The more things change, the more they stay the same – or so it is said. Last season, I wrote about the Spurs’ use of Tim Duncan in pin-down sets, focusing on a game winning play versus the Los Angeles Clippers.
Nine months later, San Antonio faced a similar situation. With possession in the final moments of their game against the Atlanta Hawks, the Spurs were able to gain the lead with a two point attempt. Famous for their motion sets, San Antonio often runs loop plays that flow into pick and rolls for Tony Parker, or sets to free shooters in the corner. NBA teams rarely rely on big men in end of game situations. Big men are less able to score with only the single move allowed for by the time restraints, while their position on the court makes a clean entry pass less likely. The Spurs entered the ball to Manu Ginobili in what appeared to be the beginnings of a motion set, or a basic isolation. However, rather than running to the corner, the in bounds passer set an unexpected screen for Duncan, freeing the aging center for the game winning jump shot.
Although neither complicated nor especially well executed, this play reveals a subtle piece of the Spurs excellence. From Tony Parker’s off-beat finishes to Kawhi Leonard’s defensive wanderings, the Spurs are able to play off the expectations of their opponents, creating the minute advantages needed to swing possessions, games, and seasons.