The New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics in a grueling, awesome, double-overtime thriller in their season opener. Late in the game, after the Celtics went up by 1 the Knicks called a timeout and ran a sideline out-of-bounds special that put them ahead for good – followed up by another Spain set.
Spain action is not anything new, but even though it has been run for 5-6 years in the NBA (& 9-10 in Europe) it is still one of the hardest actions to guard. If you want an in-depth breakdown on Spain action, I did a big breakdown on the Phoenix Suns sets from last season.
New York Knicks STS Spain
For reference, this is not a brand new play – even for Thibs and the Knicks – they ran it in last year’s playoffs in after-time-out situations as well.
The play starts off like the most common Screen the Screener set that basically every team in the NBA runs with the ball reversed from elbow to elbow and the inbounder receives a backscreen.
What normally would occur next is a look for the player off the down screen to catch and shoot or attack, but this set flows right into a pass or in this scenario a dribble hand-off. I am not positive, but I am sure that the adjustment or tweak in this scenario is to go into a hand-off since it is a safer play than a pass which is what the original set uses.
Once the player coming off the down screen gets the ball, Robinson rolls to the rim, and Fournier the inbounder sets a backscreen on his man and pops to the 3 point line.
Check out how Schroder hesitates and is caught in the middle deciding if he should switch on the backscreen or stay and this allows Fournier to pop and attack a long closeout to get the open side dribble 3.
Now when we watch the full play again, you can understand why Fournier was open and why this play design is great from Thibs & the Knicks.
Toronto Raptors Original Set
The original play that this is taken from is a Nick Nurse & Sergio Scariolo special from 2019 to the present Toronto Raptors. I can’t say for sure, but I would bet a lot of money that this was a Scariolo special since I noticed his Spain National Teams running Spain action back in 2010-11 and this feels like a set he would have influence or install.
New York Knicks Spain Playcall
Once the Celtics did not score on the next possession, the Knicks came back down the court with no timeout and you can see here Thibs and then Fournier signaling “Stack” which is the most common way for NBA teams to call out “Spain” action.
This play was a jumbled mess and I think that almost helped make it work because normally with a Spain play a team would design it with their big Robinson setting the screen with the shooter Fournier setting it. Here Randle sets the ballscreen and Fournier sets the backscreen with Robinson in the dunker’s spot but it did not impact this play much at all.
In the below clip you can see the confusion it creates and forces Schroder to switch out onto Rose leaving the Celtics worse on-ball defender guarding him and Smart peeling off onto Fournier on the Pop.
I hope this sheds some light on why the Knicks’ last two plays worked and how Spain action is one of the toughest to guard. If you liked this breakdown feel free to share it & if you have any other scenarios, plays, or thoughts on any future breakdowns let me know in the comments below!