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.