Okay, picture this. It's the third quarter, and the Spurs have scored on four of their last five possessions. All of San Antonio's scores have come in the paint. As such, the low post tandem of Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka just wasn't working out. So what does Billy Donovan do to counteract this? He immediately subs in Steven Adams and Nick Collison for an injection of defensive energy.
The strategy turned out to be a brilliant move on the defensive end, because Nick Collison had a hand in stopping four of the next six Spur possessions. Let's take a closer look.
The Spurs set things up with a high double screen for Parker. Parker takes the screen and receives the ball. Augustin is two steps behind TP at this point. Accordingly, Parker will take advantage.
Parker proceeds to reverse around the double screen to the other side of the floor. Augustin is still way behind, forcing Adams to step up and hedge. The Spurs now have what they want, with David West and Tim Duncan totally open at the top of the key. Collison is the only man available to guard them both.
Recognizing that Duncan is about to roll to the basket, Collison thinks on his feet. Instead of sinking to the post to cover Duncan, Collison stands his ground and stops Duncan in his tracks. This doesn't allow TD to get separation from David West, whom is looking for an open jumper. This shove also gives time for Steven Adams and D.J. Augustin to recover on defense.
And Collison's defensive maneuver is complete. Duncan is met by Adams in the post, and West doesn't take the shot because Collison is too close. Duncan eventually tries to post up Steven Adams, to no avail.
Here, the Spurs are trying to play a bit of two-man game off the ball. David West sets a screen for Danny Green, who is making a cut across the lane towards the basket. Waiters gets caught behind the screen, and Collison sinks low to meet Green.
Danny Green is completely covered once he gets to the basket, as Waiters elects to chase him as well. Green elects to pass out to the open David West. Waiters immediately meets West on the baseline.
Collison recognizes that West has the height advantage on Waiters, and immediately moves to double-team. David West senses the double team, and dishes out to the newly open Danny Green. At this point, the Spurs have less than 7 seconds on the shot clock.
Danny Green gets the shot, but it's not the one he wants. Steven Adams sensed the open man and ran to him. This forced Green to set up way farther behind the line than he wanted to. The shot didn't go in. Collison doesn't get the rebound, but he's in great position.
As a footnote, I'd like to point out that Tim Duncan tried to stop Adams from getting to Green by shoving him. Veteran move there.
This one's pretty simple. Kawhi Leonard has an isolation play against KD. It doesn't take long for Leonard to get a step and charge at the basket.
Nick Collison is in the area, so he immediately sinks to meet Leonard. The important thing to remember here is that Collison's body is lateral. This allows him to discourage any potential passes to the open Patty Mills in the corner. Meanwhile, Westbrook has sunk low to meet the open Aldridge. KD is doing all he can to stay in front of Leonard.
Eventually, Kawhi finds himself out of options and takes too many steps.
Another simple one here. Danny Green and Tim Duncan run a high pick and roll. Waiters goes over the screen to cover Green's three, but gets caught. So Adams must cover Green under the screen. This leaves Tim Duncan free to roll to the basket.
Green eventually runs into a defensive wall. The pass to Tim Duncan is there, but Nick Collison is ready to defend any potential shot. Undeterred, Danny Green hoists up the shot.
Even though Tim Duncan isn't his man, Nick Collison makes sure to box him out for the rebound. And that starts with a firm shove to Duncan's chest to establish position. Gotta love the physicality. The shot airballed, and Collison hawked the rebound.
In the grander scheme of things, it's so easy to dismiss what Nick Collison does for this team. But this defensive stand was very important for the Thunder to establish defensive tone for the rest of the game. I mean, the Spurs had their starters on the floor, sans Parker, whom was struggling. In the first quarter, these same Spurs starters were able to establish a 15-8 advantage right out of the gate. If Collison hadn't been there to slow down San Antonio's starters during the second, it's easy to see the Spurs establishing a commanding lead going into the half. Instead, the Thunder went into the half down 4, and were able to make some major lineup adjustments that helped them win the game.
Coach Donovan was miced up during portions of last night's broadcast. What was he telling his players during the first half? He wanted the Thunder to get a little bit more physical, and he wanted them to have stamina on both ends of the floor. Words like physicality and stamina can become meaningless talking points sometimes. But for Nick Collison, physicality and stamina are what he embodies on the court.
Moving forward, it's going to be very interesting to see whether Donovan gives any time to Mitch McGary. There could be games where an offensive option is needed, and Nick Collison certainly can't provide that. Hidden amongst this defensive performance is the fact that the Thunder were scoreless on the other end. Collison had three turnovers tonight, and didn't take a single shot.
Nevertheless, it's really hard to find this level of defensive consistency in the NBA. We'll definitely be needing you come playoff time, Nick.
Do you think Nick Collison will have a regular role this season? Drop a comment and let us know!