He might not have led his team in scoring, but Matt Bonner (a.k.a. the Red Mamba) certainly caused some dismay to the Memphis Grizzlies in game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Sunday evening, our favorite ginger mamba since Brian Scalabrine (White Mamba) stretched the Grizzlies’ defense and burned them.
A mamba can adapt to a wide range of habitats and the Red Mamba proved just that going up against one of the best defenses in the NBA. There are few 6-foot-10 or taller guys who can drop the 3-ball as consistently as Bonner, so it is only natural that power forwards generally find guarding stretch-fours a daunting and tedious assignment.
Bonner’s numbers were modest but efficient – 12 points on 4-7 from shooting from the field and 4-6 from beyond the arc. What makes Memphis’ defense so good is the fact that they play excellent team defense. They rotate, trap and help when needed and do so very well. However, there is a very fine line between helping your teammate when he is getting beat off the dribble, gets stuck on a screen or blows his assignment, and overhelping. That was part of the issue in game 1.
Take a look at all of Bonner’s seven shot attempts.
Let’s walk through this, possession by possession.
In the first clip, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw run a high pick and roll, and Diaw rolls hard at the basket. This forces the two Memphis defenders to help out and collapse in the paint.
Meanwhile, in the background you can see the Red Mamba doing something very unflattering. I think he is trying to set a pick in the corner, but it all turns out pretty weird. Either way, Bonner’s man helps out while Red Mamba retreats to the 3-point line. His defender eventually gets back to Bonner, but Ginobili then spots an opening in the lane and drives.
Once again, two defenders are helping out on Manu’s drive and we have a natural drive-and-kick type of a play which ends with a Bonner three.
A lot of Bonner’s open looks came in transition, as you can see in the second clip. The Spurs push the ball but eventually slow down and Gary Neal runs a high PNR with Bonner. Jerryd Bayless gets stuck on what looks like a moving screen that wasn’t called. Bonner spots up at the 3-point line, while his man once again helps out and even though there is no immediate danger, the Grizzlies double Neal, and the image below is quite self-explanatory.
In the third clip, Bonner takes his only shot that is not behind the 3-point line. Zach Randolph is on him now and closes out. Red Mamba attacks the basket and misses the hook shot.
On his next 3-point attempt, Bonner remains stationary through the whole possession and lets his teammates do their magic. Duncan and Parker run a PNR on the left wing and force a switch. For a second, Conley chases Duncan. Look at where Bonner’s man is positioned.
The whole possession, he does not even acknowledge the existence of the Red Mamba. Big mistake. Instead, he takes on the rolling Duncan, which allows Conley to return and double Parker — another mistake, as Parker easily dribbles out of the double team. This leaves Tony Allen in a little bit of a predicament:
If he commits to Bonner, the Red Mamba can simply pass the ball along the perimeter for another look. The Grizzlies defense has already been compromised at this point, but Allen should still close out on Bonner here and hope that Memphis can somehow rotate quick enough to deny an open shot. Instead, Allen completely abandons Bonner who sinks the 3-pointer. Notice where Bonner’s defender is, highlighted in red.
The following clip is another of Bonner’s misses. It’s simply a forced shot at the end of the clock. Good defense by the Grizzlies forces Parker to give up the ball and Bonner has to put it up.
Next up we have another quick shot in transition. Before the Grizzlies have a chance to set up their defense, Tiago Splitter sets a screen for Manu. Meanwhile, Bonner cuts around the pick from the interior side by faking a screen and yet again spots up at the 3-point line. Darrell Arthur once again seems to completely ignore Bonner, hoping that someone else will take care of him so he switches onto Manu. Naturally, this happens:
The last clip is my favorite. Initially, it looks like Bonner is getting a cross screen and is trying to make his way to the strong side. Just as his defender starts fighting over the screen, Bonner flashes to the 3-point line.
By the time the ball is in his hands, his defender remains discombobulated in the paint and Bonner gets another open look.
As I mentioned before, it’s not easy guarding stretch-fours. You can often disregard a big man when he is at the perimeter, but that is simply not the case with Bonner. Moving forward, Memphis will need to limit transition opportunities for the Spurs in order to avoid confusion, even if it means giving up a couple of offensive rebounds. While the Red Mamba is a lethal shooter, he is really not that big of a threat anywhere else on the floor, so when Bonner is involved in the play as a screener, the Grizzlies are probably better off switching every time in order to take away the open 3-point looks.