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The Spurs three that broke the Lakers’ back

How Davis Bertans got so open on such an important play.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs won the season series against the Lakers last night on the back of a blowout 4th quarter where they lit up the scoreboard with 42 points in 22 offensive possessions with the game on the line. Davis Bertans led the way, scoring all 13 of his points in the final stanza. His final bucket came on a wide open three from the top of the key that sealed the game.

The Lakers want LeBron James involved in defending the pick and roll here, regardless of who’s setting the screen. As the Spurs set up for the play, LeBron calls for a switch so he can pick up Patty Mills who he thinks is about to a screen for DeMar DeRozan. That puts Lonzo Ball on Jakob Poeltl, which is a much better setup for the Spurs, so Patty immediately calls for Jakob to run up for the screen. Patty clears out to the left corner and LeBron calls for another switch, but the call is late and Lonzo didn’t anticipate the switch.

DeMar sees the confusion and zips a one-handed pass to Patty. LeBron closes out quickly enough to prevent the 3, but that leaves Patty a lane to the rim. He drives and the Lakers’ defense collapses. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sinks down to block the passing lane to Marco Belinelli in the opposite corner, so Patty kicks it out to Davis on the right side of the top of the key.

It’s clearly a defensive breakdown, but the question remains, why was LeBron so intent on guarding the screener on this play? The answer lies in the Spurs’ previous three offensive possessions.

By turns, that’s DeMar isolating against Lonzo on the right side, followed by the left side, then driving right by him off a pick and pop with Patty. LeBron and Lonzo’s exasperated gesturing after DeMar’s floater drops is all you need to know about their defense on the next trip down the floor.

Lonzo is a good defender. He’s 6’6”, with good athleticism and great instincts, especially for a young player. He ranks 11th out of 92 point guards in Defensive RPM and 22nd out of 89 in Defensive PIPM. But he had no chance against DeMar last night. That’s not a knock on Lonzo, DeMar is one of the best offensive players in the world, and he was clearly in a groove.

DeMar’s ability to exploit that matchup broke the Lakers’ defense and sealed the game. LeBron clearly didn’t want Lonzo switched onto DeMar again, and the Spurs (Patty in particular) immediately recognized their plan and took advantage. The result, a wide open three for a guy shooting 46.2% on those looks, is about the best outcome the Spurs could hope for.

Mo Dakhil broke down several more of the Lakers’ defensive miscues early in the fourth.

But it wasn’t all bad Lakers D. The Spurs also ran some excellent offense. Here’s a play we’ve covered multiple times, looking far smoother than it has all season.

There’s so much motion, so many spontaneous movements that appear coordinated because multiple players are making the same reads at the same time, that even good defense results in a decent look. Jakob’s ability to transition through the reads, using his pivot foot and moving his eyes and the ball in concert with how each of the play’s options develop is very impressive. In the end, having two deadly shooters come together and split apart in an unexpected way gives Davis enough of a window to get his shot off, which is all he needs.