Opening the Playbook: Examining the Final Plays in the Rockets-Spurs contest

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If you were an NBA hoops fan, you were probably watching the Spurs and the Rockets go at it last night. The return of Tony Parker, the captivation of James Harden, the aura of the Spurs–that drew you in. And if it did, then you got yourself a treat last night. Two of the better coaches in the league in Kevin McHale and Gregg Popovich went head to head last night and that all came to a culmination in the final 10 seconds of the game.

The Spurs were up on the Rockets by a point going into the waning moments of the game. James Harden missed a free throw that could’ve tied the game and the Spurs got the ball back. The ball was knocked out of bounds simultaneously and a jump ball was called. The Rockets but they made a defensive stand to get the ball back. Then the Rockets nearly turned the ball over on that possession, but managed to get a timeout in with about 10 seconds to go. McHale decided to run a SLOB handoff play with Harden as the inbound man. Here’s the play below.

As you can see, the play worked to perfection. Harden inbounded the ball to Omer Asik and received the handoff. Asik essentially sets a screen for Harden off of this handoff because Harden runs as close to him as possible. There is no room for Kawhi Leonard to get around Asik and stay in front of Harden. You can see that in the photo below.

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Tim Duncan will retreat into the paint to afford Leonard some space to recover on Harden but he never is able to get around him and impede his path. Duncan doesn’t want to give Harden a chance to blow by him and get to the rim for the easy shot. Duncan made the proper choice in this situation–if you’re going to give anything up, it needs to be a tough midrange jumper.

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Harden has Leonard on his hip and Duncan in front of him with about seven feet of space between them. Duncan continues to retreat into the paint, and Harden makes a really difficult midrange jump shot. Leonard actually could be called for a foul on Harden’s shot attempt because he was all over his back, but Harden keeps concentration and nails what would be the game winning shot.

Now, on the other end of the floor, we have the Spurs with a chance to counter what the Rockets just did and bring the game back within their hands. The Spurs are known for having the perfect plays and execution for these kinds of situations. In this case, they had a great play. What was it? The exact same play that the Rockets had beat them with a few seconds before.

Its a quick hitting play and with only about six seconds left on the clock, it was definitely something that was ideal for the Spurs in this situation. The only problem was that it was executed incorrectly. It ended up as a Duncan contested jump shot instead. Take a look below.

As you can see, this is a SLOB play also. It uses the very same action that was used on the Rockets previous play and Ginobili has the very same options that Harden does in this situation. Instead of coming to get the handoff, Ginobili decides to cut into the paint. You can see that in the photo below.

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Patrick Beverly does a really nice job of denying the handoff from Ginobili and there wasn’t a lot of time left to fight to try and get to the ball. It would’ve been a better option than this cut because Harden and Carlos Delfino were prepared to help. They were in proper position to either seal the lane off or recover to Leonard on the wing or Danny Green in the corner.

The two help defenders flash into the paint as Ginobili makes his cut in order to deter Duncan. This takes even more time off of an already low clock and forces Duncan to go somewhere else quickly. You can see that in the photo below.

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Duncan had an option to kick to either shooter on the corner or the wing, but since neither help defender fully committed to defending the cut they would’ve been in position to get a good contest either way. So, instead of getting a high percentage shot at the rim or a clean look at the basket from long range, the Spurs are forced to settle for a contested 20 foot jumper from Duncan.

Heading into the playoffs this has to be a confidence booster for the Rockets. They just outplayed the Spurs on both ends in the final two possessions late in the clock–that rarely ever happens.

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