Ultimate success in the NBA playoffs is all about offensive execution in the half court. Teams that have consistent success are capable of calling a special play (or plays) at the right time and ending it successfully, even if the defense knows what's about to happen and does its damnedest to rotate properly and scheme against it.
Here's a rundown of the four remaining teams left battling in the conference finals, with one particular play from each offense to look out for as both series play themselves out.
We all know about the devastating post-ups Zach Randolph has used all season to bludgeon opponents into repentance, or Mike Conley and Marc Gasol's high pick-and-roll action that forces the defense into choosing how it'd like to die (by open Gasol "jump" shot, a Conley layup/floater or, when all else fails, another pick-and-roll).
But the Memphis Grizzlies have a little more to their offense than that, even if what's left is only taken off the top shelf for special occasions—or, conversely, treated as a "break glass in case of emergency" last resort when everything else stalls.
One of their most intriguing designs doesn't involve any of their noteworthy players, but instead Tayshaun Prince.
What you're seeing is a side pick-and-roll that usually occurs on the right half of the floor, and almost always with Marc Gasol as the screener. It gets Prince moving toward the center of the court and forces the defense to either allow an open mid-range jump shot (which more likely than not they'd be perfectly fine with) or, if the design completely catches the opposition off guard, a driving lane.
This sequence doesn't occur too often, but when it does, the Grizzlies usually find a pretty good look at the basket.
San Antonio Spurs
There's a reason the San Antonio Spurs are the second-most efficient team in the league when they run a man off a screen. They're disciplined. They're coordinated. They're on-time, smart and able to read defenses on the fly, changing "set" plays in the blink of an eye if it suits their ultimate purpose of putting the ball in the basket.
One of their most common play designs involves Tony Parker running the baseline through a stagger screen and receiving a pass from the top of the arc on the opposite wing. He's then in position to read how his defender has managed to follow him and react accordingly. On this clip against the Golden State Warriors he finds himself wide open for a jump shot.
Here's a clip that begins as the same play, except Jarrett Jack knows it's coming. How does Parker react? Brilliantly, by cutting back toward the ball and away from the designed screens, then receiving a pass as he's moving toward the lane.
Like a wide receiver possessing three different reads on the same play, when the Spurs run their guards off screens, where they go is ultimately dictated by the defense. But no worries, that's just how they like it.
The Pacers are where they are because of a great starting five that knows one another's tendencies, and a stout defense that's able bodied to take away whatever an opponent likes to do.
Indiana's offense for the season is nothing too impressive, but it can score with the best of them when its starting five of David West, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Roy Hibbert and Paul George share the court.
According to NBA.com, that five-man unit averaged 101.6 points per 100 possessions during over 1200 minutes in the regular season—a mark that would've made it the NBA's fourth-best offense.
The Pacers utilize post-ups with West and Hibbert, but not always with the objective of getting a turnaround jump hook. They run a motion-heavy offense that often works the ball from side to side before getting it in the post, and once it's there—and the defense has five brains collectively fixated on helping out—either West or Hibbert has the option of finding a cutter (Stephenson, George) or a wide open three-point shooter whose man has drifted too far into the paint.
Here's Dwyane Wade falling way too far into the paint to compensate for a post-up by George, leaving Stephenson wide open on the opposite wing. West finds him right on cue, and the open three is made.
Where Indiana has thrived in the playoffs is on those open threes created off post-ups and flare screens. Here's some basic action that Indiana uses from its motion offense, where George swings the ball to Hibbert above the three-point line.
Indiana's All-Star forward then cuts toward the lane, off a screen from Hill. Pablo Prigioni has to drop down and pick up George or there'll be an open layup. Hill sees this and slides above the three-point line, where he's now wide open.
As he's doing this, West, a monster, sets a pretty flare screen on a recovering Prigioni, keeping Hill wide open until the ball falls through the net.
According to Synergy Sports, the Miami Heat were the most efficient offense in basketball this season. A major reason for this is their possession of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, three All-NBA-caliber players who've been fixtures at All-Star weekend for their entire careers. Having players that skilled is a plus, but the way in which the Heat attack defenses is just as much of a reason for their dominance.
The pick-and-roll is basketball's most commonly used play, but the Heat use it in complex ways that are nearly impossible to defend for an entire 24-second shot clock. Beyond James and Wade, Miami's roster is loaded with capable ball-handlers who can slash and kick, finish at the rim and shoot from distance. This fosters unpredictability—a defense's worst enemy.
While Synergy tracks Miami as the 10th most efficient team when it finishes possessions with a pick-and-roll ball-handler, it's first in spot-up jumpers, first in hitting the roll man and first in off-ball cuts.
A ton of those other opportunities are first created by a series of pick-and-rolls, and this clip is a perfect example. The Heat run three quick side pick-and-rolls, but end the play with a wide open spot-up jumper for one of the world's best players. It's using basketball's most simple play to incorporate all five members of the team, keeping both the defense and ball moving at all times from one side of the floor to the other. Magical.
The Pacers defend this action about as well as any team could. They work above the first two screens, preventing an early mismatch, then switch when it's absolutely necessary and prevent any attempts at the rim or beyond the arc. If you showed this clip to Frank Vogel, he wouldn't be happy that Wade's shot is wide open, but he'd be pleased with where it's attempted.
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