Post-game Reactions

…or one of them anyway.

Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook has broken down Rajon Rondo’s performance against the Dallas Mavericks–or should I say, he’s broken down the defensive strategy employed by the Mavericks against Rajon Rondo.

Pruiti makes a compelling case.  Ostensibly, Pruiti shows that the Mavericks used three specific tactics to limit Rondo’s effectiveness.

1) The Mavericks not only switched on every screen involving Rondo, but Rondo’s man went far under the screen daring Rondo to shoot the open jumper.

2) By going under the screen, the Mavericks were also able to pack the paint and prevent Rondo from driving into the lane– a place where Rondo likes to both finish and create.

3)  The Mavericks forced Rondo to drive in and kick out to midrange jump shooters.

Despite Pruiti’s evidence of the Maverick’s solid defense (and it was solid) I find a few elements of his analysis to be problematic.  My main qualm appears to be with the aforementioned number three.  Forcing Rondo to kick the ball out to Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis is not only part of the Celtics’ game plan, it’s also a key component of Rondo’s game.  Rondo has the unique ability to drive all the way to the hoop, realize that there is a better shot elsewhere on the court, and kick it out to the open man.  Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis also attempt 5.7 and 3.7 shots a game from this “long-two” area, respectively (HoopData). The Celtics use Davis and Garnett as stretch fours in this respect.

The first strategy Pruiti highlights is also a bit dodgy because of how good the Celtics are at exploiting mismatches and knocking down open jumpers.  If you watch the examples in the post, you’ll see the main culprit in the Celtics ineffectiveness on the offensive end is stagnation.  When the Celtics are executing their offensive, Ray Allen is running around tiring out his opponent.  At the same time Paul Pierce is also either spacing or cutting and Kevin Garnett is setting picks.  In the examples Pruiti provides, almost none of that happens flawlessly or fluidly.

All of this is not say Pruiti is wrong in his analysis.  For the Mavericks game, this strategy worked as evidence by Pruiti’s observations.  However, I am skeptical at how universal this strategy will become.  I also find it incredibly interesting that this defensive mindset is antithetical to what Coach David Thorpe suggests.

I believe the Celtics loss to the Mavericks had more to do with Dallas being a good team getting an older Boston team on the end of a back-to-back.  The Celtics were tired as evidenced by how haphazardly they attempted to execute their offense.  Zach Lowe used to characterize Pruiti’s blog as “indispensable”.  Go give the post a read and you’ll see why.

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  • zebulon

    I think the Mavs are in a unique position defensively because of the mobility of their bigs. They have Chandler and Nowitzki playing the bulk of their minutes at the 5 and 4, and the experience and athleticism of these guys lets them move around enough to wall off the paint and return to contest jumpshots on the perimeter (I distinctly remember Chandler being able to help out at the basket and recover for hard contests of Garnett's jumpshot).

    And we only lost the game by 2…

  • Berkcelt

    Just reading this post and not having the fortune to see that game (yet), it doesn't sound like the Mavs are doing anything Rondo hasn't seen before. Probably is more related to the back to the back and Dallas' overall improved defense so far this year.

  • Renato Afonso

    The only way to "contain" Rondo and limit the Celtics' offense is to play him the way the Lakers do. Force him to take the jumpshot. Leave him alone. Help out on those stretch fours while being able to contain his dribble penetration. Rondo's offense is based on him getting in the lane, from where he can create. Take that from him and he'll need to rely on his jumpshot, which is not good enough.

    Obviously, to be able to do that effectively you must have the pieces to keep a guy on Ray Allen and perimeter defenders that can switch on screens like Kobe and Ron (and those 7-footers inside also help). Basically, any team outside Dallas, LA and San Antonio will have trouble, but they can contain Rondo… And if he does get into the lane, just foul him.

    • Devin_in_Maine

      Sorry man, but using the Lakers scheme on Rondo as a model for anything is a waste…The numbers bear this out…

      Rondo had 53 assists in the finals last year. The Lakers whole team had 102. Rondo led both teams in assists in 5 out of 7 games.

