three saved them in regulation Wednesday night.

Had it not been for Gary Neal, who is now shooting 5-of-14 from three in this series; the Spurs, who have lived very well from three all season long would have been, well,…dead.

Make sure to follow all the 2011 NBA Playoffs action here.

And please feel free to comment.  We enjoy a healthy debate.

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