Manu shows you how to defend a two-on-one fast break


It was only a minute into the first regular season game of the year, but already Manu Ginobili did one of those Manu Ginobili things. Manu seems not only capable, but masterful, at turning long odds in his favor. Such was the case last night when Manu thwarted a Grizzlies two-on-one fast break.

A two-on-one break is usually an easy two points. I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but I would expect the success rate for the offensive team on a two-on-one break is extremely high, especially in the NBA where it’s easy to simply float the ball in the air and have a high-flying athlete catch it and throw it down.

Last night against the Grizzlies, Manu Ginobili showed aspiring players out there, and all you pick-up players, how to defend a two-on-one break.


Mike Conley has the ball and he’s pushing it up court. He’s got Tony Allen on the right side and Manu Ginobili is defending down the middle of the floor. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are both trailing the play. You can see by the fact that he’s on the Spurs logo at mid-court, Manu is positioned exactly in the middle of the floor. He looks like he’s shaded more towards Allen because, well, Allen hasn’t taken a very good angle on the break at this point. Ideally, on offense you want to be pretty wide, the closer the two offensive players are together, the easier it makes things on the defense.

manu-ginobili-spurs-fast-break-defense-2In this next screenshot, you can see that Manu is shaded more towards Tony Allen now. From my playing experience, defending a two-on-one break (and we practiced defending two-on-one breaks, it was the most fun drill we had) is about forcing the ball handler to make a decision. The longer you give him options, the more screwed you are. By shading towards Allen, Manu has basically said take the shot Mike Conley, it’s yours. The longer Conley has options, the harder it makes for Manu when it comes time to actually try and stop the play. At this point, Conley’s mind should pretty much be made up. He’s got an angle to the basket and Tony Allen is covered, Conley is going to the bucket.


And now Conley is committed. He’s got an angle to the basket. Even if he tried to get it to Allen here, Tony Parker has recovered enough to make a swipe at any bounce or chest pass in Allen’s direction. The only available pass would be a lob and Allen isn’t much of a high flyer. With his mind made up, the play is easier for Manu. He knows that Conley’s got to put up a shot, and though Ginobili isn’t as spry as he once was, he can still make a play on the ball in the air. Which he does.

Does this strategy always work? No, especially in the NBA. If it was Rudy Gay pushing the ball, do you think he would have cared that Manu was taking away the pass? I would expect that Gay would’ve just hammered it home and Ginobili would’ve been powerless to stop it. But Manu knew who he was dealing with and what he could get away with. There’s a good chance Conley’s first instinct would’ve been to pass on this play, he’s a point guard after all. Manu probably would have forced Gay to pass by taking away his drive if they were in that situation, hoping Parker had recovered enough to make a play on Allen. In this instance, though, Manu made the right play by taking away Conley’s options on the break and forcing him into something Manu could defend. Which is exactly what happened.

  • Wayne

    Great play to draw up Andrew.

    I think you are right in that Manu played it perfectly and that he played it perfectly for the guys involved in the break.  He forced Conley, from the very beginning, to be the guy taking the shot.  And given Conley’s size, Manu is able to make it a difficult shot.  What’s interesting to me, is that this is all probably instinctual to Manu.  Given different people in the break, at different positions, he probably plays it differently.

    It also helps to show the genius of Tony on the break.  He would have made his layup somehow and somehow made it look easy.

  • Andrew A. McNeill

    Very true. Tony also would’ve fallen down, because that’s what Tony does.

  • Jeremiah

    These are actually my favorite types of pieces from you guys.  When causal fans are confused about the term BBIQ, I feel like I should link them to these write ups.  Like you said, Manu isn’t as spry as he used to be, but man is he smart and just fun to watch.

  • Jesse Blanchard

    I noted this in the game as well, it was almost like a defensive back taking an angle to tackle someone faster than him. 

  • Bob

    I think good defense is really about making the offensive player uncomfortable or forcing them into making a decision that is easier to defend. Manu likes to create havoc on the defensive end. It will be nice to see the Spurs get back to a defensive mentality. They played defense for some good stretches and especially when Tiago and Kawhi were on the floor.

  • DorieStreet

    Manu’s defensive effort on the break is reward by his 2 sidekicks hustling back to contest and secure the rebound –Tony and Tim.
    The Core 3 for this team—–showing their younger teammates—and we fans– what they were all about the past decade.

  • NYC


  • NYC

    Two words: and one. 

  • Anonymous

    He had one of two choices…defend the ball or defend the trailer…basketball 101 always teaches…defend the ball.  But how he defended both was not so “extraordinary”…he simply sealed off the trailer so not to allow the trailer to have a clear path and then when the handler had no other choice than to take to the hole, Ginobili switched to defending the ball at the rim.

    More than anything it was a clinic on how to defend the situation and not so much as Ginobili did anything spectacular.

  • Werdnawee

    Haha, Tony was on defense and he still fell down on this play (obviously going for the And One)

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  • Anonymous

    In the background, across court, in this interview with T.J. Ford – Kawhi is being shown how to improve his turnaround J from the perimeter.  You can see his arch is higher as well as better follow through.

    Also noticed in Blair’s interview that Blair has matured in his interviewing process and seems to be less nervous and less self absorbed as he was just a year ago.  A more “team first” approach in his answers.  Nice to see.