Late in the 4th quarter of their eventual overtime victory over the Warriors on New Year’s Eve, the Spurs turned to a play that has quickly become one of their most effective options for getting a bucket when they absolutely have to have one. They ran the exact same set with the exact same alignment on three of their last four half-court possessions of the quarter and scored on all three.
The play, which starts with a Hawk cut, is simply called “Roll” in the Spurs’ system and like all of their sets, includes multiple options that challenge the defense.
With DeMar DeRozan as the primary ball handler, the action is especially dangerous when the Spurs invert the pick and roll by having a smaller player set the screen. If DeMar is able to draw a switch, it’s almost a given that he’ll be able to create enough space for a quality look. That’s exactly what happened when the Spurs dialed it up down by 1 with just over 2 minutes remaining.
Draymond Green switches onto Patty Mills as he pops to the corner, leaving Alec Burks to contain DeMar, who immediately drives into the middle of the floor. There’s a fair amount of contact that goes uncalled, but it leaves DeMar with a wide open 14 footer, which he drains.
After wasting an opportunity to extend their lead with an ill-conceived transition opportunity, the Spurs went right back to the well a minute later.
Green switches onto Patty again, but Burks peels off the screen much lower, apparently willing to give up an open jumper to prevent penetration. He’s too low and too slow, and DeMar blows right by him and Marquese Chriss on the way to the rim for an easy layup that ties the game.
That caused the Warriors to change up their coverage the next time down the floor.
This time Burks hedges on the screen, which allows Green time to recover back to DeMar. Patty appears to have wanted a re-screen when he realized what happened, but DeMar was feeling it and walks into a 17’ jumper instead. But for some bad luck on the other end of the floor on the Warriors ensuing play — LaMarcus Aldridge deflected Green’s baseline pass out to the corner, but Glenn Robinson III still managed to catch it and then drilled a step back jumper in LaMarcus’ face that would’ve been the game-winner.
Instead, the two teams went to overtime, where the Spurs ran this play one final time.
Patty and DeMar’s roles are reversed this time. Dejounte cuts over the free throw line screen while LaMarcus and Bryn Forbes hang out on the weak side. Patty uses DeMar’s screen back towards the middle of the floor while LaMarcus sets a screen for Bryn, who pops up to the right wing for an open three.
Unlike in their ugly loss to the Cavaliers, where Patty missed this exact same shot in very similar circumstances, Bryn’s shot is pure all the way, finally giving the Spurs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
It’s a bit surprising how often the Spurs have gone to this play so far this season after using it relatively sparingly last year. With little personnel turnover, there doesn’t appear to be much that has changed that would make this a significantly better option than before. Given how well it has worked though, perhaps it should be more surprising that they didn’t use it more last season. Whatever the case, it’s clearly an effective set that the team can manipulate in various ways as it moves players with different strengths into each of the key positions.