Film Study

Film Study: Blazers’ shooters burn Wizards from 3-point range


VIDEO: The Blazers hit the Wizards with a barrage of 3s in the third quarter

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday night in Portland, the Washington Wizards shot 12-for-27 (44 percent) from 3-point range.

Those are good numbers. Prior to Thursday, teams were 353-180 (.662) when they hit 10 or more threes in a game. The Wizards themselves were 28-10 when shooting better than 36 percent from beyond the arc.

It’s also impressive that the Wiz were able to generate so much perimeter offense without Marcin Gortat (who hurt his back warming up), one of the most prolific pick-and-roll bigs in the league. They’ve been much more efficient offensively with Gortat on the floor this season, but they scored 103 points on just 91 possessions (113 per 100) on Thursday.

The problem was that the Blazers shot 14-for-35 from 3-point range and scored 116 points on 91 possessions (127 per 100). The Wizards ranked ninth defensively when Nene went down with a left knee injury on Feb. 23, but rank 21st since then, having allowed 108.0 points per 100 possessions over the last 12 games.

Nene might not have been the difference maker on Thursday, because even with the players the Wizards had, some of Portland’s threes were avoidable.

Second chances, then 3 points

The Blazers rank second in offensive rebounding percentage and lead the league with 88 second-chance 3-pointers.

20140321_2c3pm

Three of those 88 came Thursday …


VIDEO: The Blazers hit three of their league-leading 88 second-chance 3-pointers

Foes pay for doubling the post

Those first two second-chance 3-pointers came directly off the offensive rebound. But on the third one, Nicolas Batum found himself wide open when John Wall double-teamed Wesley Matthews in the low post.

That was also the third three that the Blazers got directly off a Matthews post-up. On the first two, either Wall or Bradley Beal initially fronted Matthews in the post, and when the Blazers were still able to get Matthews the ball, Trevor Booker came to help from the baseline.

From there, the Wizards’ defense was scrambling and there was an open three one or two passes away …


VIDEO: The Blazers get open threes out of double-teams in the post

Matthews is a pretty good post-up guard, but there shouldn’t be a need to send a double-team when he’s being defended by the 6-foot-4 Beal or 6-foot-4 Wall. That idea is especially true when the Blazers have an extra shooter on the floor.

Wright kind of mismatch

The Blazers are now 7-2 without LaMarcus Aldridge, having scored an efficient 112.0 points per 100 possessions in the nine games. Aldridge is thought of as Portland’s best player, but of their five starters, he has, by far, the lowest true shooting percentage. His abundance of mid-range shots (he still leads the league by 139 attempts) makes him a relatively inefficient scorer.

And while the Wizards will still start two bigs when Nene and/or Gortat are injured, the Blazers have gone small without Aldridge, starting Dorell Wright at the four.

On Thursday, Wright was matched up with Booker, who got one bucket on a tip-in and another on a post-up, but who wasn’t able to consistently take advantage of the size discrepancy.

Wright didn’t burn Booker all night from the perimeter, and the Wizards were a plus-2 in 16 minutes with Booker and Kevin Seraphin on the floor together, but there were a couple of times when Booker couldn’t keep up with the shooter …


VIDEO: The Blazers take advantage of Trevor Booker on the perimeter

The Wizards’ schedule gets a lot easier from here on out. Thursday was their last road game against a team with a winning record. But their 3-point defense needs to be better, because three of their next five games are against the three teams — the Lakers (32), Suns (36) and Hawks (32) — who have the most games with 10 or more threes.

Film Study: The Heat Contest In OKC


VIDEO: LeBron James and the Heat pick up the victory in OKC

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Miami Heat were not a very good defensive team in the dog days of the season. They ranked 27th in defensive efficiency between Jan. 1 and the All-Star break, a stretch that included a game against the Warriors when they got picked apart by David Lee, a game against the Knicks when they clearly weren’t engaged all game, and a game against the Thunder when OKC shot 16-for-27 from 3-point range.

Coming out of the break, the Heat won in Dallas, but allowed 106 points on about 94 possessions. It was an offensive win in which the Heat shot 57 percent.

Thursday, however, was one of those nights when the Heat turned it on defensively. They held the Thunder to 81 points on 95 possessions, forcing 20 turnovers (nine in the first quarter) and holding OKC to just 2-for-20 from 3-point range.

And this wasn’t just a bad shooting night. The turnovers had a lot to do with Russell Westbrook playing his first game in almost two months, but the missed shots were about the Heat defense imposing its will on the Thunder.

All you have to do is look at the contested and uncontested shots from the Thunder in the two games, which you can now find in the Player Tracking tab in our NBA.com/stats boxscores, thanks to SportVU.

In the Jan. 29 meeting, the Heat contested 37 (46 percent) of the Thunder’s 80 shots. On Thursday, the Heat contested 48 (65 percent) of the Thunder’s 74 shots.

That’s a big difference. And the difference is bigger when you look at just the Thunder’s jump shots.

According to SportVU, on Jan. 29, only 13 (25 percent) of the Thunder’s 52 jumpers were contested. On Thursday, 18 (51 percent) of their 35 jumpers were contested.

