One of my favorite college basketball blogs is a site called The Mikan Drill, a site that looks at the Xs and Os of the college game. Something that they have been doing over there since the season has ended was Season Leftovers, looking at some great sets over the course of the college season. An idea so good, that I decided to bring it over here during the NBA offseason.

When you think of late game execution, you always tend to think of it on the offensive end. However, execution and strategy is just as important defensively in late game situations. The plays that we are going to look at today are going to show fantastic execution and strategy defensively.

New Orleans’ Big to Big Switch

After a foul on a three-point shot by Jason Kidd, the Dallas Mavericks had 8.4 seconds to try and erase a 1-point deficit. There was little doubt who the basketball was going to, and the Mavericks tried to use off-ball screens to get Nowitzki the basketball. However, the Hornets’ bigs were able to switch a screen and wind up with a favorable matchup.

The play starts with Dirk Nowitzki setting a pindown screen for Jason Kidd. It is more of Nowitzki and Kidd just switching instead of a screen, but the result is still the same, with Kidd getting the basketball at the top of the key.

After switching places with Kidd, Nowitzki gets a screen set for him by Tyson Chandler. Instead of having West fight through the screen, the Hornets simply switch the screen with Emeka Okafor popping out to defend Nowitzki. I love the bigs switching here because they know that Nowitzki is going to be looking for a catch, one dribble, then shoot, so you don’t want to give him space. Okafor defending the screener allows him to switch because they want to keep height on Nowitzki.

The Hornets were only interested in switching big to big screens and proof of that was how they handled Nowitzki as he came off of a Jason Terry screen. Here, Terry attempts to set the screen, but New Orleans doesn’t want to switch it because they know it will result in an advantage for Dallas. Instead, they let Okafor fight over the screen and stick with Nowitzki.

So as Nowitzki makes the catch, Okafor is up on him, not giving him any space for a catch-and-shoot jumper. This forces Nowitzki to take a dribble or two towards the free throw line.

Nowitzki gets to the elbow and takes one of his patented fallaway jumpers. Okafor uses his height to challenge the shot and one would assume that he bothered it. Here is the play in real time:

Late in games, Dirk Nowitzki is going to be able to get to his spot just about every time. Your best bet against him is to keep length on him and not let him get off an uncontested shot. New Orleans were able to do that by switching the big to big screen, but playing all other screens straight. Great strategy by the coaching staff and even better execution by the players.

Manu Ginobili’s Walkoff Charge

The first meeting between the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs had a wild finish that featured Carmelo Anthony scoring four points in under one second and a crazy Manu Ginobili double clutch lay-in. The wildest moment however was on the Denver Nuggets’ final possession, and it wasn’t because of what happened on the offensive end, but it was Ginobili’s great read defensively:

As the ball gets to the trigger man, Carmelo flashes from the weak side block to the ball side elbow, getting the ball in his sweet spot.

As Carmelo Anthony makes the catch and faces up, he has Richard Jefferson right up on him. Manu Ginobili has both feet in the paint, but because he is actively defending his man, which requires you to be one arm’s length or less away from him, he is able to avoid a defensive three second call.

This is tremendous execution by Manu Ginobili here as he times his help perfectly. He doesn’t leave while Carmelo is facing up, because if he does, he would leave his man wide open with Anthony in position to make a pass. As soon as Anthony puts his head down, that’s when Ginobili takes off.

Ginobili didn’t help too early, but he also didn’t help too late, as he took off and gave himself enough time to get both feet out of the charge circle and get planted before Anthony reaches him.

With his head down, Anthony doesn’t really see Ginobili in front of him and he tries to force his way through him. Ginobili takes the contact, and the offensive foul is called. Here is the play in real time:

Just fantastic execution by Manu Ginobili. If he times that help poorly, he either picks up a foul or allows Anthony to make an easy layup to win the game. Instead, the basket is taken off the scoreboard and the Spurs get the one-point win.