Last night’s game was an intense affair, and the Spurs rose to the occasion, nearly toppling the team that is now first in the conference. DeMar DeRozan led the charge, and his crunch time heroics were magical. You’ve probably seen his last second, should-have-been game-winner already, but if not, here you go.
DeMar isn’t able to get what he wants on his initial drive, despite absorbing an awful lot of contact, and kicks it back out to Patty. The Aussie gives it right back then sets a screen for Demar, so he can work against the smaller Mike Conley. DeMar drives to his left, gets to his spot, pulls up for a heavily contested fading jumper from the left wing and finds nothing but net. The shot itself is beautiful.
But the play should look a little familiar. Patty and DeMar did essentially the same thing to close out the first half.
DeMar brings the ball up with less than 6 seconds to go. Patty sets a screen at the top of the key, DeMar crosses over to his left, takes one more dribble and pulls up over Conley from just inside the arc. Conley contests, but it doesn’t matter.
So far this year, DeMar has made 16 of his 32 attempts in clutch time, according to NBA.com, with a True Shooting % of 55.6, just slightly higher than his overall TS%. Not many players can handle that type of load in such pressure packed situations without sacrificing efficiency, but DeMar is one of them. Dude’s got ice water in his veins.
Outside of DeMar making last second shots look easy, the offense as whole had a much better rhythm for most of the night. The team scored 103 points on just 92 possessions and it wasn’t just a matter of the ball going in the hole. Using shot quality, a PBPstats metric that estimates expected effective Field Goal %, the Spurs have only produced better looks in two games this season, both against a Phoenix team that currently ranks 29th in defense.
They did it with a combination of crisp execution and decisive ball movement. Both were visible on a sidelines out-of-bounds play midway through the 2nd quarter.
Bryn Forbes curls over top of LaMarcus Aldridge as if he’s looking for the ball, but he’s really setting up for a back pick on Wayne Selden, who’s guarding Demar as he inbounds the ball. DeMar throws it into Dante who flashes to the top of the key, then fakes in that direction, before cutting under Bryn and LaMarcus and establishing position deep in the paint.
Dante swings the ball to Rudy Gay who makes the entry pass. Once DeMar has the ball down low, he has the attention of the entire Grizzles team.
This is a Hammer action, so Dante is supposed to set a back screen on the defender responsible for closing out to Bryn, and Dante wrongly assumes that will be Conley, but Conley’s so far away he doesn’t even try. Once DeMar throws the ball out to Bryn in the corner, Dante realizes that, and tries to slide in the way of Omri Cassipi as he closes out, but stops short to avoid fouling him.
Cassipi gets a decent contest, given how completely the play fooled their whole team, but Bryn has an open look all the same.
Two minutes later, the Spurs added some synchronized improvisation to the mix, as Rudy sees an opportunity to deviate from an intended post up for DeMar and hits Dante with a skip pass to the right corner.
Selden stays too deep in the paint after Garrett Temple recovers to pick DeMar up on the left block. Rudy throws it across the floor to Dante, and Selden has too much ground to cover and he closes out so hard that Dante is able to drive baseline. Jaren Jackson Jr. has to stop penetration and that leaves LaMarcus open at the edge of the restricted area. Dante slides a nice little bounce pass past Jackson and LaMarcus finishes with a two-handed slam.
Both of these plays used the threat of DeMar’s post up ability to open up good looks for other players and the Spurs went right back to that in the 3rd.
Conley fronts DeMar, but Rudy makes a solid entry pass over the top. Marc Gasol doubles on the catch, but DeMar has already attacked and splits the seam between Gasol and Conley. That puts the Grizzlies into a rotation. Temple picks up LaMarcus underneath, which leaves Kyle Anderson to cover both Dante on the left wing and Patty up top.
Dante is creeping in here, but he should probably be drifting down into the corner, making it harder for Anderson to be in good position to guard both of them. But Patty has a quick trigger, and DeMar’s pass brings him one step farther away from Anderson, giving him enough to room to get the shot off.
This is what the team’s offense is supposed to look like - using the threat of its star players to compromise even the best defenses and generate open looks for its best shooters. Now, if they can just figure out how to bring it to every game, that would be great.