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How the Spurs got a couple of easy points when nothing else was falling

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With the three not falling, the Spurs had to get down and dirty for points.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

On a night where the Spurs’ Mid Three were the only ones who could hit a shot, the team simply could not generate enough points to maintain contact as the Nets ran away with the game. Despite their best defensive showing in over a month, the silver and black still got blown out, thanks to their worst offensive game of the season.

DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay combined to score 62 points on 50 shooting possessions, while the rest of the team managed just 23 points on 53 shooting possessions. For a team that is known for winning with depth and solid bench play, that’s a crippling shortfall.

Given how badly their supporting cast struggled, it’s understandable that the team ran even more of their offense through the Mid Three than usual. But they did find a little success when they ran offensive sets designed to generate opportunities for some of their other players.

One of those sets, which appears to be a version of the down screen hand-off chop Wes Kosel describes here, gives a good window into what the Nets’ defense was doing and how the Spurs offense is designed to counter it.

At the very beginning, you can see Patty Mills making the play call and chopping his hand, which is likely the symbol for this particular action.

Patty brings the ball up to the right wing before turning and passing to Rudy just above the elbow. Patty then heads to the strong side corner to set a down screen for Marco Belinelli, and Marco runs up to Rudy looking for a hand-off. Joe Harris is overplaying to prevent that hand-off, so Marco cuts backdoor. Rudy has a passing lane, but down by 14 in the 1st half, he chooses not to take the risk and transitions into the secondary portion of the play.

This is where this version differs from what Kosel describes. With the 2nd big at the other elbow, the next action is a dribble hand-off between the big and a wing in the weak-side corner, which is very common across the league. DeMarre Carroll overplays this hand-off, too, so Davis Bertans cuts backdoor just as Marco had.

LaMarcus hits Davis, though, forcing Jarrett Allen to drop down to stop penetration, so Davis finishes a nice little give and go with a bounce pass back to LaMarcus as he rolls to the rim. LaMarcus uses 1 dribble to get his feet set and puts a shoulder into Allen to get space, then goes up for an easy hook.

For a lot of teams these days, the end of this play would’ve turned into a kick-out to Marco on the right wing once LaMarcus picked up his dribble and Harris collapses into the paint to help, but not for the Spurs. Given how poorly everyone else on the team shot in this game, it’s probably a good thing LaMarcus kept it for himself.

The Nets overplayed shooters all night, doing their best to force the Spurs into contested midrange attempts and funneling penetration to a big waiting in the paint. When the Spurs’ offense is clicking, though, they rarely take that one dribble pull-up, looking instead for a roll man or another wing popping open along the arc or a cutter moving through the lane.

It’s all predicated on leveraging the defense’s desire to contest shots, which obviously doesn’t work quite as well when 70% of your team forgets how to shoot. Sets like this one provide multiple options to take advantage of an over-aggressive defense, and using them more often would almost certainly have given the Spurs a better chance.