Looking at just 3-point attempts… Only seven of the 27 were uncontested on Jan. 29, while nine of the 20 were contested on Thursday.

Here are some examples of the Heat being on point defensively…

First, we have a quick-hitting dribble hand-off play from Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant, in which Shane Battier and LeBron James trap Durant and Chris Bosh rotates over from the weak side to force Ibaka into a rushed jumper …


VIDEO: The Heat defense forces Serge Ibaka into a rushed jump shot

Here’s a long possession in which the Heat successfully defend a Reggie Jackson/Ibaka pick-and-roll, an Ibaka post-up, and a Westbrook isolation. The result is Bosh again contesting Ibaka’s shot …


VIDEO: The Heat show off their defensive chops on this series against the Thunder

Throughout the game, Dwyane Wade was particularly engaged. The Heat are at their best defensively when he’s healthy and active. They’ve allowed just 101.9 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would rank eighth in the league) in the games he’s played and 105.8 (a rate which would rank 23rd) in the games he’s missed.

But the Thunder brought some of their problems on themselves on Thursday. Here’s Derek Fisher not doing much with Perry Jones‘ screen and taking a contested, pull-up 3-pointer with 11 seconds left on the shot clock…


VIDEO: Derek Fisher takes a bad 3-pointer against the Heat

And here’s Fisher again, not making the extra pass and taking another contested 3-pointer with 10 seconds left on the clock …


VIDEO: Derek Fisher takes a 3-pointer too early in the shot clock

The Thunder rank seventh in offensive efficiency, but 26th in assist rate, assisting only 55 percent of their field goals. They’re not a team that moves the ball that much and, with the talent they have in Durant and Westbrook, usually don’t have to. If you get Westbrook out in the open floor and get Durant some catches at the elbow, you’re going to put the ball in the basket at a pretty good rate.

There is no correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency. There are great offensive teams with low assist rates (like Houston and Oklahoma City) and bad offensive teams with high assist rates (like Chicago and the Lakers).

However, there is a decent correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency against the Heat. With Miami’s aggressive, trapping defense, the teams that have success are usually the ones that move the ball quickly and find open shooters on the weak side. And the open shot is usually more than one pass away.

The Thunder had success against the Heat in January, but this time Miami was engaged defensively. That’ll probably be the case again if these teams met in June, so Oklahoma City will have to do a better job of making the extra pass and finding more uncontested shots.


VIDEO: Thunder players and coaches react to their loss to the Heat

Film Study: LeBron And KD, Head-To-Head

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The season is only 55 percent complete, so it’s way too early to make any kind of call in the MVP race. By leading the Oklahoma City Thunder on an eight-game winning streak without co-star Russell Westbrook and going on a ridiculous scoring binge along the way, Kevin Durant has seemingly taken the lead over LeBron James.

But this is the time of year when James led the Miami Heat to 27 straight wins last season, a streak that included a win in Oklahoma City. Head-to-head matchups could linger in the minds of voters, and the Heat have won six straight games against the Thunder, going back to Game 2 of the 2012 Finals. They’ll look to make it seven in a row on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Miami, and will have another meeting right after the All-Star break.

Because Durant and James (mostly) play the same position, they truly are going head to head, though one typically defends the other more than vice versa.

In their two meetings last season, James defended Durant on 67 percent of Oklahoma City’s possessions when two were on the floor together. The only time he wasn’t Durant’s primary defender was in the third quarter of the Feb. 14 meeting, a game which the Heat led by 17 at halftime. Dwyane Wade took on Durant duties for most those 12 minutes.

Durant, meanwhile, only defended James on only 44 percent of Miami’s possessions when the two were on the floor together. Thabo Sefolosha was tasked with defending James most of the other possessions, though it was Russell Westbrook‘s job in the fourth quarter of that February game.

Durant and James were their team’s best defenders on their opponent’s best players. Both scored more efficiently when being guarded by other defenders.

Over the two games, when James was guarding him, Durant scored 0.95 (35/37) points per scoring chance (shot from the field or trip to the line). When James wasn’t guarding him, Durant scored 1.48 points per scoring chance (37/25).

When Durant was guarding him, James scored just 0.88 (15/17) points per scoring chance. When Durant wasn’t guarding him, James scored 1.71 (53/31).

Part of the discrepancy is transition opportunities when nobody was really defending them. But it’s clear that each was the other’s toughest matchup.

Nothing easy one-on-one

James is seen as the better defender, but Durant is so darn long. Though they totaled 140 points in the two games, neither guy could get anything easy against the other.

Here’s Durant in an iso against James, hitting a really tough shot.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant hits a tough, isolation shot vs. LeBron James

And here’s a James post-up, where Durant contests a 16-foot, step-back jumper…


VIDEO: Kevin Durant contests LeBron James’ step-back jumper

Easier against the other guys

In Serge Ibaka, the Thunder have another defender with the size and quickness to make things tough on James. But Ibaka only defending James on a couple of switches or transition matchups last season. Shane Battier has typically defended Durant when James has been off the floor, but doesn’t have James’ size and strength.

Wade and Sefolosha really can’t handle the job.

Here’s Durant going right around Wade for an and-one on an iso…


VIDEO: Kevin Durant breezes past Dwyane Wade in an iso situation

And here’s James muscling through Sefolosha on a weak-side duck-in.


VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha can’t stop LeBron James on this play

Getting the ball out of KD’s hands

While James defended Durant more than Durant defended James, he would have more help from possession to possession. When Durant runs a high pick-and-roll or comes off a pin-down screen to catch the ball on the wing, the Heat will blitz a second defender at him to force the ball out of his hands.

Here’s one such play from the Christmas game last season, where Durant takes a handoff from Kendrick Perkins and immediately gets double-teamed, forcing him to give up the ball…


VIDEO: The Heat bring a strong double team at Kevin Durant

Here’s a link to the Thunder’s second possession of the Feb. 14 meeting, where two defenders chase Durant as he comes off a pin-down.

Durant on the move

So that Durant doesn’t have to go toe-to-toe with James or face double-teams so much, the Thunder can get him the ball on the move. Here, they use him as a screener and he gets an open shot off a flare to the right wing…


VIDEO: Kevin Durant gets open off a flare screen on the wing

Superstar decoys

When Durant is used as a screener, his defender has a difficult decision to make. If he leaves Durant (like above), he’s giving the league’s leading scorer an open shot. But if he stays at home on Durant, the ball-handler has an opening.

The Heat can use James in a similar fashion. On this play, Chalmers gets an opening, because Westbrook stays attached to James…


VIDEO: LeBron James is used as a decoy in the Heat offense

Forcing the switch

The Heat also use James as a screener to get him matched up with a smaller defender. Here, he gets Westbrook in the post, draws the attention of Perkins, and finds Chris Bosh for an easy dunk late in the Christmas game…


VIDEO: The Heat force the Thunder to make a defensive switch

A lot more than just one-on-one

Wednesday is a matchup of the two best basketball players in the world and will make some kind of impact on MVP voting. But how Durant and James play goes well beyond their defense on each other. It’s also about how their coaches and teammates set up their touches, how they take advantage of other matchups and how much help their defenders get from their teammates.

Film Study: Is There Any D In DeMarcus?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In voting for seven reserves for next month’s All-Star Game, Western Conference coaches have some very difficult decisions to make.

The most interesting dilemma is what to make of DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 22.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks … for a team that’s 15-26.

My man Jeff Caplan did not pick Cousins among his seven reserves. Neither did Charles Barkley, Grant Hill or Kenny Smith. Shaquille O’Neal did, but it should be noted that he’s a minority owner of the Kings.

The biggest reason the Kings are 11 games under .500 is their defense. Through Thursday, they rank 28th in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions. It’s the third straight season they’ve ranked in the bottom three.

The question is how responsible is Cousins for the poor defense and if that basically negates a lot of his offensive production. What good is scoring 31 points (like Cousins did against the league’s best defense last week) if you’re helping your opponent (a below-average offensive team) put up 116?

Cousins’ basic defensive numbers look great. Only *five players (who have played at least 20 games) average more steals plus blocks per game than Cousins’ 2.98, but steals and blocks don’t always equate to good defense.

* The five are Anthony Davis (4.53), DeAndre Jordan (3.50), Andre Drummond (3.21), Michael Carter-Williams (3.03) and Roy Hibbert (3.02). Three of them also play for below-average defense teams.

The Kings have been better defensively with Cousins on the floor (allowing 105.6 points per possessions) than they’ve been with him on the bench (107.6). But that mark of 105.6 would still put them in the bottom six of the league defensively.

With Cousins on the floor, the Kings rebound and force turnovers at above-average rates. But the best thing you can do as a defense is defend shots, and they haven’t done that very well.

Kings defense with Cousins on and off the floor

Cousins on/off OppeFG% Rk DREB% Rk OppTOV% Rk OppFTA Rate Rk
Cousins on 52.4% 76.1% 15.8% .294
Cousins off 51.4% 75.1% 13.4% .331
Overall 52.1% 30 75.7% 9 15.0% 21 .308 25

OppeFG% = Opp. (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Kings opponents have shot 66.4 percent in the restricted area with him on the floor, a mark well above the league average of 60.2 percent. According to SportVU, opponents have shot 53.7 at the rim when Cousins is there defending it, a mark that ranks 48th among 59 players who have defended at least five shots per game over 20 games.

Some of the discrepancy between the 66.4 percent and 53.7 percent can be attributed to transition defense, where Cousins is more than a little lacking. In that game in Indiana in which Cousins scored 31 points, the Pacers shot 18-for-24 in the restricted area, 12-for-14 with Cousins on the floor, and had 25 fast-break points.

Here are a couple of examples where Cousins didn’t necessarily have a chance to stop the break, but could made a much better effort than he did…


VIDEO: Film Study of Cousins’ transition defense

In the halfcourt, Synergy Sports ranks Cousins as a “good” pick-and-roll defender. Of late, he’ been sagging in the paint when his man sets a high screen. Here’s Greg Stiemsma setting a screen on Isaiah Thomas with Cousins nowhere in the vicinity, giving Brian Roberts plenty of open space to work with.

