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Video: Defending LeBron, Part II: Lots ‘O Help

 

We’ve already looked at how the C’s defended screen/rolls involving LeBron Sunday. Those strategies were pretty standard—going under screens, daring LeBron to shoot jumpers and trying to force LeBron to drive in a particular direction.

Now let’s take a look at some of the more “gimmicky” stuff the C’s did—overloading the strong side, trapping, that sort of thing.

Here’s a set from early in the 3rd quarter in which Perk leaves his man (J.J. Hickson) to overload against LeBron even though LBJ never touches the ball:

That didn’t work out too well.

Here’s a still shot of the key moment on this possession:

Look at all the attention on LeBron as LBJ tries to post up Paul Pierce. Ray Allen helps off of his man (Anthony Parker, dribbling the ball) to deny the entry pass, and Perk has ditched his guy (Hickson) to play behind Pierce.

As we saw them do several times against Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets, the C’s have decided to take their chances with three guys guarding two on the strong side. This puts the two defenders on the weak side, especially KG, in a tough position. In this still shot, KG is responsible for helping on Hickson and closing out on Antawn Jamison in the corner should the Cavs swing the ball there.

Again: LeBron never touched the ball on this possession.

Here’s a set from the 1st quarter in which LBJ does touch the ball and catches the C’s over-loading his side of the floor:

The play starts off as a normal screen/roll involving LeBron and Hickson, but look where Rajon Rondo is hanging out as the play develops:

That’s Rajon under the hoop. His man, Mo Williams, is all the way in the left corner, too far from any Celtic who might hope to close out on him—especially if LeBron makes the correct read and skips the ball all the way across the floor to Mo. And nobody in the league throws that cross-court pass better than LeBron.

I don’t know if Rondo is freelancing here or if he, Doc and/or KG discussed the possibility that he might leave Williams in this situation. When the C’s overload the strong side, KG is usually the guy who serves as the third help defender. It’s rarely Rondo, since (as is the case here) Rajon is often guarding a top perimeter shooter.

But maybe Rondo and KG decided on this play that they would basically switch match-ups, making Rondo responsible for darting back over to Jamison and KG responsible for closing out on Mo?

Either way, it didn’t work.

Nor does Rondo’s aggressive help defense on this 4th quarter possession, on which the Cavs take the lead:

Here’s what things look like as LeBron isolates on Ray Allen on the left side of the floor:

That’s Rondo standing just above the foul line, far away from his man (Anthony Parker, spotting up behind the three-point line on the right wing).

Here’s how things look as Parker, after receiving the swing pass from LBJ, starts his drive:

This still shot confirms what I had thought the first couple of times I watched this possession: The C’s have Cleveland doing exactly what they want the Cavs to do. The ball is out of LeBron’s hands, and the C’s are playing 4-on-4 on the right side as a 34-year-old swing man (Parker) no longer known for creating his own shot tries to use the tiny advantage he has over Rajon to create his own shot.

And that shot? A mid-range jumper off the glass taken on the move—by Anthony Parker? I’ll take that anytime.

It went in, of course. Does that mean the strategy failed? I don’t think so.

The final, most desperate strategy a team can use is a full-on trap. The C’s use this very rarely against anyone, and Boston (like many teams) is more willing to trap at the end of quarters:

The trap accomplishes its goal: LeBron passes the ball to Hickson, who is not really used to doing something off the dribble 22 feet from the rim. He steps on the sideline, setting the stage for Rondo’s buzzer-beating three to end the first half.

Of course, LeBron is a gifted passer who will beat the trap as many times as the trap beats the Cavs. Here’s a sequence from early in the 3rd in which the C’s appear to trap by necessity rather than by choice:

The more I watch Cleveland, the more I’m convinced that priority #1 at all times should be to keep them out of transition. Even in delayed transition, they are devastating. On this play, LeBron attacks the C’s defense before Perk has gotten below the foul line. LBJ goes at Tony Allen with a decent head of steam, and Perk realizes quickly that TA has no shot to stop LeBron.

The trap comes, and the Cavs swing the ball to Parker, a 41 percent shooter from deep this season.

So: We saw a lot of different looks in one game.

Which of those looks should Boston use if they face the Cavs in the post-season? The obvious answer is to throw everything at LeBron—all of these looks and stuff LBJ hasn’t seen from Boston before.

But I think the Celtics should be careful about over-loading the strong side as they did in the first three clips in this post. LeBron isn’t Carmelo Anthony or Joe Johnson; he’s one of the best passers in the game, he can shred an overload defense if he has time to see the floor, and he’s surrounded by good to great three-point shooters.

Deploy with caution.

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