A perfectly orchestrated out-of-bounds set is a thing of
Plays ran after timeouts, or ATOs as they're commonly referred
to, are by far the most intricately designed sets in any NBA
We hear the phrase "read and react" quite frequently, but that's
truly the best way to describe the typical flow of NBA offenses.
Possessions in the half-court without any sort of stoppage
regularly feature some sort of pick-and-roll or handoff action,
maybe with 1-to-2 additional tinkerings depending on the team
you're watching. But the point is: There is a great deal of
freelancing going on out there. These guys are pros for a reason —
they don't need a guy in a suit telling them
exactly what to do for every second of the game.
ATOs, however, are quite different. They allow head coaches to
step in, sit down with their players for a full minute and 15
seconds, precisely rehearse and recall a scripted action from
practice, and, most of all, tactically prey on the weaknesses of an
And when they're executed well? Sheesh, there's truly nothing
Now, just for size, imagine watching two back-to-back successful
ATOs in the final eight seconds of a playoff game. That'd be crazy,
right? Huh?! For all my play-by-play geeks out there?
Alas, that is what happened during Tuesday's Game 5 between the
Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Let's set the stage a little bit: This contest was not a
gorgeous showing of pristine execution. It was a back-and-forth,
frenetic affair, with both teams streaking up-and-down the floor
like the Gatorade coolers had been spiked with C4 pre-workout. All
of that speed didn't necessarily equate to production;
collectively, both teams turned the ball over a ghastly 39 total
times, and Memphis couldn't hit the broad side of a barn from deep
at just 25.0% (7 of 28).
Minnesota controlled the tempo for most of Tuesday's game,
building a lead as large as 13 in the second half. The Grizzlies
looked dead in the water on their home floor, unable to get much of
anything going in the halfcourt. Then, Ja Morant did this, and the
mood completely changed...
Chasing History -Episode 12 🏆
A jaw-dropping dunk….a clutch late 3….a game-winning shot. Ja
Morant did it all in game 5, leading the Grizzlies to victory over
the Timberwolves to take the 3-2 series lead. pic.twitter.com/pKbwxriEws
(Seriously, it's tough to get enough of this freakin' dunk.
BBN's Mark Schindler even wrote an entire article on it! I
mean, what the actual HECK, Temetrius Jamel Morant.)
That audacious poster lit something inside of Morant, who went
on an absolute tear in the final period
of the game, eventually boosting his fourth-quarter point total
to 16 after a pair of free throws. This put Memphis up by 3 with
just eight seconds remaining.
With the first-round series hanging in the balance at 2-2,
Minnesota needed a three-pointer more than ever to even things up
at 109 apiece. And gosh darn it, Wolves head coach Chris Finch
Minnesota sets things up with Jordan McLaughlin inbounding, its
two strongest offensive players — Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony
Edwards —on the strong side of the floor and D'Angelo Russell and
Jaden McDaniels on the weak side.
McLaughlin inbounds the ball to Towns at the left slot to
initiate things. All the while, McDaniels streaks toward the left
dunker spot and Russell brushes a backscreen for McDaniels. Then,
Russell proceeds to "ghost" or fake a secondary back-screen for
Edwards cutting up from the low block to the right slot.
Here's a video of that specific action involving that trio of
In the end, it was a simple exchange of positioning; McDaniels
had replaced Russell in the right dunker spot, Edwards had taken
McDaniels' place as the lifted shooter on the weak side of the
floor, and Russell was now in Edwards' spot on the strong side. But
most importantly, Brandon Clarke, the largest Grizzly available,
was now tasked with manning rim-protection duties as the "low
Now, let's zoom out a bit. Minnesota inbounds the ball to its
most dangerous offensive player, Towns, who at this point has
scored a team-high 28 points on the night. Yet as the inbounder,
it's McLaughlin who is technically the most dangerous player on the
floor, and so Towns immediately returns the rock to give the zippy
backup a running start. As such, McLaughlin gains a step on his
defender, Kyle Anderson, and this causes Clarke to hesitate for a
second, unsure if he's supposed to protect the rim or track the
Because Clarke decides to hold his ground in the paint, Morant
then becomes responsible for "zoning up" and guarding the two
weak-side offensive players, Edwards and McDaniels. So, Edwards
drifts down to the baseline for deep positioning to create a
brutally tough angle of recovery, and McDaniels sets a back-screen
on Edwards' man (Morant).
This specific screening setup is known as "exit" action, where
one offensive player pins the "zoned-up" defender with a screen to
generate a corner three for his teammate. (Finch
loves his exit-screen plays, I tell ya.)
McLaughlin flicks a ridiculous bounce pass to the corner like
he's skipping rocks across a pond, and Edwards—quietly shooting
~42% on catch-and-shoot threes in the regular season and
postseason—nails the corner jumper over an excellent closeout from
Here's Finch's pièce de résistance in full:
Tie game at 109.
Which meant it was Taylor Jenkins' time to cook for the
Unlike Minnesota, Memphis set up by overloading one side of the
floor with Desmond Bane, Anderson and Morant all sharing the strong
side, and Tyus Jones on the weak side.
Morant sets a cross-screen for Jones to cut across the paint,
only to have Ja then come off a pindown screen from Desmond Bane.
This specific action is known as "screen the screener," in which a
player (Morant here) sets a screen for one teammate (Jones) and
then receives a screen from another (Bane). Meanwhile, Anderson
cuts across the paint from the left corner to the right slot to
drag Minnesota's only rim-protector, Towns, completely out of the
Memphis' screen-the-screener setup, or STS, forces Morant's
defender (Edwards) to navigate not one, but
two off-ball screens while tracking the hottest
player on the floor. Edwards falls slightly behind the
lightning-quick Morant, and exasperates things by gambling for the
steal. Ant giveth, Ant taketh.
Now, Morant has the advantage with a free lane to the rim and
Clarke in the right dunker spot. Jarred Vanderbilt rotates over to
the stop the drive, and Towns inexplicably (??) turns his body away
from the ball instead of rotating down to Clarke. This effectively
leaves Vanderbilt in no man's land, forced to defend perhaps the
best downhill dude in the league and a premier
lob-threat... and, well, you know the rest.
Let's see the full play.
Game. Set. Match. The Grizzlies went on to win Game 5 by a final
of 111-109, and took an emphatic 3-2 lead in the series all behind
Morant's 18 fourth-quarter points.
And sure, the night was dominated by the highlights (again,
whew, that dunk), but it's sequences like the final eight seconds
that make this NBA game what it is — great.
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