20140124_cousins_sag

This is basically the same strategy that the Pacers employ with Defensive Player of the Year favorite Roy Hibbert, though Hibbert puts a lot more effort into using his length to keep the ball-handler out of the paint while also staying attached to his man. Cousins obviously isn’t on Hibbert’s level in regard to protecting the rim without fouling.

But the sagging strategy can force your opponent into mid-range shots, which is a good thing. With Cousins on the floor, Kings opponents have shot more from mid-range, but have also shot better from there.

One issue is that the Kings’ guards don’t stay attached to their man nearly as well as the Pacers’ guards do. Thomas is having a terrific season offensively, but he’s a little (pizza) guy who can get smushed on screens. Combine that with Cousins’ tendency to stay out of the picture, and opponents are going to have success if they have a guard who can shoot off the dribble.


VIDEO: Film Study on Cousins’ pick-and-roll defense

Against Kevin Durant last week, there was more of an effort to get up on high screens, but overall, Cousins does a lot of standing up straight on defense. He does have terrific hands though, and that can partially make up for his inconsistent effort and lack of fundamentals…


VIDEO: Cousins shows his swiping skills

And if you engage him defensively, Cousins has the ability to be a strong defender. On this play in Oklahoma City, Reggie Jackson attacks Cousins, who stays with him and contests his step-back jumper. In the second video above, we saw him strip Glen Davis in the post, and Synergy ranks him as an “excellent” post defender. Again, if he’s engaged, he has the size to block your path and the quickness to react to your counter moves.

The skills are there. The commitment is not. The Kings have worse defenders on their team, but none of them were signed to a max extension last summer.

If Cousins isn’t a plus on both ends of the floor, is he really a max player? If his team ranks 28th in defensive efficiency, is he really one of the best centers in the league?

Is DeMarcus Cousins an All-Star? We’ll find out next Thursday.

Film Study: When The Heat Aren’t Engaged


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks handle the Heat at MSG

NEW YORK – This week’s Film Study could look a lot like last week’s. For the second straight Thursday night, a team picked apart the Miami Heat’s pick-and-roll defense.

The New York Knicks only scored 102 points (compared to the Warriors’ 123 last week) in their victory on Thursday, but it was a very slow-paced game. The Knicks had the ball just 86 times, so, in terms of efficiency, they were on par with what the Warriors did against the Heat in a much faster game a week earlier.

New York actually scored less than a point per possession (43/47) in the first half. But in the final 24 minutes, they scored a remarkable 59 points on just 39 possessions.

Like the Warriors, they executed well. The Knicks got the Heat defense moving with pick-and-roll, they moved the ball to the open man, and they made shots, hitting nine of their 16 mid-range jumpers and seven of their 18 above-the-break threes.

Having a healthy point guard helps. Raymond Felton racked up 14 assists on Thursday, while committing just two turnovers. He’s been in and out of the lineup this season, and not very effective when he’s been (relatively) healthy.

But last season, the No. 3 offense in the league was at its best when Felton was on the floor. A healthy dosage of pick-and-rolls keeps the Knicks from getting too iso-heavy and allows Carmelo Anthony to shoot off the catch, instead of off the dribble. Though Anthony led the league in usage rate last season, Felton had the ball in his hands about 70 percent more (5:40 per game vs. 3:21 per game, according to SportVU).

So, going forward, the Knicks will be better if Felton is healthy and they’re moving the ball. They’re most efficient when they’re picking and rolling, which was the game plan on Thursday. They knew that the Heat could be beat and open shots could be had with quick passes and ball reversals. And they took care of the ball against the team that has forced more turnovers per 100 possessions than any team in the last 15 seasons.

The Heat can be the best defensive team in the league when they want to be. But they generally don’t want to be during the regular season. Their disruptive defensive scheme requires a lot of energy, more than they can come up with over 82 games.

And while the Knicks deserve a ton of credit for their offensive execution, the Heat were clearly not at their best defensively. Here are some examples from a stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters when the Knicks turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead …

Play 1 – Ole!

With the Heat up three late in the third quarter, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire ran a side pick-and-roll. Dwyane Wade came to help from the weak side, but, instead of putting himself between Stoudemire and the basket, he just swiped at the ball as he ran by. And that’s not going to get it done.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade’s pick-and-roll defense leaves much to be desired

Play 2 – Ole! Part II

A couple of possessions later, the ball was swung to Andrea Bargnani, who was being defended by Chris Bosh, who bought on a pump fake from a guy who has shot 30 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons. Wade again comes over to help and again just takes a swipe at the ball. The result is an and-one and a lead the Knicks would never relinquish.


VIDEO: Andrea Bargnani easily drives on the Heat defense

Play 3 – Amar’e all alone

Two possessions after that, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis double-teamed Anthony in the corner. After the ball was swung around the perimeter, Stoudemire was wide open under the basket, because neither Cole nor Lewis rotated.


VIDEO: Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis fail to rotate on defense

The Heat’s semi-lackluster play spilled over to the offensive end of the floor. As the Knicks were making their run, Miami scored just two points (against a bottom-10 defensive team) over 10 possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters. They weren’t attacking and they often settled for a decent shot when a better one could have been had with a little more work.

Play 4 – Carelessness

This is just a careless pass by Chris Andersen as Cole curls out from the baseline. Andersen takes one hand off the ball and doesn’t wait until Cole has created any separation from Felton.


