The Lakers' final possession against the Spurs
Breaking down the final play of the Spurs-Lakers game and where the Lakers went wrong.
Ideally, you wouldn't have your 7-foot power forward taking a contested 3-pointer with four or five seconds left on the clock to win the game, unless that player is Dirk Nowitzki. Considering Pau Gasol is 1,248 made 3-pointers behind Nowitzki on the all-time leaderboard, I think it's safe to say they're not quite the same option out there.
"I designed it," World Peace said. "Well, coach designed it for Kobe and then the guy denied Kobe so I said, 'OK, let me get it to the two-time champion Pau.' The Spaniard almost made the shot."
Kawhi Leonard does a great job of denying Kobe Bryant the ball on the inbounds and after Gasol receives the pass from World Peace. After not feeling like there was a pass, Pau takes the shot at around five seconds and allows the team time to fight for an offensive board it never came up with.
But did Pau have a better option on the play? Let's check it out screen shot by screen shot.
If you watch the play again, Dwight Howard, Gasol Bryant just run near each other without ever actually setting a screen. This was the first bad part of the play. We don't know if it's by design or it's just bad execution, but they don't allow anybody to get free to accept the inbound pass by doing this.
Once Gasol gets to the corner, World Peace actually has two open passing lanes. One is to Gasol in the corner, which he takes. The other one looks like Kobe has Leonard sealed off pretty well. It's not a completely open pass, especially with Stephen Jackson in front of the inbounder, but it's still a very makeable pass with how good Kobe is at sealing his man off on post-entry passes.
After the pass to Gasol, World Peace runs around Bryant, who is left fighting with Leonard for position on the right wing. Antawn Jamison hasn't vacated the left corner at all to help spread the floor. And Howard is stationed on the low block of the opposite side. This is where I think their spacing on the play really breaks down.
If Howard is stationed at the left elbow of the free throw line, it means Tiago Splitter has to either be completely clear of the paint on the strong side of the floor or he has to be within arm's reach of Howard near the free throw line. This would open up the side of the floor Gasol has for a pass to Bryant once he cuts or give Gasol a driving lane on the baseline.
Bryant does get free of Leonard for a step or two, and Tim Duncan puts his hands near his side for a second. It was at this point in which Gasol should have delivered the pass and trusted Bryant's hands. There is a lot of real estate between Kobe and Splitter, and I find it hard to believe Bryant wouldn't get the call or a good scoring opportunity against Splitter, even if Leonard is on his back.
Gasol doesn't deliver the pass right away and has a second decision to make.
Right as Gasol is going up for his shooting motion, there is a slight opening to give the ball to Bryant on the block. A simple bounce pass gives Bryant the ball with about five seconds left. Granted, he'd have Leonard on him and Duncan dropping down soon, but we've seen Bryant create shots out of worse situations. Not to mention, Gasol is a career 23.1 percent 3-point shooter.
To be fair, it looks like Howard is creating rebounding position in case the shot goes long. I'm not sure if Gasol sees this or just assumes Howard will have position, but it does look like it's happening. The shooting motion starting with 5.7 seconds gives the Lakers plenty of time to grab the rebound and tie the game if they get a fortuitous bounce their way.
After the shot hits the rim, Splitter outmuscles Howard for rebounding position, secures the ball for a second, and then the ensuing scramble for possession takes care of the rest of the clock.
Gasol's look was decent. He didn't have to fade away or do any unnecessary motion to get the shot off over Duncan. He just had better decisions to make and failed to make them. A lot went wrong on that final play for the Lakers, but a lot of that seems avoidable in hindsight.
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