There was a time circa 1998-1999 that everyone knew exactly what the Spurs were going to do. “4 Down”, also known as “give it to Duncan in the post, and spread out” was the go to play.
Tim Duncan would go to work, either score, or draw a double team and swing the ball back out to a teammate. Occasionally, a man would cut to the basket, or David Robinson would roll to the basket if his man was foolish enough to leave him, and Duncan would find them.
There was nothing wrong with this simplistic offense. Combined with the Spurs historically stingy defense, it was highly effective. It proved the old adage, that keeping plans simple works best. If you get too complicated, too many things can go wrong.
However, as the Spurs roster developed over time with the monumental additions of Parker and Ginobili, Pop evolved with the times and the arsenal at his disposal.
The Spurs player and ball movement on the court increased over the next few years. Due to Parker and Ginobili’s ability to get to the basket. This was inevitable. In 2012 that ball movement went to another level, and the phrase “good to great” started surfacing as a Spurs mantra.
In 2013 and 2014, the Spurs “beautiful game” reached its zenith as they passed the ball like never before. The Spurs have always been a high assist, unselfish team, so the fact that it went to a new high level is really saying something.
Something that Popovich has been a master at throughout the Big 3 Era though is the play calling. The Spurs after a timeout are the best in the business. Pop calls plays that deliver great looks time and time again, and to the players credit, they have executed these plays and hit huge shots time and time again.
Sometimes, they miss those shots, but the execution and master play calling has been very consistent regardless. Popovich is also great at sending in a play on the run during game action, and the Spurs players know how to execute the play smoothly and cohesively, giving them the best chance at success.
Through the years, some of these plays stand out because of how important they were to the Spurs, and how wonderfully designed they were by Popovich. Here are a few memorable examples:
In 2006, the Spurs ran a play they have run numerous times, and it has worked a majority of those times. Often it involves Manu driving baseline, Duncan setting a perfect screen, and a Spurs 3 point specialist getting a great look at the basket.
Spurs vs Kings Game 2 is the poster child for this play. Barry’s 3 pointer sent the game into overtime and the Spurs went on to win the game and later the series in 6 games.
Another play involves a shooter coming from one side of the court to the other via underneath the basket, and again a perfect screen or two is set, and a good look is created. This payed off in another playoff game to force overtime.
A prime example of this play is the Spurs vs the Suns Game 1 2008. Finley is the shooter, Ginobili the passer, and both Parker and Oberto set screens on the pursuing defender.
In that same game vs the Suns, Popovich drew up a pick and “NOT” roll with Ginobili and Duncan which resulted in sucking Shaquille O’neal into the lane to help Nash with a driving Manu Ginobili, only to have Ginobili throw it back to the Big Fundamental who hit one of his biggest shots ever!
This shot forced a 2nd Overtime. (The Spurs as you know or should know, finally won this game with a last second Ginobili basket in the 2nd overtime.)
The next one involves Green coming underneath to set a screen for Kawhi Leonard, only to slip through and get himself open, and Ginobili again is manning the point and delivers the pass while Diaw sets another screen. Green takes care of the rest.
This basket helped force overtime once again, this time vs the Warriors in Game 1 of the 2013 playoffs. The Spurs went on to win this game in the second overtime with a Manu Ginobili 3 pointer.
These plays are dramatic examples of the masterful play calling of Gregg Popovich. There have been many baskets made and plays executed over the years with Popovich as the architect.
So next season take notice, especially after a timeout how often the Spurs get a great look at a shot, because of superb play calling of Popovich, and the execution of the Spurs.