The Spurs improved to 38-0 at home Wednesday night beating the Pelicans 100-92. After resting players for several games, the Spurs had their full arsenal sans David West. This game was won in the third quarter, where a seven point halftime lead extended to eighteen. Up by fifteen with just under four minutes remaining in the quarter, the Spurs went to a great multi-layered action to suck the life out of New Orleans. Take a look:
In my last post I highlighted how the Spurs use the pass and screen away to open space for curl cuts and the weave as an alternative to the pick and roll. These two actions are pillars of their motion offense. Here, the Spurs use both these actions but layer on another wrinkle, a pick and roll where Boris Diaw screens, seals and slips to the basket.
In this play, Patty Mills has the ball on the right wing and passes to Boris Diaw at the top of the arc and screens away for Manu Ginobili. With Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Diaw on the floor, the injury-plagued Pelicans are in no position to switch screens as this would create insane mismatches. Thus, you see Ginobili's defender James Ennis go under Diaw's screen.
As this is happening, Diaw passes to Martin on the opposite wing and screens away for Ginobili again. This time, Ennis is anticipating the action. Ginobili, one step ahead of Ennis, plants his left foot as to cut to the three point line to receive a pass, and then dives to the rim. Ennis isn't ready for this, which forces Diaw's defender to help. While Ginobili's cut to the basket is snuffed out, Diaw is now wide open and the offense continues with a reversal to him.
Diaw then runs a weave with Patty Mills and then moves towards the baseline to screen away for Ginobili who is cutting back up to the wing. Watch again from 15 to 12 seconds remaining on the shot clock to see the weave and pass and screen away combination executed. Remember that all these actions keep defenders glued to their assignments and less aware of the entire play.
At this point Ennis, Alexis Ajinca (guarding Diaw), and Tim Frazier (guarding Mills) are exhausted. They've fought through multiple actions at this point. Simultaneously, Jordan Hamilton and Kendrick Perkins are completely flat-footed as Kevin Martin and Lamarcus Aldridge have not moved. The Spurs create chaos on one side of the floor and lull defenders to sleep on the weak side. This is all panned as these defenders will not be ready to help.
With 12 seconds left on the shot clock, Ginobili has the ball on the right wing and begins to drive towards the corner over a Diaw screen. The Pelicans have been fighting through screens thus far. Diaw knows this. Anticipating Ennis will fight through, Diaw not only sets a hard screen but quickly seals Ennis. Ajinca has switched onto Ginobili to cut off the baseline. This is another brilliant move by the Spurs. The Pelicans did not want to switch, but by running this action towards the baseline Ajinca has to show onto Ginobili or otherwise give up an easy drive for a layup.
With Ennis sealed by the much larger Diaw, Ginobili threads the needle with a one-handed bounce pass to Diaw. Perkins, now eleven seconds into his nap, is the final hope. As Perkins steps up, Aldridge cuts freely to the rim, catches the Diaw feed and finishes. Notice Jordan Hamilton is in the lane, but does not dive all the way down to the level of the ball as he knows his man Kevin Martin is wide open for three.
To be clear: the Pelicans may as well have a D-league team on the floor at this point. And yet, Ennis and Ajinca navigate the commotion fairly well. But the motion is predicated on creating so much movement, that eventually a defender, or multiple, makes a mistake. The Spurs are manipulating defenders and make them pay for their choice of coverage. Ennis is fighting through all the way and so the Diaw screen blindsides him as he neither goes over, under, nor switches the screen. Hamilton is glued to Kevin Martin, who is on the floor to shoot, and doesn't drop down onto Aldridge.
For Cleveland and Oklahoma City fans, take note. The Spurs use varied screening actions and refuse to exclusively run high pick and rolls or go into complete isolation mode. Why other teams so often run predictable, single actions is beyond me at this point.