During their 2014 NBA Championship run, the San Antonio Spurs shot 40.9% from 3-point range and averaged 22.2 assists per game in their 23 playoff games. Being able to knock down 3-pointers and tally some of those assists mostly came from Spot-Up three point shots, or 3-pointers in transition from the Spurs.
However, a number of their made 3-pointers in the regular season and playoffs also came from shooting off of screens. One specific play I’m going to be analyzing is the 3-point shot made by a play known as the “Elevator, Elevator Doors, or Elevator Screens.”
The goal for this play is set up an open 3-point shot for a designated shooter, most times a guard or small forward who is quick enough to run around screens and shoot a quick catch-and-shoot jumper. The concept of the “elevator” is drawn from the idea of the two big men being able to set a screen for the designated shooter, and when he runs through the double-screen, the big men “close the elevator” on his defender, and it should free up an open shot.
The Spurs’ shooters I’ve focused on are Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, and Danny Green. First, you can watch the initial action below of how the elevator is set up.
Now we’ll begin by showing how Mills used the elevator to score on one specific play against the Portland Trail Blazers. First, Mills begins with the ball at the top of the key.
After he passes the ball to his shooting guard (Green), he’s going to head down into the paint to set a screen for Marco Belinelli cutting along the baseline. While Mills is doing this, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw are positing themselves to “open” the “elevator doors” at the elbows of the free throw line.
Mills then makes a hard cut and runs straight through Splitter and Diaw; as soon as he passes them, they “close” the elevator doors on Mills’ defender and Green gives Mills the ball back for the open 3-pointer.
As you can see, Mills’ defender had no chance of contesting the shot, as it was already out of Mills’ hands before his defender could have a chance at blocking it.
Here’s how the elevator play looked in live action.
Next is a play of Belinelli using the elevator doors in a game against the Houston Rockets. As Cory Joseph dribbles to his right from the top of the key, Belinelli is preparing to head down into the paint.
As Belinelli is setting a screen for Damion James to cut baseline, Aron Baynes and Diaw are preparing to “open” the elevator doors.
Belinelli makes a hard cut through the “elevator” of Diaw and Baynes, and the two big men quickly “close” the doors on Jeremy Lin, who was guarding Belinelli. Joseph then throws the ball to Belinelli for an open shot.
Though it looks like Lin did try to contest the shot, it was too late, as the ball was already out of Belinelli’s hands.
Here’s the play in game action focusing on Belinelli.
To show that the elevator play has been something the Spurs have used in the past, here’s former guard Gary Neal scoring out of the elevator back in the 2012-13 season.
When it comes to Green, the Spurs used the elevator play a bit differently to get Green his open looks. Instead of having Green catch the open shot at the top of the key, they set up an area for Green to get open on the right side of the arc. Below is the play in its basic formation.
The play begins with Green near the top of the free throw line, just above the left elbow. Down below in the low block, Splitter is setting a screen to get Belinelli open for the pass from Mills.
After Belinelli catches the pass, Green and Diaw will set a screen for Mills, who slashes toward the left side of the 3-point line.
While Green is setting his screen for Mills, Diaw flashes down to the right side of the paint, where Splitter heads closer to him to start forming a sideline elevator screen.
Green darts straight through the elevator Diaw and Splitter set, and the two big men “close” the doors on Green’s defender, which allows Green the open 3-pointer once Belinelli delivers the pass.
On this specific play, Green was wide open, as Jeremy Lamb tried to go around the elevator screen, and got caught in no-man’s land defensively.
Below is Green’s elevator play in real-time.
The last clip is also a display of Green knocking down an open 3-pointer through the use of the sideline elevator play.
The elevator play is a play the Spurs have been using in the past, and with the team getting deeper in terms of how they moved the ball this past season, you can see how their system and practice time paid off when they received open opportunities with plays such as the elevator, which required passing the ball, making hard cuts, and setting timely screens.