The Spurs 102-98 overtime win Tuesday night was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Spurs used a heavy dose of Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge inside. The Spurs offense looked tired, predictable, and compressed. Keeping two big men in the game means Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Tony Parker have to make shots to prevent defenses from double teaming the post and taking away driving lanes. Even when Duncan and Aldridge were scoring inside, the Thunder were making threes and further separating themselves. The lane was clogged, and the Thunder didn't appear to respect the Spurs shooting ability.
In the second half (and in spurts in the first half), the Spurs had a number of impressive dribble penetration moves from Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson, and Jonathon Simmons. This opened up the offense for the Spurs. Tony Parker's 20 points were especially encouraging as he pushed the pace and showcased some classic transition spin moves.
And yet, the Spurs have to figure out how to play opening quarters with Duncan and Aldridge together (unless they abandon the two big system). While one on one works at times, abandoning the dribble drive to feed the post becomes predictable and creates traffic. The Spurs are not hitting enough three's to rely on isolation posts with kickout jumpers as a counter to the double-team.
In the play below, the Spurs incorporate dribble penetration to a bunched up formation. Even though the lane is cramped, the Spurs use misdirection to free Duncan for a trademark bank-shot.
The Spurs start in what looks like a variation of a 1-4 high (scorer isolated at the top of the key with the remaining four players spread across the paint). In this version, Tim Duncan and Danny Green are bunched up on the left block while Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge are on the right block.
Danny Green lines up in the restricted area appearing to get ready to set a cross screen for Parker. Green then steps up into the path of Cameron Payne who is guarding Parker. Now watch again from 15 to 13 seconds left on the shot clock. While Kawhi Leonard is easily beating Andre Roberson (not sure why he is playing so tight...) off the dribble, Parker plays cat and mouse with Payne, as both Green and Aldridge are set up for off-ball screens.
At this point, with Roberson beat, as well as Steven Adams, Dion Waiters, and Cameron Payne occupied with the weak side screening game, this leaves only Nick Collison to deal with an attacking Leonard as well as Tim Duncan. As much I respect Nick Collison's journeyman career, those are not good odds for the Thunder. Collison is forced to step up to Leonard who dumps it off to Duncan for the easy shot.
This play is great because it uses misdirection, off-ball screening, as well as a downhill threat to the basket. A seemingly unavailable paint opens up due to Tony Parker's trickery drawing three defenders away from the ball. All Leonard has to do is win his matchup to guarantee either a chance at the rim or an easy opportunity for Tim Duncan.
This type of creativity allows Duncan and Aldridge to play together. Rather than relying exclusively on iso or threes, the Spurs use a drive coupled with weak side action to get a clean look.
If the Spurs can attack the rim effectively, they will be a hard out in the playoffs the way they defend.