      The Lakers defensive scheme for Rondo allowed him to average 13.6 ppg (against Fischer's 8.6 ppg) and a FG% of 45.5%. On the Lakers, only Odom and Gasol shot a higher percentage from the floor. On the Lakers, only Kobe and Gasol scored more total points than Rondo.

      Rondo, who is 6'1" tall, averaged more rebounds per game (6.3 rpg) than all but three of the Lakers: 7 footer Pau Gasol, 6'10" Lamar Odom, and the diminutive 6'6" Kobe Bryant.

      Say what you want about the Lakers title win last year, but suggesting that any team use the Lakers approach on Rondo as an example of how to stop the point guard is going to be a hard sell.

      Unless you are purposely trying to lead them astray 🙂

      • Renato Afonso

        Using the numbers only on Rondo is not accurate and comparing his role to Fisher's role is a bad comparison. Bear with me…

        The Lakers play the triangle and have arguably the best player in the NBA at creating his own shot as well as one of the best low-post offensive threats (Kobe and Pau). This means a lot of unassisted baskets on that team. Also, there was the whole rebounding issue and the Lakers got a lot of putbacks during the entire series. So, comparing assists is not doable when you play teams with different schemes and personnel.

        Regarding the rebounding numbers, there's no defense to that. They are what they are, but winning a couple more defensive rebounds is in no way a stat worth mentioning for what we're analyzing, which is his offense.

        The Celtics offensive schemes deepend a lot on Rondo's decision to start the offense and his dribble penetration. Ray Allen lives on getting those open corner 3's, for example. Those 3's are only there if the offense has fluidity. Kobe was the one guarding Rondo, not Fisher, and he was free to roam and bother KG, PP or Ray whenever they were in his area of influence and all due to the fact that Rondo can't shoot.

        If you want to use stats, then check the eFG% for KG, Ray, PP, Big Baby and Tony Allen during the season and compare those numbers with the eFG% in the Finals (you may even factor Ray's game 2 anomaly). The Lakers defense was tighter… Also, I just said that only 3 teams can properly contain Rondo that way, because you need good all-around defensive players like the Lakers, Dallas and San Antonio have (good perimeter defense and a couple of 7-footers inside to back them up). Just sayin'…

        NOTE: sorry for any typos since this is not my mother-tongue

        • Devin_in_Maine

          Your English is way better than my Spanish, you should see my Puerto Rican in-laws faces as I butcher my way through ordering dinner!

          You made some good points, but I wanted to respond to your comments about no defense for rebounding effectiveness. I would disagree, because the Lakers scheme on Rondo, I think, CAUSED his rebounding to be more effective.

          They ducked under screens on him and sagged into the paint on him all series long, giving him space to operate. That turned out to be a doubled edged sword as giving him room to operate also gave him flexibility to move around and scope out rebounds. I would argue that many guards would be able to get more rebounds if their opponents were playing 6-8 feet off of them. How many times did Rondo get boxed out? Very seldom, because very seldom was there a defender near to him, as they were sagging off and rotating off of him to help "better shooters".

          My rationale for going to the numbers was to show that the Lakers scheme on Rondo did not win them the Finals. Kendrick Perkins' exploded knee and Rasheed Wallace's exploding gut cost the C's banner 18 last year. Rondo had a huge finals, and nothing that the Lakers did significantly impacted that. The Lakers were deeper in bigs than the Cs and the pounding and rebounding on the inside proved too much for us.

  • JP-

    I agree with the other comments, 2nd game of a back to back and Dallas is a good team, and are playing well defensively. I think they caught the Celtics in this game, but also Rondo will have games where he is not 100%, this could have been one of them, but I don't think its a strategy to beat him or the Celtics, not a universal one anyway.

  • TedL – Sophomore

    Pruiti's got a great blog, no doubt. Probably your choice of whether to follow the Thorpe strategy or the Dallas depends on your personnel. If I've got John Wall playing point, I'm not letting him switch onto Pierce or Baby.

    One other thing that stood out in his videos was the success Dallas players had getting through and around screens set for Ray and Paul. It looked like superior effort and ability, and a little bit of Boston's tired legs. I haven't seen other teams managing the same trick – especially Miami.

