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Film study: How the Wizards buckled down defensively against the Spurs

Washington's defense managed to keep the defending champs to just six points in the final five minutes of the game. We break down what worked for them in the final frame, and what to make of Kevin Seraphin's performance.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last night's version of the Washington Wizards bared no resemblance to the team we saw get mopped off the floor in Atlanta on Sunday. That team, the one that suffered its' worst lost of the season, looked dead in the water; with an offense that couldn't get through their sets without a tipped pass or turnover, and a defense that botched nearly every rotation imaginable.

All of that would change on Tuesday. The defending champs mustered all of three points in the final five minutes, not including a last-second three from Austin Daye. They went 3-11 from the field, came up empty on a number of other possessions, and had three of their shots swatted away. This was just another hallmark for Randy Wittman, and yet another reminder of the value of continuity under the same system.

Possession 1

No team flips the direction of a pick more frequently than the Spurs, and no team exploits those openings in a defense quicker. It's asking a lot from Andre Miller to get in-between the ball handler and screener in quick succession, while simultaneously keeping Kris Humphries at bay in case Jeff Ayres comes flying down the lane.


But that first screen is mostly just a ploy to keep the floor more evenly balanced. Patty Mills doesn't even bother trying to turn the corner on the first ball screen because a) Boris Diaw has yet to vacate his side of the lane to open up Ayres' dive to the basket and b) Andre Miller had already gotten between the ball handler and screener.

So he resets. Ayres flips the pick and proceeds to roll down the weak side of the floor. They've presumably steered clear of Seraphin, who would now have to leave Boris Diaw in the corner, which is not an easy decision to make after Diaw torched him in their first meeting two weeks ago.


But watch the clip again. Seraphin had his head up the entire time, and timed his rotation from the weak-side flawlessly. If you're still wondering why he consistently gets minutes, it's this: opponents shoot 47-percent at the rim against him, best on the team.

Possession 2


This comes about after Wall loses his balance trying to close out on Cory Joseph. Again, Seraphin is there waiting in the lane with his hands up. All Joseph can do is toss-up a prayer and hope it finds the bottom of the net.

Possession 3

How many times have you seen a team force a turnover when the Spurs run their patented Baseline Hammer action?

There's a lot of different set-ups to this play, but here Manu Ginobili cuts through the free throw line while getting a cross-screen from Tiago Splitter. It looks like he'll dart straight to the three-point line, but instead goes baseline, which prompts Danny Green to make his move to the opposite corner.

spurs hammer

That's a pass maybe a handful of players (if that) can make in this league, and Manu does it regularly. But Nene reads the play almost instantly, and gets the steal. It helps that the Wizards run this set in the past, so they have an idea what's coming, but this is heady stuff coming in a close game against a team that always out-executes its' opponent.

Possession 4

Here's an example of smart, strategic switching. Wall doesn't immediately go and follow his man into the corner since Beal happened to be there, and he knows Manu is already making his way toward the ball anyway. So he latches onto Ginobili, thwarts his drive to the basket while Beal snuffs out the backdoor cut. This is how they shrink the floor and cover so much ground defensively.

Wall and Beal have the freedom to cross-match assignments on a whim because they're both similar in stature, and it's why they're able to keep ball handlers out of the lane so well. Washington allows just 24 shots in the restricted area per night, second to only Charlotte this season per's stats page.

This was the Wizards most complete showing this season, and a good reminder of how dangerous they can be when they lock in defensively. They may not get this kind of performance out of Kevin Seraphin on a nightly basis, but it's a step in the right direction, and a good reference point for how he should be used moving forward.