With 1:16 left in the third quarter Sunday, the San Antonio Spurs were in the driver’s seat with a 10-point cushion, after Pau Gasol made back-to-back free throws to give the Spurs a 70-60 lead. However, with LaMarcus Aldridge heading to the bench less than a minute before Gasol’s free throws, the Spurs had a frontcourt duo of David Lee and Gasol tasked with the duty of guarding the Hawks’ frontcourt of Paul Millsap and Mike Muscala.
With only Lee and Gasol in his way, Millsap anchored a Hawks 15-5 run that took only 2:36 minutes to complete from the end of the third quarter to the 10:40 mark of the fourth quarter, as the game was reset at 75 for both teams. The breakdown below will show how Millsap took advantage of the Spurs’ frontcourt on offense to score 12 of the Hawks’ 15 points in those 2:36 minutes.
Tim Hardaway Jr., who had a career night with 29 points, started the Hawks’ run by first making a corner three that wasn’t necessarily intentional. On that possession, the Hawks actually tried to get Millsap in the right low block, but the Spurs swarmed him and almost made a steal, however, the ball landed in Hardaway Jr’s hands in the right corner, and he made the three.
In the video below, you’ll see Millsap score 10 points in a variety of ways. In the first clip, Millsap and Malcolm Delaney ran a 1-4 pick-and-pop, where Millsap popped out to the 3-point line. Lee was guarding Millsap and he “iced” the pick and roll to cut off Delaney’s driving lane, but, that left Millsap wide open for the made three. In the second clip, the Hawks ran a double high drag screen with Muscala and Millsap. Gasol and Lee both dropped back on the screen action, so that allowed Millsap to be wide open for a second time on the pick-and-pop action for the made three. In the third clip, Muscala did an excellent job of screening off the ball for Millsap, which forced Gasol to have to switch and guard Millsap in the low block. With Millsap having the quickness advantage 1-on-1 against Gasol, he took advantage with an up and under move for the layup. The last clip shows Millsap getting Lee on the right side of the floor in isolation and though Lee actually plays good defense and contests the shot, the ball still goes in for Millsap.
Millsap’s other two points during the 15-5 run came on a pair of free throws. But, when the 10:40 mark was set, Millsap had led the Hawks on a charging comeback in less than three minutes and the game was reset. From that point on in the fourth quarter and overtime, no team ever took more than a two-possession lead, but it was the Hawks who came out victorious after 53 minutes of play with the 114-112 victory.
One last play worth highlighting was the late game tying three pointer Hardaway Jr. made with three seconds left on the clock to force overtime at 100. As you can see from the play diagram below, the Hawks used a pair of double Hammer screens to confuse the Spurs’ defenders and get Hardaway Jr. the wide open look.
As Project Spurs’ Jose Grijalva noted afterward, the Hawks used their best shooter (Kyle Korver) as a decoy on the play by just making him be one of the players who set one of the Hammer screens. Because Korver is the Hawks’ best shooter, the Spurs had the NBA’s best defensive player guarding him from the start, when really, the play was designed for a totally different player (Hardaway Jr.). Credit has to be given to Coach Mike Budenholzer for the play design as well.
For the Hawks, the question going forward is whether or not this win against San Antonio might guide them in playing more consistent basketball as the season progresses. They currently have a record of 18-16 after 34 games, which puts them on pace for 43 wins this season. But as they’ve shown with wins against the Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, they’re capable of taking down just about any team in the league on any given night, however, as their record shows, that just hasn’t been the case thus far.
Stats via NBA.com/stats