VIDEO: Chris Andersen throws a careless pass to Norris Cole

Play 5 – Settling

Here, Wade settles for a contested, mid-range jumper early in the shot clock instead of running the offense and putting pressure on the Knicks’ D.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade takes the contested shot rather than pressure the Knicks’ defense

The Heat have had their moments this season, but there have been a lot of games/halves/quarters/possessions when they’ve been disengaged. The same was true early last season and they went on to win 27 straight games and their second straight championship. But even in the playoffs, they seemed to turn their defense on and off, failing to win consecutive games against the Pacers or Spurs until they pulled out Games 6 and 7 in The Finals.

They still have LeBron James and they’re still the favorite to win another title. But in the middle of the season, you’re going to see teams take advantage of their indifference.

Film Study: The Roll Of David Lee

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat entered Thursday’s game in Miami as top 10 defenses. Neither looked like one during a 123-114 victory for the Warriors, their seventh straight victory.

The Dubs got 36 points and some ridiculous shots from Stephen Curry. They also got 32 points and 14 rebounds from David Lee.

Lee had just three assists, but it was his ability to handle the ball out of the pick-and-roll that was a big key to chewing up the Heat’s aggressive defense to the tune of of 123 points on 101 possessions.

For the most part, Miami’s big men would stay with Curry as he came off Lee’s screens, and when Curry’s defender recovered, they had Curry trapped. Lee acted as a release valve for his point guard, and when he got the ball, the Warriors typically had a three-on-two situation on the weak side of the floor.

Here’s Lee with the ball on the Warriors’ fifth possession of the game …

20140102_lee_3on2

Shane Battier has chased Curry out to the left sideline and Mario Chalmers has recovered to his man, leaving Chris Bosh and LeBron James on the weak side to cover Lee, Andrew Bogut (in the paint) and Andre Iguodala (in the corner).

It seems pretty simple, but the key is having a big man who can provide a passing lane for his point guard, and then handle the ball well enough to make the Heat pay for their aggressiveness.

Over the course of 48 minutes, the Heat switched up their coverages and the Warriors ran different wrinkles to keep Miami on its toes.

Here are six different pick-and-roll plays from Thursday night, all involving Lee and all resulting in a Golden State basket …

Play 1 – Attacking the 3-on-2

This is the play from the image above. Lee attacks that three-on-two situation and gets help from Bogut, who holds off Bosh.


VIDEO: David Lee attacks the 3-on-2 situation vs. Miami

Lee was 8-for-10 in the restricted area on Thursday.

Play 2 – Weak-side flash

Here, the Warriors run a Curry/Lee pick-and-roll from the side of the floor. When Battier and Chalmers trap Curry, it’s Bogut who acts as the release valve, flashing to the foul line from the weak-side block. The trap up top forced Bosh to try to defend both bigs, and he gets caught in the middle.


VIDEO: Andrew Bogut flashes from the foul line from the weak-side block

Play 3 – Taking the Heat off their game

At this point in the game, Lee had 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting. The threat of the roll forces Bosh to make an adjustment on the high pick-and-roll, leaving Curry a lot earlier than usual in order to stay with his man. But Norris Cole doesn’t recover in time and Curry beats him to the basket.


VIDEO: Steph Curry gets a good look due to Norris Cole’s poor defensive recovery

Play 4 – Empty strong side

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Warriors run a pick-and-roll with nobody on the strong side of the floor. Bosh is back to blitzing Curry, who gets the ball back to Lee at the top of the key. As Lee attacks the paint, Curry doesn’t stop moving, leaving both Bosh and Cole in the dust. They have a two-on-one against Dwyane Wade‘s weak-side help and Curry gets a layup.


VIDEO: Curry gets a layup off of the Warriors’ two-on-one action

Play 5 – Curry off the ball

With about three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Curry wasn’t getting open for any free looks from the perimeter. So the Warriors took him off the ball and had Iguodala run the pick-and-roll with Lee, who attacks the paint and kicks the ball out to the perimeter, where Chalmers is caught between Klay Thompson on the wing and Curry on the perimeter. How would you like your dagger, Mr. Chalmers?


VIDEO: Lee attacks the paint and finds Curry cutting to the rim

Play 6 – Mouse in the house

On the next possession, we have another Iguodala/Lee pick-and-roll. Instead of trapping it and falling victim to another three-on-two situation, the Heat switch it. The Warriors see the mismatch, get the ball to Lee at the high post, and he makes quick work of Wade.


VIDEO: Lee operates in the high post and scores on Dwyane Wade

The key against the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense is to get rid of the ball quickly. The easiest way to do that is for the screener to stay high and give the ball-handler a passing lane. But for most teams, having a big man with the ball 20 feet from the basket isn’t necessarily a good thing. If the screener isn’t adept at both passing and handling the ball himself, Miami can recover back and/or force turnovers.

The Warriors did commit 20 turnovers on Thursday and they have the league’s worst turnover rate. But they also forced the Heat to make adjustments defensively, because they got the ball to Lee quickly and he made the right decisions with it.

