This first play begins with Kawhi Leonard stealing the ball after recovering to his man the way an elite cornerback does after he baits a QB into thinking the receiver is open. Once Kawhi gets a full head of steam, the only Maverick who really looks interested in stopping the break is DeJuan Blair, the man responsible for the turnover to begin with. As Blair gets into the paint and prepares to take a charge, Kawhi pulls up for a gorgeous little floater just inside the key.
After watching Kawhi get four steals in the first period, Boris Diaw got in on the act. Here he helps off Dirk Nowitzki, and digs Vince Carter's dribble with a perfectly timed swipe. While he doesn't cut quite the same figure as Leonard does as he brings it back up the floor, he certainly puts his pass to Patty Mills right on the money and the Aussie lays it gently in.
This is fantastic work between Diaw and Tiago Splitter working the two man game to perfection. With Brandan Wright guarding Tiago and Nowitzki on Diaw, Tiago gives up his post possession to Boris as the Frenchman curls around him. Dirk goes underneath Tiago to keep Boris from driving to the rim, and Boris counters by dribbling back toward the paint, which forces Wright to step up and take Boris. Splitter's pick and roll instincts are too good to let such an opportunity go by and he quickly slips the screen as Diaw picks up the dribble with Dirk and Wright rushing him. Boris slips the pass between the two Mavericks and Tiago avoids Wright's attempted block by going with the reverse layup.
We get so many requests for great defensive plays, so here's one to treasure. Monta Ellis drives, Tim Duncan's challenge forces him to miss the layup, and Samuel Dalembert rushes his putback. Boris Diaw files in to challenge Dalembert for the rebound, allowing Duncan time to recover and block Samuel not once, but twice -- right at the rim. And like so many of Duncan's blocks, the Spurs end up with it and go straight into a fast break.
This is the Spurs offense operating at the extremes. Kawhi is on the move and passing to Duncan who is also on the move. As a result, the ball is nearly outside Tim's range, and he can just barely get a fingertip on it. So he tips it right back to Kawhi who is following the baseline on the way to the basket. But both Ellis and Dalembert double Kawhi, forcing him to jump out of bounds, turn in the air, and pass it back to Duncan who's already squared up to the basket. That's his spot, and Timmeh drops in one of the highest-angled bankers you'll ever see. Seriously, check out the point on the backboard where the ball hits.
This play came in the middle of a run where the Spurs and Mavericks were taking turns grabbing the lead from each other. Kawhi is so deadly close to the basket, and his post game has grown by leaps and bounds. Here he's guarded by Carter, who does all he can to hold him off, but to no avail. Even as Vince bodies him aggressively, Kawhi turns and gets the one-hander to drop. The crowd immediately responded with one of those away-game-grudging-respect sounds that's nearly impossible to define, but that you know as soon as you hear it.
Well, it might have taken 12 quarters, but San Antonio's offense finally started looking like itself in the 4th of Game 3, and this play was one of the best examples. Manu Ginobili works around a Duncan screen, and as Duncan dives to the basket Diaw replaces him at the elbow and Manu gets him the ball. Boris fakes Ellis into the air and dribbles to his left as he spots Kawhi getting coming up from the baseline. Diaw leads Kawhi with a one-handed, back-handed, no look pass that hits Leonard in stride. Kawhi validates the highlight by canning the three. Just an all-around gorgeous play that's one of the reasons I'm still optimistic that the Spurs can pull out the series win.
Tony Parker dribbles away from Diaw's screen which wrong-foots Jose Calderon, allowing Parker to flip a pass to Duncan. Tim is immediately doubled by Nowitzki and Carter, which leaves Boris open to receive Duncan's pass and drive the lane for a buttery floater that hits nothing but net.
Bonus GIF content, just allow your eyes to follow the path of the ball on this possession. It's a fun zig-zag path that's really enjoyable to contemplate.
Here's the would've-been game winner that's a near carbon copy of 2008's Game 1 double-OT game winner against the Suns in the first round, with the exception that Duncan set a screen to free Manu, and the ball went around twice before dropping instead of just once, and the play ended at 1.7 seconds instead of 1.8. But the biggest difference between the two games was of course the part where Dallas still had a time out left, whereas Phoenix didn't, forcing the Suns to make a last second nearly full-court heave.