Out of the Timeout: Spurs bust the Clipper zone
When teams are having trouble defending they sometimes turn to a zone defense. The zone is frowned upon by some in the NBA, as it’s seen as a cop out or a way to hide bad defenders. But there comes a time when no matter what you’re doing, it’s not working and something needs to be done. When the Spurs beat the Clippers last week, something needed to be done from Los Angeles’ perspective.
As a result, the Clippers went to a zone. When this happens on the fly, some teams have trouble recognizing the zone and making the requisite adjustments to their offense. The Spurs didn’t miss a beat. My old high school coach used to say that the two ways to beat a zone were passing and shooting. If you think about it long enough, those two things will beat pretty much any defense, but they’re especially useful against a zone. Isolation doesn’t work so well against the zone, unless you’re going to dribble around for 20 seconds and then jack a 3-pointer.
In this first frame, you can see that the Spurs are spread out along the perimeter, with DeJuan Blair (4) the lone player near the paint. TJ Ford (1) swung the ball to Richard Jefferson (3) in the corner, who looked for Blair down low, then for a shot and eventually passed it back to Ford. TJ then passed to Tim Duncan (5) at the top of the key, and then the ball rotated to Manu Ginobili (2) on the opposite wing. Swinging the ball around the perimeter like this gets the defense moving side-to-side, where passing and cutting lanes open up.
After swinging the ball to Manu, Tim Duncan drops down to the free throw line in the middle of the zone, often referred to as the “soft spot” of the zone. The free throw line area is usually right between the two lines of the zone, in this case a 3-2 zone. Getting a player in this section can cause all sorts of confusion for a zone defense, which is the case here.
When Tim Duncan swings the ball to Manu, two defenders go with Manu and Duncan drops down. Manu hits him with a pass at the free throw line, and Duncan executes a beautiful touch pass to DeJuan Blair. This play by Duncan is one of those understated basketball things that is hard to quantify. As he’s setting up at the free throw line, Duncan recognizes where DeAndre Jordan is down low and when he catches the pass, he makes a split-second read of what Jordan is doing.
Jordan comes up just enough towards Duncan to open up the pass to Blair. Duncan makes the quick pass, and Blair nails the floater. If Jordan didn’t come up, Duncan could have squared up and hit Richard Jefferson on the left wing for an open 3.
Here’s the play at game speed.