Spurs clutch wins this season are more than just luck

Dec 25, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol (16) celebrates with teammate Patty Mills (8, left) after a basket during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 25, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol (16) celebrates with teammate Patty Mills (8, left) after a basket during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

Spurs late fourth quarter comeback against Houston culminated with Mills’ 3-point shot 12.9 seconds before the end. This scenery we have not seen this season.

Spurs won most games in clutch than any other team did in 2016-17. In fact, it happened so often for Spurs – that we can say it’s something else in question than just pure luck.

Common opinion is that, even though Spurs have NBA’s second best record, they struggled in a lot of games. Although there were some positive signs lately, there is still a lot of room for improvement. But nevertheless, even with struggle and lot of close games, Spurs lost only 5 so far.

Consistency is synonym for Spurs franchise for the past 20 years. However, this season they are still finding consistency throughout all 48 minutes of a ball game. Luckily, they have it when it counts the most. And one of the main reasons is their perfect execution of coach’s plan.

What the numbers say

From first 29 games for San Antonio Spurs this season, 17 finished in clutch time. Although there are teams that played more these games, no one won more than Spurs. In 14 out of 17 occasions Spurs came out as winners.

Furthermore, Spurs have league’s best offense in clutch. They average 129.9 points per 100 possessions, while conceding 89.7. Overall NetRating of 40.3 points per 100 possessions has no match in NBA this season (Clippers are second with 24.6). With field goad percentage of 46.7%, Spurs are also NBA’s best team in clutch.

Spurs commit 8.5 turnovers per 100 possessions in clutch time; their season average is 13.9. They make 14.2 steals per 100 possessions in clutch (lead the league), comparing with 8.6 outside of clutch time. Spurs offensive rebounds also increase from 9.7 to 15.2 per 100 possessions in clutch time. And at the same time, they turn down turnover number from 13.9 to 8.5.

Statistics clearly implies what is anyways obvious on  the court – Spurs execute much better in clutch. Not just better that other teams, but better than they usually do.

That maybe has something to do with coaching. In clutch time, coaches are more involved in the game, taking more timeouts, drawing more plays, organizing defense more. And Spurs have advantage of having one of the best basketball coaches in history.

Perfect execution

Let’s start with latest game-winning shot – Patty’s 3-pointer in Houston. Here is the play

Patty Mills with a BIG TIME 3 to take the lead! pic.twitter.com/W6kfIOT4Hv

— NBA TV (@NBATV) 21. децембар 2016.

We see that first option was quick 3-point shot from Danny Green, coming out of screens from Mills and Leonard. Because Harden stayed close to Danny, Aldridge sets screen for Kawhi, who opens in the right corner.

Rockets decide to switch Nene on Kawhi, not giving him open corner 3. Because first options failed, Spurs give ball in hands of Kawhi, who plays 1 on 1 with Eric Gordon.  4 Spurs players are beyond perimeter, all excellent 3-point shooters. And when Kawhi decide to drive towards basket, everything gets smooth for Spurs.

Kawhi can’t see Green anymore, so Danny immediately cuts from left wing towards the basket. At that point, the are no players above wing positions, so there is a lot of free space. Take a look at video again. Notice that as soon as Green cuts, Manu and Mills practically simultaneously raise up from corners on wings.

Now things turned is Spurs favor. Manu is guarded by slower Nene, and Beverly leaves Mills enough space after committing to Aldridge. As sson as he receives the ball, Manu drives in the middle past Nene. Beverly steps in to help, so Manu has a no-brainer pass to wide open Mills. Patty, of course, hits wide open 3.

This play probably wasn’t Pop’s original intention with this possession. But nevertheless, genius of a coach is not only in drawing a perfect play, but being able to provide plenty alternatives for players. When you have smart players and leave them enough opportunities, they will most likely execute.

We’ll show another great example of Pop’s master play-calling. It was play for Kawhi’s game-winning shot against Wizards. In this one, Pop uses another thing to outsmart opponent – time. Here is the play:

When Many receives the ball, Green and Mills set double screen for Leonard. However, he decides to run from them, quickly coming out on top of the key, followed by screen from Aldridge. Now, time a huge factor here.

Because there is 7 seconds left, Wizards decide not to switch. They think Spurs will keep the ball until time runs out, so they want their players on desired positions. This is what allows this extra moment for Leonard, coming out from screen from Aldridge.

Because Wizards expect from Kawhi to wait for last-second shot, Otto Porter chases Kawhi through screen. But this creates enough time for Kawhi to take open shot, 6 seconds to go. He gets the shot, and Spurs defend last possession, winning the game.

It’s a pretty simple play, but timing and execution were spotless. That is characteristic of Spurs under Pop – doing most fundamental things best.

This is not end-of-game play, but also can show how good are Spurs in execution. Here is one of the best inbound plays this season

Just how smooth this plays looks. Three quick passes and done. Because Mills’ defender commits to denying pass, Patty has huge space to take advantage of that. Lee shows on right elbow, triggering “Blind Pig” backdoor action. Play brings 3 on 2 situation for Spurs, which finishes with great alley-oop for Dedmon.

DEWAYNE AT IT AGAIN ? pic.twitter.com/Slx4hiP10U

— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 19, 2016

Again, although this is not end-of-game play, it is perfect example of how great Spurs are when they execute like this. And it’s something they don’t lack when it’s most needed – in clutch.

Examples in this article are sign of how effective Spurs are in doing what coach wants from them. When you have best NBA coach, there is nothing more you have to do as a player than listen his instructions.

Must Read: San Antonio Spurs have another successful week

So far, Spurs still struggle a little bit to be consistent for 48 minutes of game. But clutch time is good indicator that they are able to do that. Season is long, and time is there to build on this. But if they play the best when it’s needed the most, at least we don’t have to worry about Playoffs.