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Spurs Playbook: Spurs combine Isolation with the Beautiful Game

Game 1 was a rout and didn't tell us much schematically. Game 2 was about seeing if the Thunder had a pulse. Game 3 became about adjustments and execution.

J Pat Carter/Getty Images

The Spurs had a much better showing in Game 3 after the disappointing Game 2. While the final score was similar, San Antonio led the majority of the game. The Spurs made two adjustments that stood out, one on each side of the ball, and they made a huge impact on Friday night:

Defensive Adjustment: Doubling/Switching Westbrook and Durant Pick and Rolls

Every time Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook tried to get into the pick and roll game, the Spurs were prepared. San Antonio either double teamed KD and Westbrook off the PNR action or switched to ensure bodies were on them all game. Unlike Game 2, they were not going to let those two guys beat them. This made Durant give up the ball as he took only 18 shots and found most of his success in the third quarter off flare screens and not the PNR. Westbrook had a few nice splits of the double team, but the tactic stifled him overall. Westbrook was 10 for 31 from the field and 17 of his 31 points came from free throws and three pointers. The tandem combined for 10 turnovers, and the Spurs ability to double, switch, and prevent them from turning the corner was a big reason why. Here, in an example from crunch time, the Spurs double Durant and force the ugly turnover:

Also of note (and thanks to PtR contributor D.P. Jones for pointing this out) Danny Green deserves props for sliding over to halt Serge Ibaka's path to the basket -- which is probably the pass that Durant was trying to make.

Offensive Adjustment:

The Spurs had just 19 assists again, but their offense was much more varied. Aldridge got his 21 shots, but it was spread evenly throughout the game. They had a much more balanced diet of Parker/Aldridge pick and rolls, Leonard being Leonard, general Ginobiliness, inside/outside play, and some nice weave and cutting action. David West passed the ball well all game, silencing critics who were demanding Diaw take his minutes. The play below, which J.R. Wilco called the prettiest play of playoffs thus far, saw an initial isolation play from Kawhi Leonard turn into the beautiful game:

The play has Kawhi posting up in the mid-post area with all five Thunder defenders keyed in on him. Notice right away how David West is at the high post and Boris Diaw is in the short corner, both opposite of Kawhi. While their defenders are in help position, this spacing will eventually clear the lane for Kawhi later.

As Leonard's post-up bogs down, Manu Ginobili cuts towards the baseline, receives the ball and an immediate screen from Kawhi which seals Durant, Ginobili's defender, on the high side which forces Dion Waiters to switch onto Ginobili. This is essentially the weave play run from the side of the court.

While this is happening, West sees the action between Manu and Kawhi, rotates the top of the key, and makes himself available to facilitate.

Leonard, taking advantage of the switch, completes his screen, seal, and slip by heading to the basket. While this is happening Ginobili reverses the ball to David West. Dion Waiters switches nicely, and takes away both the pull up jumper and the baseline drive.*

This is where the aforementioned spacing allows this play to work. With West catching at the high post, Kanter comes up to close out, which opens up the left side of the lane just as Leonard is cutting.

This means that only Steven Adams is left to take away Kawhi's path to the basket. This is where Diaw comes in. With Boris creeping in the short corner, Adams is caught in the middle. If he helps on Leonard, Diaw is wide open for a layup. It's a 2 on 1. Adams chooses to stay with Boris, and West whips the chest pass to Leonard for the slam.

In a world of perfect defensive rotations, Waiters would move down to Kawhi while Adams stays on Boris. But the play happens too fast. Both Ginobili and West make split second decisions to pass, while Kawhi starts his cut as soon as Durant's momentum stops, and there's no way Waiters could get there in time.

This play is awesome in that it starts with an isolation. This alone takes the defense off their toes, making the ensuing action even harder to contain. The movement comes as a surprise and is so precise that the Thunder are nearly helpless. The Spurs moved the ball a lot more Friday. The low assist number (19) was a result of another underwhelming shooting performance (43.4%) rather than too much one-on-one play. Fortunately, San Antonio was 10 for 19 from three which made up for a more pedestrian shooting percentage from Aldridge.


The Spurs had a different gameplan on both sides of the ball. The aggressive pick and roll defense was brilliant and led to multiple live ball turnovers which the Spurs converted into points. Offensively, they mixed it up, using more pick and roll, as well as some 4-out-1 in motion. Give the Thunder credit for continuing to play with energy and emotion. Westbrook made some incredible plays (especially his rebound dunk) towards the end to make the Spurs sweat it out from the charity stripe. But the Spurs out-adjusted and out-executed the Thunder. At this point, this series feels secure. Even if it goes seven games, I don't expect Billy Donovan and his star players to push the right buttons.

Speculation and Asterisk

If I was coaching OKC, I'd try to hedge and go under Parker/Aldridge pick and rolls and use more flare action for KD.

*Waiters has defended well all series. If he's locked in and can accept not getting the number of shots he wants, don't be surprised to see him starting over Roberson.