Early Returns: Who Shot Where in a trio of Game 1s


Apr 19, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) dunks the ball against San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Three first round playoff series resume on Wednesday. Each Game 2 is full of intrigue for entirely different reasons (but largely revolving around injuries). Can the Blazers put up points against a tough Grizzlies defense? Can the Spurs shoot better than 36.6%?!?!? (as well as exploit the Clippers’ market inefficiencies (bench, free throws)) and even the series? In the East, can the Hawks injured frontline hold up against a resurgent Brook Lopez?

Each of these questions lends itself to a deeper analysis. Yes, an analysis of one game’s worth of data can go deeper. Specifically we can examine the Hunting Grounds for some of the key players from each series. Hunting Grounds let us examine clusters of successful shot activity. In this case, we can compare this one game to the entire season’s activity. The similarities and differences can serve as cues for the larger forces at play in each series. So obviously proceed with caution (it’s only one game, after all), but still proceed.

Hawks vs. Nets

Obviously, the Hawks won the first game, but it was a less than stellar performance. The Nets kept it close for most of the time. However, Kyle Korver was one of the bright spots, shooting largely consistent with his regular season activity. Spatially there are no surprises here – Korver shot from three of his prolific 3pt areas, and At The Rim. It’s worth noting that Korver averaged six 3PA per game in the regular season (hitting near half of them!), and took 11 in Game 1 (hitting 5!). Teams have spent all season unsuccessfully trying to guard Korver; Brooklyn didn’t crack that code in Game 1.

In the inaugural episode of The Long Two podcast, I argued that Brook Lopez could average 25 points per game in this series. Atlanta doesn’t have a great defensive solution for a player like him, and their best solutions (Horford, Millsap) are a bit banged up. Regardless, Lopez has done his best this season in and around the paint, but away from the rim. Lopez has thrived in this no man’s land in the regular season – so naturally he only took seven shots (making six of them!) on Sunday. Feeding Lopez the ball and getting out of the way seems like a decent way to get buckets.

On the other hand, Joe Johnson not only shot poorly (6 of 17), but also a bit uncharacteristically. Johnson had no luck from behind the arc, and upticks in the midrange – opposite of what he’s done all season. Most of his makes came in the paint; specifically he was most successful in that uncomfortable area Lopez normally excels in. Given that he took ten more shots than Lopez, distributing that count amongst the two of them, and pushing Joe back to the three-point line could help in Game 2.

Grizzlies vs. Blazers

LaMarcus Aldridge is either an underrated superstar on the verge of becoming the next Dirk, or an positionally-awkward player in the wrong generation. I side with the former, every time; his midrange game is a force to be reckoned with. Usually Aldridge is lethal from the elbow to the baseline and everywhere in between. This was not the case in Game 1; his Hunting Grounds were on the block and at the three-point line. This is fairly uncharacteristic behavior. It’s also “fairly uncharacteristic” for him to score 32 points on 34 shots…when the team only scores 86. Aldridge can likely nestle back into the comfort of his Hunting Grounds when the scoring load is shouldered by some of his teammates.

Meanwhile, also at the Grind House:

This series has enough midrange for the entire frst round (I digress). So far (again, just 1 game!), Randolph and Gasol are doing mostly what they want to do. Gasol had five Hunting Grounds in Game 1, and four of them overlap with his season averages. Randolph had four areas, with three of them overlapping. In each case, the “extra” Hunting Ground actually fell within the another player’s activity area. Huh? What I’m trying to say is they are both overlapping into each other’s areas, and it’s working. It’s rare to see two front-court players combine to successfully occupy so much scoring space. Randolph shot poorly in Game 1; if he shoots better the gap between these teams may continue to widen.

Clippers vs. Spurs

The good:

Blake had 26 points, posted a +23, and had just a few memorable jams (ok, three). His shooting percentage was meh, and his activity was quite the subset of his normal behavior. At the rim (of course), at the top of the key, and a little more in paint. That beloved elbow midrange he has been developing all season was not a prominent part of his game in Game 1. However, that lack of activity was quite alright because…

The great:

CP3 was brilliant. Paul went for 32 points on 13-of-20 shooting. Given the location of his Hunting Grounds, 13-for-20 is quite impressive. Most of these areas are adaptations of his usual activity, and help offset Blake’s lack of midrange. Paul also dabbled in some baseline midrange activity, which is a bit outside the norm for him.

The bad:

It’s completely unfair to place Kawhi’s chart under ‘the bad.’ Leonard was the best of the bunch – 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. The Spurs are usually a balanced attack, but in Game 1 the next closest scorer had 11. That’s not going to suffice point-for-point versus the league’s best offense. Spatially, Kawhi’s activity was a bit abnormal. Usually his shooting is a straight-line parallel to the baseline, from corner to corner and most spots in between. Both corner 3s were some of his most prolific spots all season. Nothing in Game 1. This will seemingly have to change.

The ugly: In no specific order – Injuries, Spurs FG%, Hack-A-Whatever, the Clippers rotation 6-10, and Aron Baynes defense.

Enjoy the Game 2s.

Data and photo support provided courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball-Reference.com, and data extraordinaire Darryl Blackport.