The Washington Wizards started the second round of the playoffs on fire…..for a quarter. They went on a 16-0 in the first four minutes of the game but then things began to fall apart and lost by 12, a 28-point swing. One of the major problems was their pick-and-roll defense; the Celtics ran 31 pick-and-rolls for 27 points and two fouls. The issues were not just the two main defenders involved in the play, but the lack of consistent help throughout the game hurt them in game one.
On most basketball courts, there is a nail on the floor that is dead center of the free throw line and that is where the help defenders need to be situated in case the pick-and-roll ball handler can get past the defense. That defender needs to be there to either switch onto the ball or at the very least delay the ball handler long enough for the primary defender to recover. The diagram below is a very basic scheme but illustrates where the help defenders need to be both high (the nail) and low (the hole) help positions.
The Wizards do an excellent job in the two examples in giving help on the weak side during the Celtics’ pick and roll action. As Avery Bradley comes off a deep corner ball screen from Al Horford, John Wall tries to force him away from it unsuccessfully. Bradley Beal helps at the elbow to give a contest, while Otto Porter is responsible for any pass to either Jae Crowder or Isaiah Thomas while Wall recovers. In the next example, Terry Rozier comes off the pick driving middle, Wall helps off of Crowder to get to give help on the drive and then got a hand on Crowder’s shot as he recovered from giving helping on the drive.
The problem with the Wizards help in pick-and-rolls is highlighted on these plays; the weakside help is never in the right position. Marcus Smart comes off a screen nearly at halfcourt, which forced Marcin Gortat to hedge (cut off any straight line drive from the pick-and-roll ball handler). Bojan Bogdanovic is responsible for helping on the roller, in this case, Horford; instead, he remained tied to Kelly Olynyk and not on the nail; while Brandon Jennings never left his man and covered the hole. This allowed Horford to roll to the rim for an easy basket. In the next example, Thomas went over the screen and Gortat is hanging back, but Porter is not fully committed to giving help and gave up a wide open look.
This next example is the perfect example of the inconsistency of the Wizards help on pick-and-rolls on a critical play. They worked to cut the lead to four points but give up a huge three. They defend the first ball screen perfectly, Beal is able to go over the top, Porter is on the nail and Gortat threw up a wall at the free throw line discouraging any drive from Thomas with Wall covering the hole. The ball is passed to Horford on the wing with Gortat quickly closed out. Now comes the bad, Horford eventually passed to Thomas and followed it with a ball screen towards the baseline. Beal went over the top of the screen and Gortat was there to take away any drive while Horford pops. Bogdanovic was supposed to be at the nail and was responsible for any pass to Horford. Alas, he was not and Horford drilled the wide-open three to put the lead to seven and they never got closer than that.
The Celtics are going to keep attacking Gortat in the pick-and-rolls, and the Wizards were in good enough position to provide help on those plays about half the time. Unfortunately for Washington, that cost them 27 points on the 31 ball screens they faced. On every side pick-and-roll, they need to have their rotations locked in; someone needs to be on the nail and another in the hole. Defense is about trusting your teammates will rotate when one helps on these plays. If they can find consistency on their help side defense in pick-and-rolls can really put the Celtics in a bind, otherwise, this will be a relatively short series.
- End of the Clippers – With the Clipper season coming to an end, get ready for the question every day for where they go from here. Many are thinking they should let Blake Griffin walk but for those who do not know, this will not clear up the cap space large enough to replace him. It would take letting both Griffin and Chris Paul walking to make them players in the free agent market. My expectations are that Paul will take a few meetings and unless a team like the San Antonio Spurs opens up a crazy amount of cap space, he’ll return. I also believe Griffin will be back but am convince JJ Redick is leaving and I’m not sure they’ll be able to resign Luc Mbah-a-Moute. The Clippers history over the last few years in trades, free agent signings, and drafts should be considered a case study of mismanagement.
- End of an Era in Indy – Larry Bird has stepped down as Team President of the Pacers, not sure how this will affect the Paul George situation. It could be a case of him knowing they will not be able to keep George and he does not want to rebuild or it may just be he is tired and ready for a change. To be fair, Bird has always believed teams need some infusion of fresh blood from time to time, be it a coaching change or a general manager stepping down. It definitely adds some intrigue to the situation.
- Help the Helper Video
- Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports