By: Scott Horlbeck

My roommate said something really interesting during Sunday’s game 4 between the Warriors and Spurs. I didn’t think much of it at first because my roommate says a lot of things – most of which would probably get him sued if he were on air. But for some reason, this comment stuck with me. He said:

“If the Spurs want to, they can not let us get the ball inbounds.”

I know, it’s not the best sentence in the world, but just stay with me for a second.

The inbounds play, whether underneath the basket or on the sideline, is one of the few aspects of the basketball that is rarely talked about. It’s almost like a punt in football – a seemingly insignificant play that receives almost zero attention, but possesses the power to change a game.

The comment stuck with me for the rest of the day, and as I gave it more and more thought, I began to realize something – it’s not just the Spurs series, Denver was the same way (game 6 collapse). The Warriors struggle inbounding the ball against pressure.

So naturally, I went back and re-watched every inbounds play from yesterday’s game (I sound like Jaws on NFL Live). Here’s what I found:

The Warriors ran a total of 12 inbounds plays from the side, and four from underneath the basket. They were able to inbound the ball on 11 of the 12 from the side, with a turnover coming late in the third when they were up two. In terms of under the basket, they ran three different sets, with two of the four resulting in scores.

Sideline out-of-bounds:

As you can see from the box score, the Warriors are down 10. As a result, the Spurs aren’t applying much pressure on the play, and the Warriors are able to inbound the ball with ease.

Under the basket

This is actually the very next play. It’s a three-high set, with Thompson as the primary option. What’s nice about this play is that it puts pressure on the defense. Because of the three-high set, the Spurs put two defenders on the three high Warriors, and leave Splitter in the key to protect the empty paint. Ginobili, who has Jack in the corner, is in help side defense, rightfully between his man and the ball. When the play begins, Thompson comes high off the screen to the top of the key, forcing Neal to stay with him. Once that happens, Barnes pops to the three-point line, and since Ginobili is the closest man to the ball, he is forced to take him. The ball is inbounded to Thompson, who swings it to Barnes, who then swings it to Jack in the corner. This swift ball movement forces the defense to rotate quicker than they actually can, and as a result, Splitter, the lone man in the key, is left to close out on Jack, who is now wide open in the corner. Jack hits the three.

Under the basket 2

Though this play didn’t result in a score, I was really happy with what I saw. I’ll explain. The first thing I like about this set is that it’s the same three-high set as before. The Spurs have seen this already, so at this point, there’s a good chance they’re anticipating the same play from before. But instead of Thompson coming high off a Barnes screen, he comes off a Barnes + Ezeli double for a wide-open mid-range jumper. Once the screens are set, Barnes pops to three, and Ezeli slips to the basket, hoping that Splitter is sleeping and takes a step out to Thompson. The Spurs, however, defended this play perfectly. Barnes and Neal switch the screen, Splitter stays home, and Jefferson is forced to inbound the ball to a back-pedaling Ezeli. All in all, I liked the creativity from the Warriors coaching staff, running two different plays from the same set. As long as the ball is inbounded, the play the worked – anything more than that is a bonus.

**Thoughts so far: All three plays were run during a deficit of at least seven. The Spurs were not contesting each play as they would during a tie game in the fourth quarter. However, the plays seemed to work well. There was a nice mix between sets and the ball was inbounded with ease.

That was the first half. The second wasn’t so pretty.

Remember that sideline out of bounds play with the simple down screen between Barnes and Jack. Worked pretty well right? Well guess what, the Warriors ran that play a total of 12 times on Sunday! Two in the first half, and 10 in the second! 10 times in 24 minutes!!!

Here’s what happened with 1:18 left in the third when the Warriors were up two.

Same set as before. Lee sets the screen for Jack, who comes off for a wide open, easy as pie entry. WRONG. This time, when Jack comes off the screen, Neal slides right and denies the pass to Jack. Since this is the first time the Spurs have actually defended the play, no one is expecting the first option to be defended. Biggest problem with this play – Thompson and Landry. They don’t move! In fifth grade, you’re taught that after three seconds, the third option, in this case Thompson or Landry, release to the ball. In this case, Thompson and Landry just stand there. Inexcusable.

Once Lee realizes Jack is doubled, he fights his way back to the ball, but Splitter is in perfect denial position, and deflects the ball right to Neal. Luckily, this happened in the third quarter. But it easily could have been in the fourth, or overtime. My biggest problem however, is the lack of creativity. The Warriors ran this play 12 times, CONSECUTIVELY! And after the game six atrocity vs Denver, you would have thought the Warriors would be a well-oiled inbounding machine.

But here’s the scary part. Remember the last play of the game: 84-84 with 16 seconds left.  The single most important possession of the game. The possession in which inbounding the ball is an absolute must with a capital M. Guess what play they ran to get Jack the ball?

You guessed it. The same play they ran 11 consecutive times before this one. You could say, “Scott, maybe the reason they’re running this play so much is because it works. I mean, you said it yourself, the Spurs only stopped them from inbounding the ball once on this play,” and technically you’d be right. But here’s my thing, and maybe I’m nit picking. I don’t like the redundancy. In fact, I hate it. To me, when somebody runs the same play 12 times in a row, it’s usually because they don’t have another play. And the fact that the Warriors only have one sideline out of bounds play at his point in the season is pretty concerning.

When I think back to game six in Denver, when the Warriors couldn’t inbound the ball to save their lives, and we all thought we were about to witness the most pathetic collapse in NBA Playoffs history, and now, when I think ahead to games five, six, and possibly seven, and all the late game possessions that will determine the outcome of each of those games, and possibly decide who moves on to the Western Conference Finals, this “same-play-12-consecutive-times” stuff isn’t going to cut it.

You’re not always going to have a timeout to bail you out. Sometimes you have to mix things up.

One Response

  1. DREdub

    Totally agree. Sure, it may work when the Spurs don’t care if they get it in and are just focused on getting a half court stop early in the game. But when they’re actually looking for a turnover in an important spot, I wonder what play they’re going to defend? Maybe the one we ran at them 12 times before? Great article.