The San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets series hinges on how the Spurs defend the Rockets deadly pick-and-roll. The Rockets put teams in a difficult position with their pick-and-rolls and the right way to defend it is counter-intuitive to how teams are used to defending it normally. Teams have to change their entire Pick-and-Roll defensive schemes to stop it, and the Spurs are doing just that after game one.
The Rockets caught fire from three in game one making 22 out of 50. Let that sink in for a moment, the Rockets shot 50 threes in a play game and hit 44% of them. Of those 22 threes, 13 of them came off of their Pick-and-Roll action. The Rockets try to the suck the defense in with their action and ends up leaving some of the many of their shooters wide open.
The plays below from game two, illustrate how the Rockets force the defense to react. James Harden came off a ball screen from Trevor Ariza with Kawhi Leonard going over the top. Pau Gasol left Nene to help on the Harden drive and protect the rim, which forced Danny Green to help Gasol, which left Ryan Anderson, wide open for the corner three. Later in the game, Leonard got caught out of position during a high ball screen that led to a wide-open three for Eric Gordon.
The examples above are exactly how the Rockets pick apart traditional pick-and-roll defenses that require the weakside to sink in and help. Besides those mistakes, the Spurs made a few adjustment. The first major one was that they were going to play the ball screens just straight two on two. The man defending the ball screen will drop back just a little getting ready to play both the ball handler and the roller while his teammates work to recover to the ball or switch and take the screener. The other major adjustment they made was that the other three defenders just stayed home, no one was leaving their man to help on the pick-and-roll action.
These plays show exactly how teams should defend their pick-and-roll. As Harden comes off the screen Gasol hangs back a little ready to either take Harden or Clint Capela as he rolls to the rim. Leonard went over the top of the screen and maintains pressure on Harden as he drives. All the other defenders are staying in between their man and the ball instead of helping. Tony Parker’s position is exactly where he should be and is ready to close out to Patrick Beverly if the ball goes there. In the next example, Gordon came off the side ball screen with a head of steam and gets into the paint for an eight-foot jumper that he missed. Manu Ginobili would normally be on the nail (middle of the free throw line) during the drive to discourage Gordon from driving but because the Spurs are trying to limit the Rockets’ threes he stayed closer to Anderson.
This strategy opens the door for the Rockets to own the paint but that is the plan. The Rockets during the regular season averaged 115.3 points a night and made 14.4 threes on a regular basis, that comes to 37% of their points come from that shot. In game one the Rockets got up 50 three point attempts out of their 87 total shots, but in game two that number dropped to 34 three attempts off of their 83 total shot.
The Rockets are built to stretch the floor and shoot either layups or threes, the Spurs adjustment of their Pick-and-Roll defense is meant to reduce the number of threes available to the Houston Rockets. The series will come down to if the Spurs can remain disciplined in defending the pick-and-roll this way or if the Rockets can score enough points in the paint to force the Spurs out of this defense.
- Parker Injury – This just sucks, there is no other way to put it. Parker was having a great playoff run before getting injured. It leads to a reshuffling of the lineup and might for coach Popovich to play rookie DeJounte Murray more minutes than he intended to or play Ginobili and Patty Mills a ton more minutes.
- The Wizards Pick and Roll Defense needs HELP!
- Friend of the site Kelly Scaletta wrote a great piece on Kawhi Kawhi Leonard is Kawhietly having one of greatest postseasons ever
- Photo Credit – Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports