Post-game Reactions

Magic Basketball brings us the stat of the series: In Games 1-3, the Magic ran 33 screen/rolls combined. They ran 43 alone in Game 4, a game in which the Magic scored about 104 points per 100 possessions, their best offensive rating of the series. 

But as you’ve read all over the place by  now, it wasn’t just the number of screen/rolls Orlando ran; it was how they ran them. The Eastern Conference phrase of the day was “staggered screen/s,” a play for which the C’s had no answer. Here are back-to-back possessions from the 3rd quarter in which the C’s tried two different strategies against the same play. Both failed. As you watch these clips, put yourselves in the shoes of Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau ask yourself: What could the C’s have done differently?

(11:17, 3rd):


In Game 3, the Celtics played most Orlando screen/rolls by having the screener’s guy sag down to cut off Jameer Nelson’s driving lane. On the above play, the guy guarding Screener #1 (KG) doesn’t do that; instead, he jumps out above the screen to try and slow Nelson down while Rondo fights over the Rashard Lewis pick. 

You see teams, including Boston, do this all the time. It’s sound strategy, even if it’s a departure from what Boston did so well in Game 3. But you risk the possibility that the two defenders can sort of get in each other’s way:

Here, Rondo manages to slide under KG and stay right on Nelson’s hip. Crisis #1 is averted. 

But there’s Dwight Howard waiting on the right wing to set screen #2. And Howard’s guy, Kendrick Perkins, is not agile enough to jump out KG-style and rotate back to Howard. Perk leaves Howard alone and plants himself in the lane:

Trouble. You see how far Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are drifting off of their guys (Carter and Barnes) on the left side in anticipation of needing to help defuse a crisis in the paint. And a crisis is brewing: Rondo is far behind Nelson thanks to a nasty Howard screen, leaving Perk on an island with the job of somehow cutting of Nelson’s penetration. 

I’m sitting here looking at this clip over and over again and wondering what Boston could have done differently here, and I’m coming up empty. 

Do you send Rondo under the first screen? What about the second one? 

Do you tell Perk to cut off the baseline at all costs, so that Nelson can’t turn the corner and come out the other side? If Perk manages that, does Nelson instead dribble into to the middle of the paint, draw Pierce and Carter further toward him and dish to one of his shooters on the weak side? 

What about KG? Should he sag down on the first pick if Rondo is going over it? 

That’s exactly what he tries on the Magic’s next possession:

Here’s a still that captures KG’s strategy against the first screen on this play:

You can see that KG has sagged down away from Lewis to clear a path for Rondo. You can also see that it really doesn’t matter. The second screen comes so quickly—and in so tight a space—that it basically takes KG out of the screen/roll action. Look at that photo: What are you supposed to do here? The use of Lewis as the initial screener is a nice wrinkle on Stan Van Gundy’s part; KG can’t just continue sliding down to help on Nelson, because that would mean leaving Lewis wide open for three. So he decides to stick with Lewis and let Perkins and Rondo take their chances against Nelson and Howard. 

Which leaves us here:

Nelson has turned the corner, which leaves the Celtics with a series of bad options. You can see in this photo that Rondo has started to hold up in pursuit of Nelson. This seems like an obviously bad option, since it basically forces Boston to switch Perkins onto Nelson while Rondo takes (gulp) Howard. The Magic take advantage with an easy alley-oop. 

Should Rondo have kept chasing? Should he have rushed out to Lewis and let KG take Howard, since Garnett is already right on Howard’s back? 

I’m not sure what the answer is; no option is without its holes. That is why teams have been running the screen/roll since the league’s inception. 

Here’s the thing, though: It wasn’t just the staggered screen that hurt Boston in Game 4. The regular screen/roll worked just fine:

For whatever reason, the Celtics had Kevin Garnett jump out more on screen/rolls than they did in earlier games. My hunch is this is because the Magic used Lewis as the screener for Nelson more often in Game 4, and if KG simply sags down and slides over onto Nelson, he risks leaving Lewis open for an easy pick-and-pop:

The C’s actually execute this decently. Garnett forces Nelson to take his turn a bit wider than Nelson would have otherwise, and Rondo is able to slither through that little space between Lewis and Garnett without losing too much ground. 

But on Monday, Nelson needed only the tiniest bit of space in order to move forward. Give him credit. If he hesitates even slightly here, Rondo can recover, Garnett finds Lewis and the screen/roll has produced nothing. Nelson wasn’t decisive on screen/rolls in Games 1-3, and they were far less effective. That changed in Game 4. 

What change will the C’s make in Game 5?

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Zach Lowe

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  • Jay P

    I honestly have no idea, but that’s why I’m not Tom Thibodeau. If Orlando executes liek they did in Game 4, every game is going to be tough.

    There’s just no good options when they execute those screens like that. All you can do is take the least crappy of all crappy options and hope they make a mistake. If not, you just gotta turn around and answer on the other end.

  • It’s tough.

    The better question might be: Why did it take Orlando three games to realize this?

  • Ricardo

    Let me know what you think. I thought a vast majority of those screens set by Orlando were moving screens. In the last clip you have Lewis set the screen, then the he slid into Rondo as Nelson drove by. I don’t understand how Perk gets called for the offensive foul when he just sticks his hip out a little, but Orlando was allowed to completely lift and move their legs and hip into Rondo all night.

  • Zack

    1. Could KG have switched with Rondo so that KG was on Howard instead? At about the 5 second mark Nelson was facing away from the basket and Rondo and KG could have switched really quick to put Rondo on the guy at the 3 point line.
    2. Could Ray Allen have collapsed onto Nelson, leaving KG to cover the two 3 point shooters at the top of the key and Perk could go back to Howard? KG would have challenged the potential open shot for either player but hopefully Barnes because then Rondo could release Howard and go back to the other 3 point shooter.
    Both scenarios create potential mismatches with KG on Barnes and Rondo on the other 3 point shooter Lewis, or KG on Howard, but i feel like that gives us a better chance then telling Rondo to jump on Howards back like a backpack.
    Also, should Perk have chased Nelson that far out of the lane? The further he chased him out the better angle Nelson had to give Howard a sick alleyoop

  • Jay P


    You make some good points, but again, I think that proves the overall point.

    None of those options are great. So when Orlando executes the screens well, all you can do is take a best case scenario, which still isn’t all that good.

    It’s going to create mismatches, it’s going to create opportunities, all you can do is try to limit them as much as possible and hope they miss shots.

    Which is why whatever happens, they need to be sure their not giving easy looks for lay-ups/dunks. Take those away, you’ll leave a shooter open, but as good as Orlando’s shooters are, I’ll take a long jump shot over a Howard dunk, at least they’ll miss the former once in awhile.

  • Mtlballer

    With all the talk about Nelson going off and the Magic running the pick ‘n roll to perfection the Cs would have won this game if they executed their offence in the 4th quarter. Instead the ball kept sticking and KG kept passing on open looks.

  • The Blind

    In the 2nd video, Rondo might try to keep chasing. By the time Nelson reached the under basket area, Perkin should wait a bit so that Rondo can catch up, then Perkin rotate back to Superman.

    I have not seen Nelson make any turn around jumpers so far. He is a bit small and usually small guys are not comfortable under the basket. He also need to think whether Perkins would keep following him under the basket.

    Just have to keep Nelson guessing and force him to make a wrong choice.

  • urbeltic

    Hats off to the Magic for this play, its pretty sweet. The play were Rondo ends up covering Dwight is hillariously freightening. I wonder why more teams don’t do “staggered screens” like this.

    I think the key to stopping it is the person who is covering the second of the staggered screens. They (seems to usually be Perk) basically need to high tail it deep into the paint and just focus on protecting the space and not covering a guy. KG then needs to sag as well and make sure that the big fella doesn’t roll. It leaves Jameer with a running jumper and only a stretched out arm (rondo) on defense…but…at least there is no penetration.

