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Breaking down the Tony Parker to Marco Belinelli alley-oop

In a new wrinkle for San Antonio's unabridged play book, the Spurs play off the defense's fear of the three-ball to get a shot at the rim.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In Thursday night's win over the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs ran a play that I don't recall ever having seen before. And since it worked so well, and was so incredibly cool, PSherman and I decided to break it down for all to see, (thanks for the help, Peter):

It's likely that Coach Popovich added this play in the offensive set as an additional wrinkle for the starting unit's standard repertoire which has been thoroughly vetted by the rest of the league since the Spurs' appearance in last year's Finals. Recently, the starters have had trouble scoring (their offensive rating has been 85.4 in December with Marco in the starting five), and there's no doubt that Pop is looking to maximize every opportunity for easy points.

This is a brilliant play to run, both in the context of San Antonio's offense, and because of the way Marco Belinelli has been shooting from deep so far this season.  When you're dropping in three-pointers at roughly the same rate that Blake Griffin makes free throws, you can expect to get the attention of the defense when you approach the arc. And that's just what happens at the beginning of this play as Tony holds the ball on the right sideline and Marco sprints out of the left corner toward the top the key, as if to receive a pass and take a quick three.

You can tell that a long range attack is what the defense expects, as Belinelli's man runs through the elbow in an effort to cut off the inevitable pass from Parker. But here's where the twist comes, as Tony isn't looking to set up a jumper at all. Tim Duncan steps in behind Marco's man while Marco takes a left turn into the lane instead of setting up from distance.

With the trap sprung, a wide open Belinelli commences traipsing through the paint toward the basket without any hindrance whatsoever. It's interesting that Parker held the ball as long as he did before passing. As you can clearly see in the slow-motion replay of the video, Marco has already cleared Duncan's screen and Tony is still in his triple-threat stance. It's quite the compliment to Parker's skills as a passer that he's able to lead Marco to the basket without being ready to deliver the ball right away.

And this is the first piece of evidence that this might be an impromptu move, and not a set play. If Tony or Pop had called for this specific sequence, wouldn't the pass have come as soon as Marco uncovered?  That would have given Belinelli the largest number of options, and prepared against the possibility that he was better defended.

As it is, no one on the Mavs was expecting the play, and Dirk appears to be the only player with a clue what's going on. Fortunately for the Spurs, Dirk's never been an elite defender, and he was only able to offer token resistance to Marco's alley-oop layup.

And while this is a new action in the set, it is reminiscent of Pop's patented Richard Jefferson alley-oop (RJAO), in which the point guard stands at the left wing with the ball while the big men clear out the paint (much more believable when McDyess heads to the elbow than when Tiago does). Meanwhile, the small forward takes an off-ball screen from the big man around the free throw line, which frees up the small forward for an open lane to receive the ball at the rim.

In the Belinelli alley-oop play, the big men clear out the paint. Duncan then frees up Marco with an off-ball screen, much like the RJAO. Belinelli is able to finish the fancy play despite the lateness of the pass.

For the first game in awhile, the Spurs were able to win the first quarter (27-20) against a solid team. The difference obviously wasn't just this play, but this sort of creativity is essential for smooth-flowing offense.