Film Study: Spurs swing and attack

VIDEO: GameTime: Role players shape Game 3

MIAMI — The ball did not stick in Game 3. And the results were remarkable.

After his team lost Game 2 of The Finals on Sunday, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich remarked how the ball “stuck” too much in his team’s offense.

According to SportVU, the Spurs made exactly the same number of passes in Game 2 (337) as they did in Game 1, and on fewer possessions (88 vs. 95). But some passes are better than others, especially against the Miami Heat defense. When you say the ball sticks, you could mean that it sticks in one guy’s hands or that it sticks to one side of the floor.

In the first half of Game 2, the Spurs swung the ball from one side of the floor to the other with a pass just 19 times (on 46 possessions). They were passing, but they didn’t necessarily move the ball effectively. Here’s an example of a possession where the ball was passed four times, but stayed on the right side of the floor.

In the first half of Game 3, the Spurs swung the ball from side to side with a pass 30 times (on 44 possessions), which led to a relentless attack of the paint.

Monday’s Film Study noted the Heat’s ability to close out on shooters and force the Spurs’ into 23 mid-range shots in Game 2. On Tuesday, the Spurs attempted just eight mid-range shots, the same number as they attempted in their Game 1 victory.

When the ball is coming from the other side of the floor, closing out on shooters is tougher. The Heat’s weak-side defenders are generally in the paint, ready to help on a drive or cut. So when the ball is reversed, they have a longer distance to travel than if the ball is coming from the top of the key or the same side of the floor. They may get to the 3-point line, but their momentum keeps them from being able to stay in front of their man as easily.

And when the defender is coming from far way with that momentum, attacking those close-outs is easier. With the ball moving from side to side on Tuesday more than it did on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green went right at the Heat’s recovering defenders.

Here are a few examples…

Play 1: Swing and attack

The ball movement wasn’t crisp on the Spurs’ third possession of the game, in part because they were trying to take advantage of a mismatch – Mario Chalmers guarding Leonard. But once they saw that they couldn’t get the ball to Leonard in the post, the ball swung from the right side of the floor to the left. And when the ball came back to the right side, Leonard had just enough of a lane to the paint…


Leonard drew a foul on Chalmers on the play, but also could have hit Tony Parker for an open 3 in the left corner…


Play 2: Got him with the rocker

A few possessions later, the Spurs quickly swung the ball from the left side of the floor to the right, and then reversed it back to Leonard at the top of the key. With 16 seconds left on the shot clock, the Heat were already scrambling, with LeBron James having totally lost contact with Leonard and Dwyane Wade forced to switch out …


Leonard looked to swing the ball to Green, but James recovered well enough. Wade displayed some great awareness to see James on the baseline and know that he had to go guard Leonard. And because Leonard first looked to pass (and because Chris Bosh also hedged over), Wade was able to get in front of him. But a simple rocker move got Wade leaning to his left, and Leonard was able to get him on his hip, get into the paint, draw a foul on Bosh, and hit a nifty scoop shot.

Play 3: Green gets in the act

The ball stays on the right side of the floor on this play, but it’s another example of Leonard’s and Green’s attack-the-close-out mentality. After Parker gets a sideline screen from Tim Duncan and takes the ball toward the right corner, he reverses it to Green. Wade closes out and positions himself to force the ball to the sideline …


… but Green uses Wade’s momentum against him. He attacks that right leg and gets into the paint for a runner.

Play 4: Taking what they give you

The Heat are trying to push the ball to the sideline on their close-outs. They do not want the ball in the middle of the floor, where layups can be had and passes can more easily be made to whoever is open.

We were still in the first six minutes of the first quarter when Parker and Duncan ran a standard high pick-and-roll. A quick pass put the ball in Boris Diaw‘s hands with Ray Allen sinking down to the right block on the weak side…


Two passes and 1.5 seconds later, the ball was in Green’s hands on the right wing. Allen closed out and, just like Wade, positioned himself to force the ball to the sideline…


Unlike Wade in the play above, Allen has help in the presence of Duncan and Chris Andersen, who are preventing Green from attacking that right leg. But Green still uses Allen’s momentum to get to the basket. He just goes the other way.

Where the title will be determined

Green set a Finals record with 27 3-pointers in last year’s series. And Leonard’s mid-range shooting has improved quite a bit since he came into the league. But the pair were a combined 12-for-12 in the paint in Game 3, because of how well the Spurs moved the ball from side to side and because of how well they attacked the Heat’s close-outs.

There’s a reason all three Finals Film Studies thus far have been about the Spurs’ end of the floor. The Heat have been solid offensively throughout the series, especially when James has been able to stay on the floor. They’ve scored at least 105 points per 100 possessions in eight of the 11 quarters in which his body didn’t shut down.

In order to win their third straight championship, the Heat will need to get more consistent stops. They’re trying to be only the fourth team in the last 35 years to win a title after not ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in the regular season. And there’s a reason why only three teams have done it in that span.


  1. thespectator says:

    its the game of cat and mouse, how fast can heat react to spurs moving the ball..its crazy how many times the ball touches different hands in one possession…playin a team like that has to be ultra draining….

  2. cris says:

    what do you mean,”the west has caught up again to the east in talent.” the western conference has tougher teams than the miami heat!?!?!?

  3. Max says:

    I have & still see LeBron as the best NBA Player, but in game 3, he was liked the rest of the HEAT just could not see what the Spurs were doing to the Heat defense. Spurs switched so fast,set up block (this out long way from paint). Got shot off before Heat def. could also switch. Need to really watch this film, would a 3 to 2 zone has cooled off Leonard & Green? Got to to Play a better heads up defense and yes RESPECT those two YOUNG players. Being that Hot in game 4? Not likely, but yes, need to show them respect, with Parked & Duncan on Bench. Heat has to know Manu will flop his way(must not have a bone in his body) weaves,walks and get by with it,one smart sneaky Player,but dead on for the 3 pntr. Think he will not shoot? Give him one inch and he will go into his weave back & forth,until the one guarding him has to be cross eyed, than the old #21 will knock down a 3, do not call him for a travel or a foul, he will swing his head, and yes SWEAR NOT ME! NOT ME!!!

  4. Sir trolls a lot says:

    As the great yogi Berra once said it ain’t over till it’s over. It’s going to 7 games!

    • bballjunkie1 says:

      If Spo don’t start pushing buttons, and sitting guys down when rhey commit stupid turnovers, late on rotations, don’t play defense, commit stupid fouls it won’t go 7, 4 sure. I picked both teams from each conference. Miami should have won eastern conf. With that said Miami always needed to make a coaching change when Lebron came. The west has caught up again to the east in talent so its allabout moves. Spo aint no Pop. Lebon u gave them 4 stabs at it run.

      • Ro says:

        The west has caught up to the east? Lol! What NBA have you been watching?

      • Mike says:

        What are you on? The West hasn’t caught up with the East in talent because the West has been streaks ahead of the East for the last 20 years. Look at the number of 50-win teams in each conference. Look at the lists of finals contenders from this season: Portland, LAC, OKC, Spurs, Rockets vs Miami and Indiana. Western teams win the championship because they are simply the best, whereas Eastern teams win because they had the easiest trip to the finals playing against sub .500 teams.