  • urbeltic

    The more I think about it though…I wonder if KG needs to just jump directly & completely in front of Jameer and block off his path entirely rather than simply try to slow Jammeer down. Basically, make it so Jameer is forced back. The risk is that then you have a mismatch with Rondo on Lewis, but at least it takes place out behind the three point line and you’ll have some time to react.

    This is a nasty play.

  • NHBluesMan

    maybe the C’s should try the zone defense… it worked for the Suns, and it would throw something different at the Magic then they’d be expecting… the only problem being thats not our style of defense, but you never know

  • Ben

    Well, the only option that works is KG has to sag down, there is no other choice. I will admit it is scary leaving Rashard, however Lewis can not beat this team on his own, Howard can. On the second screen Kendrick needs to step out and funnel Nelson back to the paint and toward Rondo. Then Perk can look back to Howard and (currently shadowed by Garnet) and Garnet can look back toward Lewis. That leaves Ray, the best conditioned of the Big Tree, and Pierce to watch the back side and I will take the two of them watching Lewis, Barnes and Carter. It isn’t perfect but then again if Nelson can’t get into the lane deep into the baseline it is ok for Ray to come off Barnes in anticipation of a pass to Carter because the pass to Barnes would be very very difficult for the small Nelson to make around perk, and I believe Ray is fast enough to still contest.

  • Jeremy

    I’d like to see them try having Rondo go under the second screen from Howard. this way, he could stay in front of Nelson without Perk having to switch off Howard (which he is not agile enough to do, clearly). the screen occurs in both cases in a spot that Nelson never shoots the three from (he seems to prefer near the top of the key) so it may not be a huge gamble to concede the jumpshot to Nelson on the move on the wing. If Rondo doesn’t go under Howard’s screen, you see in both cases (even the time where Barnes winds up scoring) that Rondo winds up guarding Howard. Even if Pierce had been in position to guard Barnes in video #1, Barnes could have thrown the alleyoop to Howard over Rondo. i think it’s kind of irrelevant whether KG sags or not since he winds up defending Lewis on the perimeter in both cases without a particularly good passing angle from Nelson. it seems to me this play is designed to get either Nelson a jumpshot or Howard a dunk. i’ll take the tough jumper from Nelson away from his sweet spot.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    I would like to see some KG/Rondo traps on Nelson. The guy is only 6′ tall & putting a hard trap on him at times before the magicians can even get into these options or trapping him off the screen would be something worth trying (our traps on D Wade, who is a lot more athletic, were great). Once you get Nelson to pick up his dribble off of a hard trap then it is a matter of smothering him from making a further play. It would be all about Nelson’s ability to get the pass out of the trap FARTHER AWAY from the basket rather than some breakdown closer to the basket.

  • The arguments about “doing this ” or “doing that” are misplaced.

    The action istnt the screen, or pick and roll…
    “It’s the Economy stupid!”

    The multiple screens take an additional 3,4 seconds of shot clock.

    The simple solution is to leap out and pressure the ball even briefly (see Cptn Bubbles,above – but WITHOUT KG) , just above mid court – but dont trap. You dont want to change what they are doing, you simply want to suck them in so that what they are doing becomes ineffective.

    The goal is to get at least one change of direction or better yet ‘a repost of the point guard’ (where the point guard gives up the ball and then gets it back – and restarts the offence.) by that time, precious seconds are gone from the shot clock and the movements are necessarily more urgent and perhaps rushed.

    The defensive options are not set in stone, but constantly recalculated based on whom is the likely shooting option off the roll and what their ‘hot handedness’ is.

    Of course, more agressive trapping by Rondo would simply double the mileage on his legs during the game, wearing him down.

    I do not have much hope for Orlando in this series, not because the Magic cant do it, its just that Stan is not a quick thinker on his feet- It took him 3 fucking games to hear what I’ve been shouting at him in the games through the TV: Put Dwight in motion, dont “post him up” Dwight has fewer “post moves” than a lamp post and is 1/2 as bright.