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Spurs Playbook: The Ginobili and Aldridge pick-and-roll that demoralized the Thunder

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Already up 18, this Ginobili & Aldridge pick and roll squashed the Thunder's morale. They never recovered.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In Zach Lowe's Friday column he referred to the Spurs play in the 2014 playoffs as "the ultimate Spurgasm." Starting in Game 5 against the Thunder that year, the Spurs unleashed uncanny ball movement and shooting to run away from the Thunder and trounce the Heat. But as discussed in previous posts, this year's attack features a more methodical, post-heavy approach. We saw this against Memphis, a series in which San Antonio had complete control but was a grind to get through.

But on Saturday night, the Spurs were in peak 2014 form, thrashing the Thunder in every way imaginable. From lockdown defense, to ball movement, to great individual efforts, the Spurs took advantage of the Thunder. It was almost too predictable as the Thunder did not appear ready and had nothing inventive to throw at the Spurs defense. Defensively, this team looked much worse than the 12th ranked defense in the NBA. Their pick and roll coverage was utterly exposed.

But give credit to the Spurs, who always use an extra wrinkle to make defenses make lose-lose choices. They did just that in this pick and roll with Manu Ginobili and LaMarcus Aldridge:

It's all in the details. The beginning of the play doesn't even look exactly like a pick and roll. Watch the setup from 19 to 17 seconds on the shot clock. As Aldridge moves up to the top of the arc to set the screen, it is not obvious what he is doing. He could be popping out for a jumper or assuming his favorite spot at the high post. Additionally, Ginobili is moving to his left away from Aldridge. Already this puts Kevin Durant, who is guarding Manu, on his heels as he will have to go against his own momentum when the screen comes.

At this point, Aldridge plants for the pick and roll, and Ginobili uses an exaggerated crossover to start his attack. Because Durant was set up left, but the action has switched to the right, Serge Ibaka, Aldridge's defender, shows towards Ginobili assuming Durant will be beat. This is logical, and if KD switched onto Aldridge, the Thunder would be fine as Ginobili would be forced to settle for a mid-range jumper.

But Durant goes over the screen and somewhat recovers using his length and athleticism. Sensing that both Durant and Ibaka are focused on Manu, Aldridge subtely pushes off from Durant's back and dives towards the rim (at 17 seconds left on the shot clock). This separation is key. With Durant's length taking away the pull-up jumper and Ibaka snuffing out the drive, Manu's only option is to pass. Aldridge has created just enough space to give Manu a target. Notice the fundamentals as Ginobili gets low to the ground and steps into his pass in order to thread the needle.

After Aldridge catches the pass, he finishes with contact for the three point play. But what allows him to have a pretty clean look at the rim is the spacing of Danny Green, Patty Mills, and David West. Again it's in the details. Many teams run traditional pick and rolls with three shooters spaced along the wings and corners. The Spurs here place Danny Green and Patty Mills in the corners, but also have David West in the short corner between the block and the three point line. If anyone helps on Aldridge, it will be an easy kick out to Green or Mills for three, or a dump off to West for a layup. These are not decisions Enes Kanter, Cameron Payne, and Dion Waiters are prepared to make. You see Waiters and Kanter sink to help, but it is indecisive and slow.

With just a little misdirection from Ginobili and Aldridge, the Spurs make a routine pick and roll highlight-worthy. With corner to corner spacing, subpar defenders are left helpless as the final line of defense. This play squashed the Thunder who were already trailing by 18 in the first quarter. After this Ginobili/Aldridge P&R, the game felt over.