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How Setting Up 40 Feet From the Hoop Can Work—And the Most Secretly Sick Pass of the Season So Far

I’m not sure whether the Bobcats decided to pressure Rajon Rondo near half court last night or whether the C’s somehow lured them into it by running screen-rolls 40 feet from the hoop, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team cover Rajon so closely out there.

It was a disaster for Charlotte, and a boon for Boston. It was like giving Carl Lewis an extra 50 feet to run before the long jump. Rajon just blew past his defenders and was in the clear before he even hit the three-point line, forcing all sorts of crisis adjustments from the Bobcats and netting open looks for Boston. This set, to the degree you can call it a set, blew the game open in the 3rd quarter.

Two examples (and I swear, I’ll start including video once I figure out how to upload it from my DVR to my computer. I’m an idiot):

6:35, 3rd: Rondo speeds up in transition but, seeing nothing, turns it out and retreats to the spot on the left side of the floor where the sideline meets the halfcourt line. Not a good spot to be in, in theory. Felton guards him closely out there, shading to Rajon’s right, giving him the sideline. KG walks out above the peak of the three-point line, signaling that he’s ready to set a screen to Rajon’s right if he wants it. KG’s man (Boris Diaw) lets KG go and positions himself to cut off any Rondo drive along the left sideline. Rondo drives there anyway, blowing by Felton and sending Diaw back-pedaling toward the baseline, where he cuts off Rondo.

But here’s the thing: Charlotte’s defense is now a mess. KG has cut into the lane, and Diaw’s preoccupation with Rondo has forced Tyson Chandler to camp out under the hoop near KG. Gerald Wallace is there too, for some reason, almost stepping on Chandler’s feet. That allows Wallace’s man (Pierce) to mosey out above the three-point line on the right wing, completely alone.

Rondo, meanwhile, does a U-turn when Diaw cuts off the baseline and dribbles around a KG screen toward the foul line. From there, he drives to the hoop and dishes to Perk, who misses a lay-up. Perk grabs the board and sends it back out to Rondo, who has camped out on the left wing behind the three-point line.

Here’s the thing: Pierce still hasn’t moved from his spot on the right wing, and Wallace, caught up in all the Rondo-created mess, still hasn’t found him. Rondo holds the ball behind his head in his left hand and surveys the scene. KG, standing on the foul line, alerts Rondo that Pierce is open.

And then it happens, in an instant. Rondo, in one smooth motion, flings a one-handed lefty pass 25 feet across the court to Pierce, who nails the three.

Just a sick, sick pass. Insane. Give me 50 tries to throw a one-handed pass 25 feet with my left hand, and I’m not sure I could hit Pierce on target once—and that’s without Ray Felton in my face.

And make no mistake: This opening was created 25 seconds before, when Rondo set up shop near halfcourt and the Bobcats decided to press him there.

One more example, after the jump.

.53.5, 3rd quarter:

Felton picks up Rondo full court after a Bobcats make, and Rajon scoots to that same spot on the left side of the floor near the midcourt line. Sheed does the same thing KG did on the play described above—he sets up for a screen near the apex of the three-point line if Rajon wants one. And Sheed’s man (Nazr Mohammed) does the same thing Diaw did in the play above—he plays off Sheed to cut off Rajon’s drive along the left sideline/baseline.

Except there is no cutting off Rondo. He drives left, just torching Felton. Nazr has no choice but to dive down for the double-team on Rajon, and Rajon responds with the easy decision—kick the ball back out to Sheed for an open three.

Again, freeze the video here and everything is a mess for the Bobcats. Derrick Brown is sprinting like mad from the right baseline to close out on Sheed. Poor Gerald Wallace is stranded just under the hoop between two Celtics—Daniels in the corner and Shelden Williams under the basket. Sheed may be able to hit Williams with a pass here, but it’s risky with Brown flailing his arms and closing on Sheed. So he swings the ball to Ray Allen on the right wing instead. Gerald Henderson has smartly stuck with Ray, but it doesn’t matter—Gerald Wallace is still caught in between two guys and hasn’t yet made a decision on whom, exactly, he should be guarding.

But don’t worry! Mohammed is sprinting over from the left side (he cut off Rondo there, remember) to help! Except he sprints right past Shelden Williams and damn near runs into Gerald Wallace, who remains confused.

This all happens in about a second as Ray holds the ball and watches. He sees Nazr fly by Shelden and passes the ball there. Shelden draws the foul on the lay-in attempt.

Some of this is poor defense from the Bobcats. But teams make poor defensive decisions when you break them down and force them to scramble, and that’s what Rondo did time after time after in the 3rd quarter from that unlikely spot 40 feet away from the hoop on the left sideline.

Was this by design? Or did the C’s take advantage of over-aggressive Bobcat defense? I guess we’ll see.

But memo to the league: You may not want to press Rondo out there.

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