The 2013-14 Spurs won the NBA championship by playing “The Beautiful Game.” San Antonio sliced and diced opponents throughout that season with immaculate cutting, screening and passing that brought tears to the eyes of basketball purists.
No team may ever match the consistent offensive brilliance of Gregg Popovich’s group, but for one possession during Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Suns looked positively Spurs-ian.
Check out the ball movement from the second quarter of Phoenix’s 118-108 win over Milwaukee, which gave the Suns a 2-0 series lead.
What an incredible sequence. The Suns completed 10 total passes on this possession, and each Phoenix player on the floor (Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton) touched the ball at least once. Four players touched the ball at least twice.
“We have a saying with our team, it’s called good to great,” Paul said when asked about the play after Game 2. “We pass up good shots to get great shots, and it’s the unselfishness of our team. Any coach in America, I’m sure they would love to show their team that clip, and [Ayton] finishes at the end.”
Let’s break this down and explain why the Bucks have their hands full covering this five-man unit in particular.
First, Paul pushes the ball up the floor and sucks multiple Milwaukee defenders into the paint, forcing them to help and recover the rest of the possession. Paul finds Booker flying in toward the right elbow, and Booker kicks out to Crowder. When the ball goes from Crowder to Bridges, it appears Bridges is going to launch a corner 3-pointer — but as Paul said, “good to great.”
Bridges sends P.J. Tucker flying with a head fake, and Crowder relocates to the other side of the floor. Paul spaces out to the corner, and again, this is a potential corner 3-pointer. But Paul realizes both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday are closing out on him, so he snaps the ball to Crowder. (Important note: Antetokounmpo is now on Paul.)
Then Crowder passes to Booker, who looks to isolate with three shooters on the perimeter and Ayton on the left block. Booker fires the ball back to Crowder after failing to draw a foul on Tucker. Crowder nearly turns the ball over, but he recovers and hits Bridges, who was cutting behind Booker.
Bridges recognized that his defender, Pat Connaughton, peeled off him to cover Booker, giving him the opening he needed.
Holiday steps toward Bridges, leaving Ayton wide open. Remember when Antetokounmpo picked up Paul? Well, that means the Bucks have zero rim protection.
Tucker simply isn’t big enough to challenge Ayton. That’s a bucket, plus the foul.
The Suns’ starting lineup is so difficult to guard because, much like that Spurs team, there is not a weak link at any position. Even though the Bucks are primarily focused on stopping Paul and Booker, they have to respect the shooting of Bridges and Crowder. And they can’t ignore Ayton, who has been a terrific finisher throughout the playoffs.
But it goes beyond just skill. The Suns have a great feel for when the ball needs to keep moving and how to maintain proper spacing.
“Just chemistry, trust, believing in your brother, believing in your teammate,” Booker said. “We actually talked about that play right after the game, me and Mikal, and he was like, ‘I think that was the most pumped I’ve ever been after a play.’ And I was like, ‘Me, too. Same here.’ So, when you’re playing like that, it’s fun. It’s fun, everybody’s touching it, you feel the energy of the ball.
“When you get it, you want to make a play for somebody else and something opens up always when it’s popping and moving like that.”
If the Suns’ offense keeps operating like that, then Phoenix will soon have more in common with those Spurs.