This afternoon, the Missouri Tigers played a college basketball game in which they scored three field goals in SEVENTEEN minutes, only to STILL upset the #17 UCLA Bruins by nine points.
Let’s just say, the basketball being played tonight in San Antonio is slightly better than that.
At several points tonight, I just had to react with sheer glee at the wonderful display of beauty that the Spurs and Pacers were delivering on the court. Despite the other-worldly defense being played by both teams, the offenses combined for only 11 turnovers and 100 total points. In case you missed the first half, here are four shining examples of the stellar team basketball at work.
Great Spurs Offense, Great Pacers Defense
Here, the Spurs run one of their pet plays with Tony Parker moving off the ball. The plan is for him to run the base line and receive the ball at the elbow for a Duncan Pick and Roll. However, George Hill anticipates the play beautifully and is able to cut off the angle. In response, Parker and the passer (Danny Green) read the defense beautifully and Parker cuts back door. In response to THAT, Roy Hibbert reads the back door cut and shades over to defend Parker.
At this point, you are thinking, “Wow, these are just two teams reading each other and playing the game of basketball at the highest level…” but amazingly, there is still more!
Parker makes a tough catch, reads Hibbert, and improvises by running a reverse Pick and Roll with Duncan anyway. Lance Stephenson takes a step towards Parker as Hibbert keeps a foot in the lane. Paul George fakes the help defense while keeping his Stretch Armstrong arms extended and moves back to cover Leonard, a very good corner 3-pt shooter near the sideline. Parker reads all of this beautifully, holds on to the ball for a half-second longer to allow David West to come all the way off of Duncan and then feeds Duncan at the elbow. Fortunately, George Hill remains in the area and instead of running at Duncan giving him an easy lane, he calmly challenges the shot as well as any point guard can to a 7-footer. Duncan’s jumper rims out, completing the possession.
Beautiful offense met intelligent defense and reacted to it, only to see the defense counter-react, before reacting a third time and still getting a quality look.
Are you confused yet? Don’t be. Just enjoy basketball savants playing the game the way it was meant to be played.
Beautiful Spurs Passing
Here, the Spurs get the better of the Pacers’ defense on a beautiful team play by Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter. This time, Ginobili runs the high screen and roll with Boris Diaw against Luis Scola and Lance Stephenson. Scola smartly “hard shows” the screen, running Manu away from the basket before doubling back to the rolling Diaw with his hands up. Ginobili reads the play and sees that Diaw is open, but he himself has no angle to get him the ball.
Instead, he threads the needle to Splitter who touch passes it to the knifing Diaw for a layup. If pressed, you MIGHT be able to say that Scola could have recovered a half-step quicker, but there’s only so much you can do to defend the pick-and-roll. Here, great defense was conquered by even better offense.
Beautiful Pacers Offense
I’m not sure offense can run more fluidly and efficiently than this.
In twelve seconds, the ball switches sides of the floor a staggering four times on eight passes. I don’t even particularly want to narrate this – I’ll just let you watch the beautiful ball movement and smile.
In the end, George Hill misses the jumper because of a fantastic close out by Manu Ginobili, but Hibbert hustles to tap it back out to Hill, who had followed his shot nicely and makes the layup.
Again, two teams operate at the highest level of efficiency imaginable.
Poppovic made a late substitution of Matt Bonner to mix things up at the end of the half. Notice that before Parker and Duncan run a seemingly standard pick and roll, Bonner screens Hibbert off of Duncan, forcing West to switch onto Timmy and Hibbert to guard the great shooting Bonner. As Parker takes the Duncan screen, Bonner rolls to a ridiculous distance away from the basket, much farther out of the lane than Hibbert is comfortable. West and Hill defend the pick and roll beautifully, but Bonner is able to hit the 26-footer over the outstretched arms of the Defensive Player of the Year with 32 seconds left in the quarter.
George Hill seizes the opportunity and tries to go “2 for 1″ by using a West screen to isolate Bonner on the defensive end. Hill makes the floater with 24.2 seconds left. Notice the level of awareness and his frustration when he realizes he scored about two seconds too late.
Even after a beautiful basket, Hill is upset with himself that he didn’t quite maximize the opportunity.
I’m not sure who is going to win the second half. The Spurs create more matchup problems for the Pacers than anyone in the league, but Paul George and the Pacers are playing at such a high level right now that it may not even matter.
All I know is that regardless, the second half should be uber-enjoyable.
Tags: Xs & Os