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How Boston Improved Its Pick And Roll Defense

 

The reasons why Boston leveled Philadelphia last night are innumerable. There was focus from Rajon Rondo, intensity from Paul Pierce, and overall dominance shown by Kevin Garnett. But getting into specifics, one of the biggest weapons they used to make a statement was via their bread and butter: defensive execution. In particular, how they guarded the pick and roll.

From the start, Boston’s strategy was a clear adjustment from what they did in Game 2. Here they wanted to trap the pick and roll, bullying the ball out of the hands of Philadelphia’s play-makers and towards guys who aren’t used to standing 15 feet from the basket with the shot clock winding down and a defender rotating towards their face.

Here are two examples of terrible pick and roll plays defended by the Celtics in Game 2.

In the clip above, Brandon Bass is non-committal with what he wants to do. Is he showing? Is he trapping? Is he an old man trying to send back soup in a deli? No, no, possibly yes.

Here you see Mickael Pietrus fail to hedge (if that’s what he was trying to do—similar to Bass, it isn’t quite clear) and allow Jrue Holiday to turn the corner and get into the lane.

The adjustments that need to be made in order to correct the problems seen above appear to be simple, but they’re far from it. In order to execute a successful trap, complicated rotations must come from the backline, and if the two players up top don’t do their job, either terrible mismatches will show themselves all over the court (think multiple mustard stains on a wedding dress), or a wide open player who Boston doesn’t want to have the ball can be gifted with a driving lane.

Last night the Sixers executed 18 pick and rolls to create a shot—both from the handler and roll man—according to Synergy. They connected on just five of these attempts. Here’s a sequence of well defended pick and roll plays that took place late in the second quarter. They effectively ended the basketball game.

The play begins with Andre Iguodala taking a screen from Spencer Hawes at the top of the three-point line. Instead of showing hard then rotating back to his man, as Garnett tends to do, he stays in front of Iguodala, helping Pierce trap him on the wing. From Iguodala’s point of view, the smartest option here is throwing the ball back to a wide open Hawes, who catches it about a foot in front of the three-point line.

This is where Garnett shows why he’s such an incredible basketball player. By sliding across the lane to contest what would be a wide open jumper, Garnett forces Philly’s center to put the ball on the floor from 20-feet away. When discussing all things disgusting, Spencer Hawes driving to the basket ranks at the top of my list. Bass then rotates from his man to contest the shot, as Ray Allen and Pierce crash the lane, positioning themselves for a possible rebound. The result? Bass makes Hawes wish he never picked up a basketball, and Keyon Dooling goes the other way for a quick layup.

This second play is similar, except Lou Williams is handling the ball instead of Iguodala. Williams receives a screen from Hawes and dribbles right into a trap by Rondo and Garnett. Lost and possibly dazed, Williams throws the ball back to Hawes, who’s standing behind the three-point line and wants no part of the action. He quickly swings it to Holiday—also standing behind the three-point line and well covered by Avery Bradley—and the Sixers try a pick and pop on the opposite side of the floor with two different players.

This was Philadelphia’s adjustment, but unfortunately for them, things don’t go so well. As Holiday comes off the screen, he’s greeted by a sagging Pierce, who can’t afford to be over aggressive on the play because his man is the much more dangerous Thaddeus Young. (Pierce also doesn’t have to trap because Bradley easily gets past Young’s screen, making it look as if nothing was ever set.)

Instead of forcing the issue and attacking, Holiday throws it back to a popping Young. The shot clock is now at six, and Young is forced to go one on one with Pierce, driving his body into the teeth of Boston’s treacherous defense with predictable results.

The previous two clips show awesome focus and commitment to what it was Doc Rivers wanted his team to do, but this one here is my personal favorite. Holiday takes a screen from Hawes and before Garnett can even come up to trap, the ball is out of his hands, back to Hawes. This is Philly playing right into what the Celtics want. They’re up by 10 in the first half, and already their concentration is cracking.

Holiday quickly comes back to get the ball to receive another screen from Hawes, going in the opposite direction, but the Celtics don’t seem to care. Garnett and Rondo chase down Holiday until he reluctantly throws the ball back to the always-ignored Hawes. Another jumper is missed, and another transition opportunity for the Celtics is created.

Here’s where the mental toll for Philadelphia has reached its breaking point. Lou Williams holds the ball with a little under three seconds separating the shot and game clock. Instead of milking it down to prevent Boston from getting the half’s final shot, Elton Brand comes up to set a screen with nine seconds on the shot clock, and 11.5 seconds left in the half. With a head start, Williams tries to blow by Ryan Hollins in an attempt to get to the basket.

Once again, tragedy strikes for the Sixers. Williams misses the layup, Bradley grabs the rebound, and Rondo finds himself with nearly seven seconds to race the length of the court and get a final shot off. We’ve seen Rondo cover this type of ground in half that time throughout his career, so to nobody’s surprise he gets there with more than enough time to spare, and finishes with a nifty reverse layup to give the Celtics an 11 point halftime lead. Beautiful.

Boston lost Game 2 in part because they couldn’t impose their will on Philly’s ball-handlers. They looked like a confused team, allowing opposing guards to do as they pleased. Last night we saw a different Celtics team; a more focused group that executed their plan to near perfection. This is the team we’re more familiar with seeing, and this is the team that needs to show up night in and night out if Boston has any chance at raising their 18th banner.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

  • JR99

    Always appreciate these video breakdowns. I think we've seen the last of the bad version of the Celtics this season. Last night felt like a switch had been flipped. Hopefully, any losses from here on out will not be self-inflicted.

  • http://www.layabozi.com mikebass14

    Nice article, and I agree the D was much improved, but what I take away from these videos is mostly that running ball screens at the three point line with spencer hawes as the screener isn't such a good idea.

  • Phil

    Nice breakdown. I feel like pick and roll defense gets overlooked sometimes, buts its extremely important to any good defensive team. Its a little weird that the Celtics have struggled with it at times in the postseason, given that I think they were top 5 in the regular season. Philly and Atlanta aren't good offensive teams, and they've been having a lot of success. I'd wager that that's largely the reason the Celtics have sucked with KG off the court.

    The fact that Stiemsma has reverted to his start of the year self and Bass has been bad is probably the major reason for the pick and roll lapses. Just have to hope they figured things out last game.

    • Rav

      Stiemsma, Bass and Pietrus don't seem to hedge very well – I remember one play where Stiemsma looked like he was just making a token hedge – he didn't even look at the ball-handler before "recovering" to his man, and the ballhandler (Jrue Holiday), instead of having to turn the corner, had an open 3 and nailed it.

  • Tha_Curtlandish

    Seinfeld reference was on point!

  • skeeds

    How a team defends the pick n roll, how they execute it and how they adjust both offense and defense to different situations, might be the single most important factor of success in the playoffs. And it usually takes some figuring out, especially if you aren't the most athletic or overwhelmingly talented group.

    Pick n roll gave the Mavs a championship last year. Carlisle tormented that poor, clueless Spoelstra, by throwing every conceivable variation of the pick n roll at him. There was no "mental breakdown", lack of focus, or whatever. Just a group of extremely smart players, who executed to perfection. The Mavs ran that "stutter" screen for Kid, (I think that's what Fratello called it) 5-6 times in the 6th game, Heat just couldn't get it. They couldn't even figure out how Barrea was blowing by them like he was A.I.

    Thankfully, the C's are no team to be easily outsmarted.

  • http://twitter.com/kevincote @kevincote

    Video breakdowns are the best. More of them, more often please and thank you.

  • CelticsBIG3

    Interesting turn of events here as Indiana just WAXED Miami at home.

  • I_Love_Green

    I saw Roy Hibbert in my nightmare last night….I think this is a sign.

    • The Cardinal

      Should the C's and Indy make it to the conference finals, we're really going to need the guards to rebound because Indy is so big at positions 2 – 5. Our bigs will have to block out on defense, and spread the floor on offense so Rondo, Pierce, and Bradley can attack the basket.

      • skeeds

        I watched most of the game last night. Damn, I SERIOUSLY hope Miami makes it to the next round. I'm not kidding the slightest! I'd rather have 2 primadonnas to shut down, (and the personnel to do it, too) than a team 9 players deep any of which can burn you for 20 points, with one hell of a center in the middle, that WILL burn you for 20-20.

  • hansgruber

    So from the sky, Red has struck down Derek Rose, Joakim Noah, and Chris Bosh now. If The Pacers beat the Heat now all that needs to happen is Roy Hibbert has to go down then luck is truely on the C's side.

  • Tom

    The sixers will not win another game this series and i tell u why here and my picks for the lakers game as wlel http://nbagamblerscorner.com/2012/05/are-the-lake

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