By taking a look at the individual plays we can see a resurgence of some of the fundamental principles used by past Spurs teams.
This play begins with near perfect spacing. Three men on the right, Tony and LaMarcus on the left. With the Nuggets playing straight up, Tony and LaMarcus play a two man game to gain an advantage. (Notice that as the play progresses you can see Pau, Kawhi, and Danny back up to open the lane.) Tony probes left and then back right while allowing more space so LaMarcus can operate. With two little jabs LaMarcus convinces his man that he’s shooting, and uses all that space in front of him to go in for a monster dunk.
LaMarcus posts up and waits for the double team to come before he flicks the ball back to Patty who knows to get the ball to Manu. Study Manu closely and you can see that he knows that he is going to the hoop even before he receives Patty’s pass. He’s already noticed an open path through the lane.
This time the play begins evenly spaced but becomes loaded right with four Spurs on one side and Tony in the corner pocket. As LaMarcus moves with the ball to the right, notice how Pau and Kawhi move in unison to the left side deep, pulling their men with them which opens up the key.. So now the Spurs are back to a two on two man game with Kyle and LaMarcus. Because LaMarcus had driven previously, this time he makes a quick jab step which is so good the defender falls down for a wide open jumper for two.
Here is a good example of how the Spurs lane defense turns into lane offense. Denver attempts a full court pass but Danny anticipates and intercepts. He then fires the ball ahead to Tony who takes one dribble and sees Kawhi calling for the ball from the right side lane. Kawhi catches the perfect cross court pass and without even a dribble, goes into his jumper for the three. As a plus, notice how Danny has made his way all the way to the basket in case a rebound is needed. Oh my, how the little things add up.
It’s now the beginning of the third quarter and often determinations have been made during halftimes which could be believed to come into play now. In this case, it is clearly on breakaways. Take the ball to the hoop. Pop calls this...”Tony being aggressive.” So it is up to Tony to decide how he is going to accomplish this. Rather than drive in between the two men, he picks one man and decides to go one on one. And already knows what he wants to accomplish and in the process, puts up a dramatic spin move lay in.
And here’s the play you’ve been waiting for. With Pau in the high post, Tony makes a quick roll around Pau but as Kawhi comes through, his shoulder connects with Gasol’s elbow and the ball pops out. Pau thinks he’s been hit by a defender, so he sells the contact. But the it’s his own man. Notice how the ball is just to Kawhi’s right as he reaches out to grab it on the way into the lane. Leonard uses a series of upfakes to get close enough to finish with a little hook shot.
Late in the third we get to witness another peak at greatness that is Manu. Even before Tony actually loses the ball, Manu seems to know whats going to happen and immediately takes off. As he back peddles, he makes one hesitation step which forces the opposition to pass the ball. Now Manu has what he wants which is a one on one rather than a two or even three on one. At this point, the average NBA player does not even consider the fact that Manu is left handed and makes a mistake with his dribble. Manu goes straight for the ball and a steal. Success. Because Manu is playing at such a high level right now, it does not even seem plausible that he will retire at the end of this year.
Now we are a little into the 4th and we see another play that is basically a two man play. Although it looks more complicated than it actually is with all of the decoy movement away from the real action. Lets see. See Manu back up to pull his man out or freeze him. See Kawhi head for the basket and then peel off with his hand up. See Simmons move over to the left bringing his man up and over away from the scoring portion of the play which is Pau in the high post with Patty coming from the corner around Pau’s screen for the hard dive to the basket. Everything in this play worked precisely the way it was drawn up.
We began with a serious dunk from Aldridge, and we end with an eye-popping jam from Leonard. With less than six minutes left in the contest, Kawhi goes baseline to lose his man, accelerates and elevates only to be met at the rim by Nicola Jokic. Kawhi twists his body on takeoff to turn sideways and once he’s airborne he switches the ball to his left hand and finishes the slam while moving away from the basket, which is one of the most difficult ways to dunk.
So what have we learned from this exercise. First and foremost, the Spurs are now playing more as a team and they really seem to enjoy what they are doing. Secondly, the Spurs play may at times look helter-skelter but the truth is they are working hard on the basics. Some might ask, “Is that all.” Pop might say...its just basketball.
Also, a huge thank you goes to Ali who did a fabulous job on the GIFs for this post.