The top teams in the league bring out the best in each other. That truism was on full display during Friday night's game between the Spurs and Trailblazers, as the following plays show. Unfortunately, the home team wasn't able to come away with the victory, but we can still marvel at the amazine plays that made it a back-and-forth affair well into the 4th quarter.
Early in the game, it was obvious that Tony Parker's injured shin was holding him back, but as Boris Diaw sets a pick on Damien Lillard to free Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge has to leave Diaw and slide over to prevent the easy layup. But Tony gives the ball up to Marco Belinelli, who is chased off the three-point line and finds a wide-open Boris cutting to the basket for the bucket.
Just following the ball to watch the overall flow of this play is a blast, but it's worth a second and third look: first to see where the defensive breakdown occurs as Aldridge gets lost after helping on Parker, and second to focus on Diaw as he moves without the ball and occupies an open passing lane so that Marco can find him and make the assist.
Manu Ginobili with the ball in a triple-threat position is a dangerous proposition, so it's no wonder that C.J. McCollum is down a full crouch to keep Manu from faking and driving around him. But on this play, the lack of defensive pressure on Ginobili allows him to hold the ball and pick apart the defense with this pinpoint pass to the cutting Patty Mills.
Also pay attention to the way Mills positions the man defending him, Mo Williams, until he's right in front of Jeff Ayres before diving into the paint. As soon as Patty loses Williams, Manu wants to make the pass, and it's fun to watch his patience for just the right moment to make the assist. Finally, in another look at how the Spurs offense is always working, if the pass to Mills hadn't been there, Jeff Ayres is setting a screen for Manu to use even as Ginobili is letting go of the ball.
For me, this is one of the season's most enjoyable Cream Shakes from Diaw, even though as I was watching the game last night, I was upset that he didn't take the three because he was so open. Starting with a pump fake to make Wesley Matthews commit, after four dribbles, a spin, three pivots and two more pump fakes, Boris has an open look from inside five feet.
But really, calling the set of moves he makes in the lane pump fakes doesn't tell the whole story. Boris would have turned any of them into a shot if he'd been open. The way he stays balanced while beginning a shot, gauging Matthews, and moving through his progression -- pure basketball bliss.
We've been joking forever about how Tim Duncan would play point guard if Gregg Popovich would let him, but this is the most egregious example of that dynamic that I've ever seen. After getting the rebound, Timmy goes beyond simply bringing the ball up the court, he calls the play and ignores both Kawhi Leonard and Diaw as they cycle past him looking for a hand-off. Then, with Robin Lopez guarding him, he does his best Tony Parker impression, going between his legs and driving into the middle of the lane, and avoiding Matthews' steal attempt before turning to sling a pass to a wide-open Marco for a three-point swish.
It's worth noting that Duncan did this after Pop had been ejected from the game, which makes me wonder whether he'd have given the ball up sooner if the Extraneous G had been sitting courtside. What would the coach have thought of a driving-and-dishing Duncan drawing the defense and dealing dimes? Guess we'll never know.
Manu had a fantastic third quarter against Portland, helping the Spurs come back from a twelve point deficit to lead the game going into the fourth. We've seen him pull off a lot of crazy plays over his career in San Antonio, but this is one I don't recall ever seeing before.
At the end of this snaking drive that takes him around Duncan twice, Manu finally gets Nicolas Batum behind him and sets off toward the basket, fully intent on dropping it off to Duncan for a layup. But as he leaves his feet, Aldridge jumps to defend the pass and Manu ... well, he changes the pass to a shot at the absolutely last second and with barely a glance at the basket. It goes in, of course. That's just the kind of quarter it was for Manu.
And here's the final play of that incredible quarter. Manu frees himself from Williams with a Duncan screen, picks up his dribble on the right side of the lane, changes directions with a Euro-step that carries him to the left side of the basket and lays it up and -- after hanging on the heel for quite some time -- eventually in ... as the buzzer sounds.
Not bad for a 36-year-old.
Plays like this are such a surprise when they come in the flow of the game. As awareness tests show us (like this famous one where you count the passes made by the white team) there are just so many things our minds can concentrate on at once. And so it is that when we watch Patty Mills drive and follow the ball with our eyes as it misses, we are simply unable to track Duncan's progress as he appears out of nowhere to do this.
Not bad for a 37-year-old.
Two Bonus GIFs
Here's Tim again, thinking he's a point guard. Dribbling between his legs, surveying the court, waiting for the offense to present an opportunity. He doesn't have to wait long as Gino sets a screen for Tony, which shifts Batum's attention off of Manu. Marco's cutting, Ayres is setting another screen to free Tony. The movement, the misdirection, the timing, the pinpoint pass. Such a pretty play.
Check out this one-handed rebound by Kawhi, because you know, he's like, 65% hands.