Game after game, year after year, the San Antonio Spurs exercise their calculated, methodical genius. Possession after possession, play after play, the Spurs pass, cut, screen and penetrate their way through the opponents’ defense, and though the defense resists, the Spurs almost inevitably find their shot. “The hammer”, the set shown above, represents many of the principles of San Antonio’s offense. While San Antonio’s system whittles away at a defense, it is the aptly named “hammer” that often drives the final nail.
San Antonio’s hammer sets, as the video shows, generally involve off and on ball movement prior to this point, but the first key step is what appears to be a high screen. San Antonio knows that many defenses attempt to prevent the ball handler from using the screen. In accordance with the set, San Antonio has cleared the middle of the floor, leaving an open lane for the ball-handler, in this case Cory Joseph, to drive.
As the guard drives, the weak-side defensive big man is forced to step in to contest. Meanwhile, San Antonio’s big man sets a back screen on the defensive wing, usually a couple steps off his man in help position, while San Antonio’s shooter cuts to the corner, setting up an easy pass to a wide-open man for the best shot in basketball.
While the specific play may have been used no more than a couple times against the Warriors, it displays the intelligence that couples with the Spurs’ talent to make the team as successful as it is. They account for the nuances of the opposing teams expected defense on the initial deceptive screen, and take advantage of help schemes with the back screen.
The Warriors may have resisted San Antonio, riding their own hot shooting and San Antonio’s unexpected turnovers and inconsistent shooting to two victories, but a large part of the Warriors’ performance was simply unsustainable if they hoped to win.
The Warriors presented an intriguing case, but not one that held up against San Antonio’s aggressive examination. From their own shooting to the Spurs’ struggles to convert on repeated open corner threes, among other opportunities, the Warriors could not maintain their performance, and were, like many teams before them, sentenced to death by San Antonio’s compassionless execution.
Fortunately for the Warriors, the NBA death is not finite. The Warriors have next year, and an eternity after that, to build on this season. While a loss is never welcome, the San Antonio Spurs gave the Warriors a model on which they can base their aspirations. While the brilliance of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili may be responsible for much of San Antonio’s success, the Spurs have set the standard for player development and on court execution for several years. Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green, recent products of San Antonio’s system, were key in carrying out the Warriors’ sentence.
The Spurs, at least more so than other teams, take advantage of their players’ talents, bringing success not just to the players but to the entire team, and apart from a few creative diversions from Ginobili, the Spurs’ players generally stay within this system.
The Warriors have a bright future, but as the Spurs have shown the last few years, success is not guaranteed. While loss is not always a learning experience, the Warriors could learn learn a lot from the Spurs.