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Taking Away the Celtics Defensive A-Game

Toward the end of Game 4, we saw the Bulls somehow–and in some cases, I’m not sure how–take the Celtics out of their defensive comfort zone on screen/rolls. 

With Kevin Garnett gone, Kendrick Perkins has become by far the Celtics best big man at defending the screen/roll. And lucky for us, on the huge majority of Bulls screen/rolls, Perkins is guarding the man setting the pick. 

Since Game 1, when Derrick Rose torched the Celtics on screen/rolls, Perk has been working his butt off to give Rose a variety of looks (and getting some nice kudos from around the blogosphere). The most common has him jumping out to prevent Rose from turning the corner while Rose’s man (Rondo) recovers and someone else on the back line rotates over to guard Perk’s guy (almost always Noah or Miller). We’ve all seen this a million times. 

At other times, Perk will drift off the screener and drop back or run out at Rose for a straight-up double-team. 

Two things started happening to disrupt this happy rhythm in the third and fourth quarters of Game 4:

1) The Bulls began using someone other than Perk’s man as the screener for Rose;  

2) The Celtics, for whatever reason, began outright switching. (Note: Apparently I’m not making this up; Doc addressed it in the Boston Globe today, saying the C’s switched more than 20 times on Sunday and acknowledging it’s a problem. Hat tip: Red’s Army). 

Let’s start with #1. Glen Davis, as well as he’s been playing, just isn’t as good as Perk at covering the screen/roll. We saw the Bulls attack Davis in this way twice late in Game 4. 

(4:37), 3rd Quarter: Brad Miller (guarded by Big Baby) sets a screen for Kirk Hinrich at the top of the key. Hinrich dribbles left around the screen as his man goes over the pick and chases him. Davis fails to give much of anything in the way of help, and Hinrich dribbles a few steps to his left before realizing he’s wide open and hitting an easy 21-footer with no one around him. This one is just poor defense.

(8:23), 4th Quarter: Rose runs the screen/roll with Big Baby’s guy on the right side of the floor. Davis shows out but doesn’t position his body in a way that denies Rose the baseline. Derrick dribbles right around Baby along the baseline and lays the ball in. 

Nothing against Glen; he works hard and can do some things well on defense–and his rebounding in Game 4 was outstanding. But he’s just not as good at Perk in this area, and it’s asking a lot of him to contain guys like Rose and Hinrich. 

We also saw something new from the Bulls: A screen/roll using Rose and Ben Gordon. They ran this play a half-dozen times midway through the fourth quarter with the goal of getting a slower man (first Eddie House, then Ray Allen) on Rose via a Celtic switch. 

It worked well–Rose burned House, forcing the Celtics defense to collapse and allowing Rose to find Ty Thomas for an open jumper with 7:16 to go. On the next possession, House switched onto Rose again, but Rose lingered at the top of the key and House tried to use the time to switch back onto Gordon. Rondo apparently wasn’t expecting this, and Rose drove down the open lane for a lay-up. 

Doc then replaced House with Pierce, which he was probably going to do anyway with 5:54 left in regulation. My Coach Vinny called the play at least twice more, but Ray Allen did a nice job keeping Rose in front of him. 

Thing #2: Outright Switches

The Celtics have used outright switches more in the last two games than I can remember them doing in any two-game span this season. (And, please, correct me if I’m wrong). I counted four possessions in the last 3:57 in regulation when the Celtics switched a big man onto Derrick Rose rather than using their typical help-and-recover strategy. Three times, Perkins was left guarding Rose one-on-one; once, the task fell to Davis.

Here’s what happened on those four possessions:

1) 3:57, 4th: Rose drives by Perk for an easy lay-up.

2) 3:15: Rose blows by Perk for another lay-in attempt, but Davis rotates over to take the charge. 

3) 2:01: Rose drives left by Perkins, stops in the lane and spins back to his right for the lay-in as Perk’s momentum takes him past Rose.

4) 0:52: Davis switches onto Rose, and, perhaps sensing he has no other choice, gambles for the steal by trying to poke the ball away from Rose with his left hand. It doesn’t work, and Rose drives into the lane, drawing a shooting foul on Scal. 

Perk also took Rose on a straight-up switch earlier in the third quarter (at the 6:37 mark), and Rose hoisted a jumper from the left wing rather than attacking off the dribble–drawing the ire of Jeff Van Gundy. 

I’m not sure why this seems to be happening more often in this series, but it worries me. Are the Celtics tired? Is it something about Rose–his quickness, maybe–that necessitates this? I’d love to hear your theories.

  • http://www.bullslive.com Mike P. Latch

    interesting, nice post. I think you hit it on the head with the Bulls changing up who they are using to pick Rose's defender each time, i.e. to get a slower guy onto him. It's all about adjustments, as game 3 Rose was not able to get any penetration, and game 4 the Bulls addressed this issue. Will be interesting to see what game 5 holds, and what adjustments the Celtics make to counter this.

  • http://celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    Agreed, Mike. It will be really interesting to see the chess match unfold in Game 5–as much as VDN can ever be involved in a chess match, anyway.

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