Lee has his issues on defense, but he’s one of the most skilled bigs in the league. And there’s not a better passing frontline in the league than Iguodala, Lee and Bogut. With Curry and Thompson (and Iguodala) providing the perimeter shooting, the Golden State starters have been the best offensive lineup in the league (minimum 100 minutes played).

The issue, of course, is their depth. While the starters have scored 117.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Golden State lineups have scored just 99.8.

Warriors efficiency

Lineups GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starting lineup 19 360 99.3 117.4 97.0 +20.5 +137
Others 34 1,285 99.2 99.8 98.9 +0.8 +19

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Warriors have a top-five defense and an offense that has played at a top-10 level when both Curry and Iguodala have been healthy (they’re 16-3 in those games), but they need one more guard to keep them afloat when the starters keep them off the floor. Their turnover ratio is higher with Curry off the floor (19.9 per 100 possessions) that it is with him on (16.2).

Still, for one night, while their defense struggled against the second best offense in the league, the skills of their starting lineup had enough to pick up their seventh straight win.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew looks at Miami’s deficiencies at defending the pick-and-roll

Film Study: Bosh Denies Duncan, Spurs Down The Stretch Of Game 6

.

MIAMI – There’s no other way to put it: Game 6 was a classic. And in a game like that, so many things, both big and little, determine the outcome.

Ray Allen‘s three at the end of regulation was the biggest shot we’ve seen in a long time, but it was set up by Kawhi Leonard‘s missed free throw, Chris Bosh‘s offensive rebound, and the 168 possessions that preceded those two plays. And it obviously doesn’t mean much if the Heat don’t shut the Spurs down in overtime.

After scoring five points on their first four possessions of the extra period, San Antonio failed to score on their final six. And it was appropriate that Bosh sealed the game by blocking Danny Green‘s three at the buzzer, because it was his defense that was so critical in those final five minutes.

Here’s the Spurs’ sixth possession of OT, in which Bosh hedges to slow down Tony Parker on the initial, double pick-and-roll. He then switches onto Parker and stops him in his tracks after another screen by Tim Duncan, and then challenges Leonard’s shot from the baseline, almost singlehandedly forcing a 24-second violation …

.

On the next defensive possession, Bosh forces Parker toward the midcourt line on a side pick-and-roll and gets back to deny Duncan in the post. Then Allen helps on Ginobili’s baseline drive and Mario Chalmers is there to deny the baseline pass to Leonard in the corner, forcing Ginobili into one of his eight turnovers …

.

Upon review of that play, you have to wonder what Parker was doing. As Ginobili went baseline, Parker crossed paths with Green, giving Ginobili one less outlet. With Chalmers rotating toward Leonard, James was in front of both Parker and Green.

20130618_mg_baseline

You can blame Ginobili for leaving his feet without knowing where he was passing the ball, but Parker didn’t help him out any.

The following defensive possession was another incredible effort by Bosh, switching onto Parker, stopping his penetration, and then recovering to block his step-back jumper …

.

That kind of effort was typical of Bosh over the last 29 minutes of Game 6. If you’re wondering where Duncan went in the second half on Tuesday, look no further than the guy who was guarding him. In fact, Bosh also deserves some credit for keeping Parker in check in the second half, too.

Bosh was getting schooled by Duncan in the first half. At one point in the second quarter, Bosh asked out of the game just three minutes after he had checked in … and after a couple of Duncan buckets and a turnover of his own.

But after scoring 25 points on 11-for-13 shooting in the first half, Duncan scored four points on 2-for-8 shooting the rest of the night. Parker had 15 points after halftime, but shot just 4-for-17 and only six of those 17 shots came from the paint. As a team, the Spurs scored 50 points on 43 possessions (1.16 per) in the first half and 50 points on 53 possessions (0.94 per) afterward.

Here’s San Antonio’s second possession of the third quarter, in which Bosh denies Duncan twice and hedges on Parker twice …

.

Denial …

20130619_denial_hedge1

Hedge…

20130619_denial_hedge2

Denial…

20130619_denial_hedge3

Hedge…

20130619_denial_hedge4

Two possessions later another post denial and another pick-and-roll hedge, helping force the Spurs into a turnover …

.

It takes five guys to defend the Spurs, but Bosh was the anchor of the defense that stopped a great offense just enough to pull out the win and keep its season alive. Defending Duncan and containing Parker were two of the evening’s toughest tasks, and one guy took them both on. Bosh’s denial was the biggest reason why Duncan had a quiet second half and his pick-and-roll defense was critical in keeping Parker away from the basket.

In a game of ups, downs, huge shots and brutal mistakes, Bosh played as big a big role as anybody in extending The Finals to Game 7.

Film Study: Spurs Go Iso In Game 5

SAN ANTONIO – From an Xs and Os standpoint, these Finals were billed as the San Antonio Spurs’ pick-and-roll game vs. the Miami Heat’s traps. Then came Game 5, when the Spurs switched things up and put themselves on the brink of their fifth championship with isolation basketball.

More isolations were not necessarily a part of the Spurs’ game plan. In many ways, the opportunities presented themselves, beginning with when Norris Cole checked into the game.

