Dave Joerger has been in and around professional basketball organizations for a long time, but he is still learning all the ins and outs of being a head coach in the NBA. In this just his second season as Memphis Grizzlies head coach, he has made his fair share of decisions that leave you scratching your head. But when he is on his game, he uses his tremendous basketball mind and experience as a long-time assistant to draw up beautiful plays. In short, this ain't his first rodeo.
He had three plays late in the fourth quarter that stood out above all the rest. The timing of the calls was perfect and the execution flawless. Here are the breakdowns of all three plays (hammer, elevator doors, and ATO game winner).
4th Quarter (5:23) - Hammer
To begin the play, Conley brings the ball near the top of the key, and Vince Carter pops out to the left wing to receive the pass.
Immediately upon receiving the pass, Carter begins the ball reversal to the opposite side of the floor by passing to Marc Gasol at the top of the key. Meanwhile, Conley begins his cut into the lane.
When Gasol receives the ball, he immediately swings it to Courtney Lee on the opposite wing. Conley sprints up the middle of the lane to set a back screen on Gasol's man before cutting directly towards the sideline.
Lee delivers the pass as Conley has already begun his curl around Zach Randolph for a baseline drive. Randolph angled his screen well to allow Conley to get around but make it difficult for the trailing defender to pursue at the same time. If Randolph sets a flat screen, that makes it much more difficult for Conley to curl around, and the slightest slip up could derail the play.
As Conley drives baseline, Gasol steps up to set a back screen, or what is knowns as the hammer screen in this set, on Carter's man as Carter flares to the corner.
Conley delivers the pass to Carter for a wide open corner three. BANGO!
4th Quarter (0:11) - Elevator Doors
Late in the game with the Grizzlies down two, Carter inbounds the ball to Conley as he flashes above the three-point line. Conley continues to circle to the opposite wing.
Conley then lobs the ball to Gasol in between the elbow and the top of the key. That triggers the beginning of the play.
As soon as he delivers the pass, Conley cuts to the middle of the lane under the basket. Lee circles up from the corner and receives the pass on the wing from Gasol.
Once Lee receives the pass, he waits for the rest of the play to develop. Randolph is already in position to set a down screen on the right side of the lane, but Gasol still has to saunter in position to set a down screen on the left side of the lane. Once they are both in position, Conley performs a zipper cut directly up the middle of the lane.
Conley slips right between the screens of Gasol and Randolph before they rapidly slide together to "close the doors."
Conley receives the pass from Lee at the top of the key, and he's seemingly wide open for the shot. His man is slowed down by Gasol's screen, and there is no way he will be able to recover in time to contest the shot. However, it just so happens that DeMarcus Cousins is tough to pin down for long. He quickly snuffs out what is happening and fights through Randolph's screen. He closes out quickly on Conley, and the play briefly appears in jeopardy.
Many guards might panic in this situation, but a composed Conley handles Cousins' presence with ease. He pump fakes, and Cousins goes flying by. He then rises, shoots, and watches as the ball sinks through the net. It wasn't the shot you necessarily want as far as mechanics go even though Conley is historically exceptional at shots with a high degree of difficulty. It's hard to argue with the result though. Elevator doors remains a play called frequently by Joerger, and that won't change after the game against the Kings.
4th Quarter (0:00) - ATO Play
When the ref tosses Carter the ball, Conley and Randolph both move to the side of the floor where the ball is being inbounded. They are to serve as decoys on the play. Their movement does not seem like a big deal, but them drawing their defenders far enough out of the paint so they couldn't sag to help on the lob was crucial to the play's success.
Lee then steps up from the low block where it appears he will set a basic back screen on Gasol's man. Another underrated element of the play is Gasol and Lee kind of holding each other. This makes the defense nervous because they will have to react to any potential rub plays. It's kind of similar to a gimmicky hug play the Pelicans ran some last season.
After getting the back screen from Lee, Gasol takes off as if he's headed to the basket while Lee waits around the elbow for the next action.
While heading towards the rim, Gasol makes a diagonal cut back to where Lee is set up. Lee begins to move to the opposite sideline away from the inbound pass as Gasol steps up and fills the space left by Lee at the elbow. The timing on this has to be just right, because it is imperative that Lee's man get detached from his hip. The play is helped by the fact that Rudy Gay is completely ball watching.
As Gasol fills the space where Lee was, he screens Rudy Gay and catches him by surprise. Gay has no idea where Lee is. This allows Lee to curl back around Gasol and head to the rim. The Kings defense is now reeling.
As Lee curls to the rim, the Kings are forced to make quick decisions. There was an apparent lack of communication, as it looks like Jason Thompson expects Gay to fight through the screen and catch up with Lee. Thompson continues to follow after Gasol, who smartly continues to act like he's getting the ball by flashing to the free throw line with his hands raised. His flash also allows him to continue to move Gay away from the play. Gay and Thompson slightly bump each other as they try to recover, and they are done for from that point.
Carter throws a near perfect inbound pass, and Lee lays it in for the win as the buzzer sounds.
Hat tip to you, coach Joerger.