Despite a near collapse in the last few minutes of the game, the Spurs emerged from their final game before the Rodeo Road Trip riding a 5 game winning streak. Their victory over the (very) short-handed Pelicans may have come down to the wire in garbage time, but for the vast majority of the game the Spurs played good basketball on both sides of the court, building a 22 point lead mid-way through the 4th quarter.
With 6 players scoring in double digits and 11 contributing at least 1 assist, the San Antonio’s offense hummed along as efficiently as ever, especially considering they only committed 11 turnovers. A couple of those assists, though, weren’t your typical, everyday good-to-great looks.
Early in the 2nd quarter, with Pau Gasol anchoring the 2nd unit, he and Marco Belinelli got a little creative.
Pau and Quincy Pondexter set a pair of screens for Marco and Davis Bertans, respectively. Patty tosses it to Marco on the left wing, but the Pelicans don’t do a great job of accounting for Davis on the opposite side. Quincy sees that both Frank Jackson and Kenrich Williams are hanging beneath him, apparently more concerned about cuts while Pau is posting up than Davis at the three point line, and is clearly signaling for Pau to kick it out.
But Pau and Marco in a 2-man game with no help is pretty dangerous on its own and the action between Quincy and Davis keeps both Jackson and Williams well engaged far from the action. Marco tosses it into the post, fakes middle, then cuts baseline off Pau’s right hip. His tight cut forces Ian Clark to fight through a little contact, leaving Marco open for a tiny window.
Pau feels the contact and immediately knows how to feed Marco the ball. He doesn’t have to look to read the play, simply turning and extending his arms to throw the bounce pass at an angle that’ll get to Marco while he’s still under the basket.
Of course, Marco should probably hold up to seal Clark behind him, catching the pass under the rim and using his body to shield the ball as he goes up for a simple reverse layup. But there’s no art in that, no soul. So Marco catches on the run, already a step past the rim, and lofts a high-arch gently off the very top of the backboard that barely rustles the net as is drops through.
Seriously, look where this ball hits the glass.
The bench’s reaction was surprisingly mixed.
Bryn Forbes is apparently a stone-faced assassin, as he doesn’t even bat an eye. Becky Hammon looks to her left and right, bemused by both the shot and the reactions. Ettore Messina lets out what appears to be an emphatic “Oh” and Rudy Gay gives a few strong claps. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are clearly entertained and Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl pop immediately to their feet, over-powered by the need to walk that off. The best, though, is Chimezie Metu, a first rate bench celebrator, who holds his head in disbelief, which is probably the most appropriate response of them all.
Marco and Pau have 28 years of NBA experience between them, and their ability to read the floor and make the right play can generate some incredible highlights, despite the fact that neither of them will be winning many footraces in the near future. Late in the 3rd quarter, Patty and Davis leveraged the danger of that 2-(old)-man action to produce another easy bucket.
As Pau takes position in the post, Marco starts to run over to initiate the same action as before. Both Jackson and Tim Frazier react, leaving Davis open on the right wing again. This time, Davis dives to the basket. Both Williams and Frazier try to respond once Patty drops it down to Davis, but it’s too late. Even if they had responded in time, Davis’ cut drew all the weak-side defense into the paint, leaving Bryn wide open at the three point line and Patty would likely have kicked it out.
As Coach Popovich indicated after the game, Pau is still rounding into form. These plays are good examples of the value he still brings to the table, though it’s unclear what their ultimate purpose is in giving these minutes to him instead of Jakob. Still, if it’s high IQ, unselfish basketball you’re looking for, a few minutes of Marco and Pau every night could go a long way.