Apr 22, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs players (from left), Tim Duncan, and Matt Bonner, and DeJuan Blair, and Kawhi Leonard, and Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili watch from the bench during the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the AT

The Spurs’ top playoff lineup


PG Tony Parker | SG Danny Green | SF Kawhi Leonard | PF Boris Diaw | C Tim Duncan
Minutes played: 40
Offensive Rating: 124.4
Defensive Rating: 74.7
Pace: 94.1

May 5, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) dribbles around Utah Jazz point guard Devin Harris (5) during the first quarter of game three in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

How it works offensively
Watching this lineup operate offensively was a lot of fun. They ran the vaunted Spurs Motion “Weak” offense worked to perfection with little resistance. What struck me most was how they reacted to each other seamlessly, each of their subsequent decisions cursory but seemingly instinctive as well.

On many possessions the defense was confronted with the threat of a Tony Parker-Tim Duncan pick-and-roll, weak side action from either Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw spotting up from the perimeter. Considering Diaw is knocking down 44 percent of shots from the middle of the floor, there really is no preferable alternative for the defense.

Looking at the second possession of Game 1 (around the 10:50 mark of the first quarter) you’ll see what I’m talking about. The play began with Parker dribbling towards the right side of the floor while every other Spur, sans Green who was in the strong side corner, was situated on the left side of the floor for spacing purposes. Green set a down screen for Diaw, freeing him up some space to set another pick for Parker.

Green moved towards the weak side corner where he still remains a legitimate threat considering he is shooting 46 percent from the corner this year. After Devin Harris went under the screen and Josh Howard filled the lane to impede Parker’s progress, Parker found Kawhi. Kawhi fired a pass to Green and Green took a couple of calculated dribbles before the offense reset.

Duncan motioned for a pick-and-roll on the right side of the floor this time. Green took the screen and dribbled towards the left elbow. Realizing that there were no other options, Green decided to feed Duncan down low in the left block. Guarded by Al Jefferson — giving up 0.78 points per possessions (good for 101st) on Post-Ups according to MySynergySports — Duncan was in position to score in a rare isolate set. Isolations only represent 7.1% of the Spurs’ possessions but on this particular ISO, Duncan converted on a running layup.

Brief synopsis: The ball was swung around the entire floor, every single Spur was incorporated into the play and their strengths were effectively utilized, sound floor spacing made it hard for the defense to defend everyone and, in a bit of improvisation, the Spurs used Duncan to create one-on-one against Jefferson, a below-average post defender.

And this was on a possession that was, technically, a broken play. I have no idea how you can stop this lineup when they’re executing so well.

How it works defensively
The beauty of this lineup combination is the harmonious duality. Not only do they pour on the points in a brutally efficient manner but this lineup prevents the opposing team from getting any semblance of offensive continuity. From the onset, their defense constricts the court, essentially eliminating the 3-pointer from their repertoire. Without room to operate, the offense is forced into a multitude of inefficient shots where the Spurs defenders are always in a proper spot to rotate and help. (Statistical caveat: They were playing the Utah Jazz, the 27th-ranked 3-point shooting team).

The Spurs are able to eradicate the perimeter shot because this lineup is able to close out on shooters quickly and ruthlessly. Diaw and Duncan are both elite defenders against spot up shooters — ranking 19th and 6th in points per possession allowed, respectively. Green and Leonard are lanky swingmen that are able to close out quickly because of their athleticism without compensating help position. Both also have enough length to disrupt the majority of perimeter players.

Perhaps their most impressive facet is their ability to prevent extra possessions, though. Offensive rebounds are the most obvious way for an offense to make up for their offensive deficiencies. But with Green, Duncan and Leonard all posting above-average defensive rebounding rates (courtesy of HoopData.com), there really isn’t many opportunities for put-backs, kick out 3-pointers etc. Their adherence to sound fundamentals such as rebounding positioning was instrumental in their sweep over the Jazz. The Jazz relied heavily on offensive rebounds — ranking 2nd in offensive rebounding rate — to create offense. Against the Spurs, though, that didn’t happen which didn’t bode well for their hopes in bouncing the No. 1 seed from the playoffs. As a result, the Spurs’ defense limited Utah’s sixth-ranked offense to 91 points per 100 possessions, nearly 17 points lower than their normal mark.

And, although the perception that the Spurs are a poor defensive team resonates through the media, the fact of the matter is that they’re much improved. Their starting lineup, especially, embodies this sentiment.

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