This is the first of a series I hope to continue throughout the season. I love beautifully executed basketball. It's well thought-out, fun to watch unfold, and often results in an easy bucket. Whenever I see a play like this, I love to watch it over and over. Soaking in the subtleties. Noticing the smallest details and how they each contribute to making the play what it is -- a gorgeous display of mental acuity and physical skill blended together with preparation, teamwork and a heavy dose of Spurs awesomeness. The result often takes no longer than 5 seconds to see, but far longer to dissect and fully appreciate.
So, follow me to the other side of the jump, into a world where time may move slowly, but the hand is still quicker than the eye.
If you want to watch it in another browser, you can also see this play here. Just scroll down to the first embedded video. It begins at 1:09. Try not to be so distracted by the genius at work that you forget to meet me back here after you've viewed it a few dozen times.
At this point in the game, the Spurs are up 13 with 3:17 left in the 3rd. There are 17 seconds on the shot clock and Manu Ginobili is running point, having just brought the ball over the half court line with his defender, Sefolosha, shading him to his left. This is what the entire league has taken to doing in an attempt to keep Manu from quickly gliding to his left and driving past them. Of course, when you try to take one thing away from someone as talented as Manu, other things open up.
The Play Begins
Manu is dribbling with his right hand as he moves forward to bring to meet Antonio McDyess at the top of the 3pt line in order to initiate a pick and roll. Nenad Krstic has both of his arms around McDyess as though he's attempting a Heimlich on Antonio, who pushes his hands away as Krstic works toward Manu's right to get to the spot first and keep the pick and roll from happening.
Manu sees this and instead of continuing toward McDyess, he takes four very short, quick steps to his right, almost directly toward the sideline. Krstic sees this and jumps to his left, away from McDyess, to stop Manu from driving around him. As Nenad is in the process of jumping left, Manu changes direction back to his own left, and begins his drive to go between McDyess and Krstic via the space created by his fake and Krstic's reaction.
Splitting the D
As he starts to go between Antonio and Nenad while beginning a crossover from his right hand to his left, Krstic takes a huge swipe at the ball. Although he only succeeds in clobbering Manu's arm, this causes Manu to lose the ball momentarily and it bounces off (probably) his left foot. It's hard to see exactly what happens because of the angle of the video. Manu darts forward to retrieve the ball, and does so at the elbow to the right of the basket where he's approached by three white shirts.
The D reacts
To Manu's right is Kevin Durant, who has left Keith Bogans at the 3pt line (Bowen's old spot) and has come all the way down to the right of the paint; in the middle is Jeff Green who has left Blair and is standing just in front of the charge semi-circle; and Westbrook is to the right of the lane. He has just left George Hill and is on his way to ... I honestly couldn't tell you where he's headed. I watched him repeatedly and it's still a mystery to me what he's doing besides leaving his man open while gesturing in frustration and/or cluelessness after watching the play unfold.
So Manu dribbles into the lane with his left, now with the ball again under his control, and while he's had to slow down to do so, he's still fast approaching Green. At this point, Manu leans back, comes to a complete stop directly in front of a frozen Green, and stands almost straight up as he executes a smooth, lefty, no-look, one-handed bounce pass to DeJuan Blair, who's standing to the left of the lane. Manu's pass leads Blair into the paint and DeJuan's first step (with his left) to meet it brings him into the lane as he receives the pass.
DeJuan brings his right foot underneath him, and as he gathers himself to jump (with an unusually wide base) Green and Durant have reacted to the pass. Both turn toward DeJuan as they move to defend. Green even gets his right hand up as he jumps to contest the shot. But Blair is too quick. From a position directly even with the bucket, he leaps out diagonally away from the baseline and toward the hoop, turning slowly in his jump and using both hands to dunk right at the front of the rim, traveling past and inside Green, who moves harmlessly by. Blair finishes his dunk with his right leg parallel to the court and pulls himself up toward the rim before letting go and dropping straight down. Two points: Spurs.
So, you may ask, "What, if anything, do we learn from this exercise?" Well, to begin with, we don't have to learn anything. A sunset is beautiful and inspiring even if nothing in particular is gathered by the intellect from watching as the rotation of the earth spins the sun out of sight, and the colors of the clouds and the sky change moment by moment. But still, I find that there's a thing or two to take away from analyzing this play.
First, Manu's still quite slippery with the ball in his hands. Those in attendance have said that he doesn't seem to have his full burst back yet. But he's still quick enough to use his guile to beat all five defenders in a single play. He loses his man, drives past Krstic with a fake, and draws the other three defenders off their men before dropping a dime on his teammate closest to the basket. This is impressive even if he uses a pick to do it. Both Hill and Bogans are wide open too, and aside from Westbrook (seriously, someone tell me what he's doing) every one of the Thunder players is running at him when he makes his slick pass to Blair.
Second, Blair is quick off his feet. He doesn't have Dwight Howard's fatal flaw (that showed up so often in last season's Finals) of bringing the ball down and/or dribbling once before making his move to the bucket. The 20-year-old was in position out of the lane (no 3 second violation possible) and moved to snag the pass and get up to throw it down in a flash. Of course it helped that his man had left him, but how many times in the past have we seen Manu or Tony drop a sweet pass into someone on the block who only managed a weak lay-up attempt because of fear of being blocked by a defender coming back to them? Blair was ready for the pass and flushed it as soon as he had it. Can finish at the rim: just one more box checked for the rookie.
And that's all I have in this, the first installment of A PtR Moment, where I choose a play, describe it to death and wring every last bit of enjoyment out of it -- unless you're like me and find that in tearing something apart, you know it better and appreciate it all the more.