Cole replaced Mario Chalmers with 4:32 to go in the first quarter. And on four of the Spurs’ next five possessions, Tony Parker went right at him, getting two buckets in the paint and drawing two fouls. Parker again blew by Cole on the final possession of the first half, going about 55 feet in 4.1 seconds …

On that first possession, while his teammates were running a play, Parker just went straight at Cole. On two others, he didn’t bother using Tim Duncan‘s screen, instead backing out so he could get Cole one-on-one. And in the middle, he went straight at Cole in transition.

Both Parker and Cole checked out after that and the play before the half was Parker’s next chance to go at him. It was a matchup that Parker obviously wanted to exploit, and he did it for nine points on five possessions in the first half.

Cole played just 2:21 of non-garbage time in the second half, entering the game when Parker was taking a rest. But Parker found other matchups he liked, taking advantage of the Heat’s switches on pick-and-rolls to attack Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Dwyane Wade and Miller again …

On each of those possessions, Parker was initially guarded by LeBron James. But on pick-and-rolls involving two non-bigs, the Heat were switching. (Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem, conversely, would step out, wait for Parker’s defender to get back to him, and then recover to their own man.)

Switching takes some of the bite out of the Heat’s aggressive defense, keeps that second defender *out of Parker’s vision, and allows him to pick which defender he wants to attack. If the Heat are switching and Miller or Ray Allen is on the floor, it should almost be automatic that their man sets a screen for Parker.

* Go back to the Game 2 Film Study and check the screenshot with Chris Andersen keeping Parker from making a penetrating pass.

Parker led all scorers with 26 points and was a perfect 10-for-10 from within 10 feet of the basket on Sunday (James and Wade were each 5-for-14, by the way). Seven of those buckets came via isolations, another two came when he attacked Miller or Chalmers in transition, and the last came when he went away from the screen against James.

So none of the 10 baskets were a result of Parker going with the screen, which has been the bread and butter of the Spurs’ offense for the last few years. Teams make adjustments in a playoff series, and Parker picked a good time to throw a wrench in the Heat’s defensive game plan.

Manu Ginobili also picked a good time to play his best game of the season, scoring 24 points and dishing out 10 assists. He too did a lot of damage in one-on-one situations …

The Heat will have to rethink their switching scheme for Game 6 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC). They may need to trap all screens (small-big or small-small) to get the ball out of Parker’s hands, force his teammates to make plays, and avoid the one-on-one matchups that he exploited on Sunday.

“They just absolutely outplayed us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 5. “At times, they were just picking one guy out at a time and going mano-a-mano. That will change.”

Film Study: Big Effort From The Big Three

.

SAN ANTONIO – Game 4 of The Finals was the Big Three Game. Facing the prospect of going down 3-1, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 85 points, 30 rebounds, nine assists, 10 steals and five blocks to lead the Miami Heat to a 109-93 victory.

James gave an MVP performance, Wade turned back the clock to 2006, and Bosh played big. Their numbers were huge, but their performance went well beyond the box score.

In the wake of a rough night from the outside on Tuesday, James said that he hadn’t lost confidence in his shot. And he proved it in Game 4, shooting 7-for-10 from mid-range and 1-for-2 on threes. His eight buckets from outside the paint were more than he had in Games 1-3 combined (7-for-30).

But before he made a single jumper, James set the tone for the game by pushing the ball at every opportunity, looking for easy baskets in transition. After a San Antonio miss or turnover, James was usually in a full sprint toward the Heat basket, whether he had the ball or not.

Here, as soon as Manu Ginobili loses the ball, James takes off, and Norris Cole hits him on the break …


Here’s a leak out after Mike Miller blocks a shot in the third quarter … (yes, Mike Miller really blocked a shot.)

The Heat registered 14 fast-break points (seven from James) on Thursday, their high for the series. But pushing the ball up the floor was also good for getting better shots in their half-court offense. The faster they got the ball across the midcourt line, the more time on the shot clock they had to work with.

The following play was the Heat’s sixth possession of the game. After a made basket on the other end, the ball is passed up the floor and James already has it in the low post with 19 seconds still on the shot clock …


That play resulted in an open baseline jumper for Wade, two of his 32 points. That was Wade’s highest scoring output in more than three months, but he really didn’t shoot well from the perimeter. Wade was 4-for-13 from outside the paint on Thursday and is shooting 32 percent from outside the paint in the postseason.

Of his 32 points, 24 came from the paint (where he shot 10-for-12) or at the free throw line (4-for-4). He made better use of the screens his big men set for him at the elbow and didn’t just take the shots the Spurs’ sagging defense gave him. He attacked the defender going under the screen and kept him on his heels.

Below are some of Wade’s highlights. The first two buckets came via the elbow screen and a crossover dribble. The fourth was a result of James pushing the ball up the floor, and the isolation on Tim Duncan came from a switch on another elbow screen.


More than anything schematic, Wade’s breakout was about energy. He had plenty of it on Thursday and it showed up in the points column.

For Bosh, there were more rolls in his pick-and-roll game, and he had as many baskets in the paint (five) as he had in the first three games combined. But Bosh’s energy really came through on defense, where he registered two blocks, two steals and 11 defensive rebounds. He was denying Duncan in the post, but also able to help his teammates at the basket.