  • Perry

    FYI: Dallas beat the previously undefeated Hornets last night and they seem to be committed more defensively than in previous years. But I doubt there's any standard blueprint to limit what Rondo can do since there are so many elements to his game that could have a profound effect on the outcome. All he has to do to avoid stagnation is stay aggressive and use his speed. Now he may never be the perimeter threat Chris Paul is, but he does knock down big shots like that jumper in OT Saturday night.

    The Celts are thriving offensively (2nd FGM) because they're being smarter with the rock, and are getting better looks at the rim… all due to Rondo. With Davis closing out games the spacing has never been better. Now add Delonte, if Doc chooses to go smaller, and you can play Rondo off the ball, which could lead to a few at the rim possessions in the final minutes.

    Does any sane person believe Doc won't have an answer for the Mavs' strategy next time around?

  • zebulon

    And Rondo had 15 assists. Against a defense 'designed to stop' him. You forgot that part.

  • Jeff L.

    I thought the video showed Rondo reacting too slowly to what Dallas was doing, maybe a combination of their different approach and the the 2nd game of back-to-back. At least once I thought Ray was open enough until Rondo floated the ball to him, another time he missed a chance to make a pass, one or two other times Pierce got a seal & called for the ball & spacing or Rondo's reaction didn't get it to him (including that final play). The strategy only worked, as noted, because of Kidd's size. And I don't think it is likely to work this well consistently (but I've always got my green goggles on).

  • Adam Ain't

    Not sure how effective this would be, as Rondo is increasingly the type of player who doesn't get forced into shots. If a lane closes up or he gets caught on the outside, he's pretty able to regroup and find something else, and quickly. That's why he's so dangerous.

    We've got our case for Rondo as a legit MVP candidate:

  • Chris O

    Ummmm….lets just venture to say that regardless of what anyone, or any team says, there is no 'blueprint' for figuring out and stopping Rondo. If there was that boy wouldn't be averaging 15.1 assists. Aslo he ate up the Mavs in the second half so what did they 'forget' their plan? You cannot stop Rondo, you can only hope to try and contain the ruckus and orchestration he creates.

  • Devin_in_Maine

    I'm talking statistically. People keep saying, "you can't compare him to Derek Fisher, they have different skill sets…its the triangle…they run different offenses…"

    You compare individual players against their opponents at the same position.

    If Rondo wasn't an impact player, how did he manage the highest +/- on the Celtics, and end up near or at the top of many statistical categories for BOTH teams? He only averaged in double figures for points and led the Cs in rebounds, assists and steals. Something his opponent couldn't do, or stop him from doing for that matter.

    • grantzby

      except that person playing rondo's "position" on the lakers (the on ball guard through whom the o is run) is not fisher

      • Devin_in_Maine

        So if you were to compare Rondo's numbers against who you consider his Lakers counterpart to be…Who would you compare him against? The only two players with a clear statistical advantage are Kobe and Gasol – the Lakers two most prolific facilitators (and its not close)…Certainly you don't want to use those players as comparison?

    • Renato Afonso

      I'm not contesting Rondo's stats at all, but one must watch the games as well, otherwise this would be a simple box score analysis… The fact is that the C's offense didn't work as well as it worked against previous playoff opponents.

      Look, I'm not diminishing his role with the 09-10 Celtics nor his current role at all. I'm just saying that you can prepare a defense against the Celtics due to his lack of a reliable jumpshot (or even FT consistency). Perkins would have helped in game 7 against the Lakers, but don't forget that he had a grand total of 3 rebounds the previous game. If all, I think game 7 would've been won by Boston if Sheed had enough gas to keep going, since he was having a terrific game.

      Bottomline, if you're a guard in the NBA and they're giving you 5 to 7 feet every time you have the ball, you better start shooting and be prepared to drop 40 and lift that MVP trophy.

      NOTE: My spanish sucks as well… I speak portuguese! 😛

      • Devin_in_Maine

        "Bottomline, if you're a guard in the NBA and they're giving you 5 to 7 feet every time you have the ball, you better start shooting and be prepared to drop 40 and lift that MVP trophy. "

        Couldn't agree more! Well said!

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