The Extra Pass: The Spurs’ Hammer set; plus Tuesday’s recaps

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The Signature Series takes a look at a play that’s largely unique to one team. Here’s San Antonio’s “Hammer” set.

The San Antonio Spurs don’t get enough credit for keeping up with the times. Although the end result is often the same as it has always been – Tim Duncan facing up and banking a shot home, Tony Parker shooting floaters in the lane, Manu Ginobili doing Manu Ginobili things – the means of transportation has changed over the years.

San Antonio once walked the ball up the floor, but for the last three seasons, they’ve been a top-10 team in the league in pace.

During that time, San Antonio has relied more on quick-hitting plays in the halfcourt than elaborate sets. Rarely will you see Duncan holding the ball and surveying for long periods of time like he used to. San Antonio got slower, but now they move quicker.

A prime example of how the Spurs have blended their patented half court execution and need for speed is the “Hammer” set they’ve used with great success.

Although there are a few different variations of it, here’s a good look at the basic set by Dan Murphy at FastModel Sports:

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The Spurs are masters of movement and misdirection, and the initial action here on the left is nothing much more than that. The real purpose of this set is simple: create an open corner three-point attempt for a shooter.

The Spurs have been able to do just that with frightening regularity. San Antonio was third in the NBA in corner threes last year, and Danny Green was second in the entire league in made shots from that area.

Check out how clean some of these three-point looks deviating from the different Hammer sets are:

As you can see above, all it takes is for a defender to turn their head or help in the paint on the baseline drive. If that happens, they’re getting caught with a flare screen and giving up one of the most desired shots in basketball to a deadly shooter.

There are more physical teams in the league. There are teams that jump higher. But if you want to try and find an offense that’s more mentally taxing on their opponents than San Antonio’s? Good luck.

-D.J. Foster

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Trail Blazers 119, Cavaliers 116: Teams keep exposing the weaknesses of this Blazers team — the Cavaliers used their size up front with Andrew Bynum (13) first half points — and it doesn’t matter. Cleveland put up 116 points on the Blazers defense and lost. Portland used a 22-7 run in the fourth quarter take what looked like a lead that would let them coast in for a win. Cleveland had other ideas — Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters (each who finished with 25 points) sparked a comeback to tie the game, 116-116 with just 7.1 seconds. But that’s Damian Lillard time. He had 36 and his second straight game winner.

Bobcats 95, Kings 87: The Bobcats had no defensive answer for DeMarcus Cousins, who finished with 30 points (on 13 shots), 17 boards, 6 assists and 3 steals. Charlotte had plenty of answers for everyone else — the rest of the Kings roster shot 31.3 percent on the night. Charlotte’s reserves came in and started to take control of the game late in the first quarter and while Sacramento made runs the rest of the night the scrappy Bobcats had answers. Kemba Walker had 24 points and Gerald Henderson 20 to lead Charlotte.

Lakers 96, Grizzlies 92: That’s the Pau Gasol Lakers fans have wanted to see. Not so coincidentally, that’s the Lakers getting the ball to Pau Gasol in the half court where he wanted it. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter the Lakers went to Pau Gasol over and over isolated 15 feet out Zach Randolph. And it worked. Gasol had 7 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter helping spark the Lakers win. Kobe Bryant had his best game since his return as well and had 21, helping the Lakers fought off each Grizzlies run. Meanwhile Memphis really missed Mike Conley (bruised thigh) as they had no threat from three and no good shot creation. Combine that with the lack of Marc Gasol and these Grizzlies are a shell of themselves.

Thunder 105, Nuggets 93: Not sure what to say about this one other than the better team won. Pretty easily. Denver is a good team and they got some good performances — J.J. Hickson had 20 points, Nate Robinson made a run in the fourth to make the game interesting — but OKC is simply playing much better ball right now. Which is why they have won 7 straight. Kevin Durant had 30 and just tore apart the Nuggets switching defense on the pick and roll.

Warriors 104, Pelicans 93: Look at the box score and you see Stephen Curry with 28 points, or David Lee with 21 points and 17 boards, and you’ll miss how much the return of Andre Iguodala meant to the Warriors. He had just two points but with him back in the lineup the Warriors moved the ball better on offense, while on the other end of the court held the Pelicans to 37.5 percent shooting. It was an easy win, and the Warriors needed that. Ryan Anderson had 21 for New Orleans.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.