On this possession, Bosh contains a Tony Parker pick-and-roll, helps off Duncan to block Boris Diaw, and then helps again to contest a Parker drive…


The other Bosh block, this time on a Parker drive…


And finally, his denial of Duncan to send Game 4 into garbage time…


As important as Bosh’s defense in the paint was the Heat’s defense on the perimeter. The Spurs had 38 points in the paint (they’ve had 38 or 40 in each of the four games) and 23 at the free throw line (almost twice as many as they averaged through the first three games). But they only got up 16 3-point attempts, half as many as they shot on Tuesday.

Here’s Miller running Ginobili off the 3-point line, Bosh rotating off Duncan, and James helping the helper…


The Heat still haven’t lost two straight games since Jan. 10 and Game 4 was proof of how energy and effort can sometimes change a team’s fortunes.

“I was just trying to keep my foot on the gas,” James said afterward, “and just play until the tank was empty.”

Now, we just have to see if the Big Three can do this two games in a row.

Film Study: Spurs Dare James To Shoot, And He Does It Poorly

.

SAN ANTONIO – Game 3 of The Finals was kind of crazy. The San Antonio Spurs hit 16 3-pointers and blew out the Miami Heat without much production from their best offensive player. Tony Parker scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting.

But Game 3 was also the continuation of a disturbing trend for the world’s best player. LeBron James shot a brutal 2-for-14 from outside the paint on Tuesday and is now 39-for-164 (23.8 percent) from outside the paint in 18 career Finals games.

In the 2007 Finals, James and his Cleveland Cavaliers were outmatched by the more experienced and talented Spurs. In the 2011 Finals, the Dallas Mavericks vexed James with their zone and zone-ish defenses. James destroyed the Oklahoma City Thunder in last year’s Finals, but almost entirely from the paint.

Interestingly, James’ best jump-shooting Finals was 2011, when he had one really awful game (eight points on 3-for-11 shooting in Game 4) and averaged just 3.0 points on 7-for-21 shooting over six fourth quarters.

In his other three Finals series, James’ jump-shooting ability has fallen off a cliff. And this isn’t a regular season vs. playoffs thing. It’s simply a Finals phenomenon.

James’ Finals shooting from outside the paint

Season Reg. season First 3 rds FGM FGA FG%
2006-07 33.9% 34.1% 8 47 17.0%
2010-11 40.3% 37.1% 17 49 34.7%
2011-12 40.8% 34.9% 7 38 18.4%
2012-13 42.2% 37.8% 7 30 23.3%
Career 36.5% 35.0% 39 164 23.8%

These numbers are from only four games in ’07, six in ’11, five in ’12, and three this year. Still, they’re fascinating and provide fodder for those who still doubt James’ ability to perform on basketball’s biggest stage.

You have to wonder if the fatigue of long playoff runs is a factor. But in three of his four Finals years, James has shot better from outside the paint in the conference finals – where he’s always faced the best defense of his three Eastern Conference opponents – than in the first two rounds.

He shot 32-for-79 (41 percent) from outside the paint against the Pacers’ No. 1 defense in this year’s conference finals after shooting just 19-for-56 (34 percent) in nine games against the Bucks and Bulls.

******

Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe it’s something mental. Maybe it’s just a fluke.

Whatever the problem is, James has rewarded the Spurs for the way they’re defending him. Basically, they’re not defending him on the perimeter, inviting him to shoot jumpers.

Here are James’ nine mid-range shots (from between the paint and the 3-point line) from Game 3. He was 1-for-9.


On a second-quarter post-up (the second play in the above clip), Danny Green makes James catch the ball about 15 feet from the basket. And then he gives him plenty of space to shoot a face-up jumper …

20130611_green_space

At the end of the second quarter, Green goes under a Norris Cole screen that is set just above the foul line, basically inviting James to shoot from anywhere beyond 12 feet. And his disregard for James’ ability to knock down a pull-up jumper allows Gary Neal to stay at home on Mike Miller in the corner …

20130611_green_under

When James tried to get to the basket is when the Spurs brought help, lots of it.

Here, Green is again defending James on a post-up. And once James puts the ball on the floor, he gets triple-teamed …


.

The next example isn’t a straight post-up, but James backs Green down and once he gets to the block, the Spurs’ swarm arrives, forcing a turnover…


.

Here’s a pick-and-roll example, where Green and Tiago Splitter are in position to help Kawhi Leonard as James comes off a Chris Bosh screen…


.

James was 5-for-7 in the paint on Tuesday, but three of the five buckets came in transition, and a fourth came off a drive-and-dish by Norris Cole. So only once did James get a basket in the paint via one of his own drives or post-ups. It was a post-up jump-hook over Leonard late in the first quarter.

Dwyane Wade, who is 10-for-39 (26 percent) from outside the paint over his last seven games, is getting the same go-ahead-and-shoot-it treatment as James …

20130611_wade_space

At this point, the only guys the Spurs care to guard on the perimeter are Miller and Ray Allen, who are a combined 16-for-20 from outside the paint in the series. And the rest of the Heat — 34-for-117 (29 percent) from outside the paint — aren’t giving them any reason to make an adjustment.

The Heat certainly have defensive issues as well, but if those numbers don’t start to change in Game 4, the champs don’t stand much of repeating.