Sebastian Pruiti runs Barter Town. In this sentence Barter Town refers to writing about basketball on the internet. The part about him running it is refers to the fact that he writes for every website in existence plus a few more but also the fact he does it just about better than anyone else alive.
And fortunately he has decided to do a few posts about the Pacers’ Game 2 defense.
Specifically the impossible task of defending Derrick Rose.
Paul George was given the primary duty, essentially covering Rose on every play they were both on the floor. George generally did a tremendous job, which I know sounds weird since Derrick had 36 points but remains factual. He did such a good job that I made it the primary topic of our Game 2 recap.
Here were my thoughts.
George used a bend-don’t-break positional attack to keep Rose in front of him and goaded the point guard into several long jumpers early. Not only did George give him the daylight to entice him into attempting the distant shots that the Pacers wanted him to take, but the rookie also contested very well.
It would be difficult to convince people who only see the box score that Rose was stifled at times, but he was legitimately bothered as George routinely back-pedaled while forcing Derrick to use counter-moves to his counter-moves in order to advance into the paint. Rose has that ability. He’s just that good. The kid has one of the deepest arsenals in the league. But between Paul doing admirable work one-on-one and the Pacers adopting a trap-the-dribbler strategy in the third, they forced multiple turnovers from an all-world player who did not always make all-world decisions.
This was mostly in reference to George’s defense while Rose had the ball in his hands, which is definitely the area in which he did his best work. Sebastian saw the same thing but he fortunately also dug further into the instances that Paul George struggled to defend Rose, which most often occurred while chasing him through off-ball screens.
the Bulls started moving Rose around without the basketball, and when that happened (specifically when Rose was using screens away from the basketball) George had trouble sticking with Rose:
Here, you see Rose inbounding the basketball and then coming off of screens, curling to the rim. George is trying to trail him, but he loops around the screen too much, giving Rose the lane and letting him make the catch and draw the foul.
Here’s Sebastian’s video example:
That’s pretty bad.
But in my view, the occasional let down — when guarding a guy who isn’t exactly Ray Allen when moving without the ball — is not something to get overly worried about. Not when Rose has the ball in his hand on literally every possession. George is obviously — and rightfully — so mentally focused on those times that there is inevitably going to be some complacency when Rose gives up the rock. You have to find a way to minimize any letdowns regardless of situation, of course, and that is something he needs to work on. But let’s remember that Paul George is being tasked with what I consider the toughest assignment any individual defender in the NBA playoffs has right now. Also, he’s an inexperienced rookie, not Joe Dumars.
Much more worrisome for Pacers fans is the curious course-reversal of strategy the team employed in defending Rose in the fourth quarter. In the pick-and-roll, rather than continue to have George fight under screens while the screener’s man hedged/trapped Rose until George could recover, they began to switch, letting the screener’s man move over to check Derrick while George took the screener.
Again, we discussed this in the post-game focusing on how Rose, after getting a mismatch via the switch, abused Granger, who was the defender the Bulls most frequently chose to exploit by sending his man to set the pick on George.
The two videos below show exactly how Chicago used this to their advantage.
Don’t know if this was a player’s decision or if it was Vogel’s decision (I am leaning towards the latter since it happen with both Rush and George on the court), but it ended up with Danny Granger on Rose, and that is just a mismatch
On both of these screens, Rose’s initial defender doesn’t even try to fight over (or go under) the ballscreen. The switch takes place, and much like Chris Paul against the Lakers, Rose is able to take advantage.
Here are Sebastian’s videos. (And, yes, Danny tried to do an admirable job on the first one and it took an incredible shot by Rose to get the Bulls a bucket, but Rose still clearly had Danny at his mercy.)
It remains curious as to why the Pacers began to implement the switching strategy.
My eyes told me that George was doing fine by himself and that the harder trapping employed in the late third quarter/early fourth quarter was also effective in both forcing the superstar point guard into turnovers or just getting the ball out of his hands — which is the exact place that Indiana should always want the ball to be. I get that Rose is likely figure out, and dismantle, anything you run at him enough times, but he turned the ball over but he had already turned the ball over 6 times in the second half and “only” made 3 of his 8 shots in the third quarter.
Perhaps Vogel saw something me and Sebastian didn’t, but why try to fix what isn’t broken?
This is a rhetorical question so you aren’t getting an answer.
Regardless, for real, head over and read Sebastian’s post in it’s entirety because he offers several more videos and additional insight into the nuances of how George effectively used his length and how he can even further improve his on-ball D of Derrick by not biting on the kid’s ball-fake trickery.
Additionally, Sebastian did a separate post on one other strategy the Pacers tried at the end of Game 2: blatantly running a double team at Rose to get the ball out of his hands even when he was 35 feet from the hoop.
This was the play that led to the back-breaking Kyle Korver three with 1:06 left that put Chicago up 5 and, in hindsight, won the game. Despite the outcome, the strategy is defensible. Some people may question running a big man at Rose so far from the hoop, but it’s entirely understandable why the coach would prefer to make someone — anyone — else beat them at the end of the game considering what Rose has been doing with the ball during the past 8 quarters. Get the ball out of his hands at all costs and see what happens.
So the idea was fine.
The execution, however, was highly flawed. And as Sebastian shows, it was probably all Tyler Hansbrough’s fault.
They ran Hansbrough at Rose, who gave up the ball to Joakim Noah at the top of the key. This created a numbers situation for the Bulls, as a double-team always does in a sport where 5 people play against 5 other people. And to Chicago’s credit, their disciplined spacing and decision-making were ideal. The pass to Joakim, and his savvy advancing dribble, forced Jeff Foster to creep up and cut off Noah’s penetration, which forced AJ Price to squeeze down to cut off the passing lane to Carlos Boozer on the block.
So far, so good.
But AJ’s rotation left Korver alone on the wing. As those of you who saw Games 1 and 2 can attest, that’s the one guy you don’t want to leave open. Hansbrough probably should have slid over once he forced Rose to give the ball up and saw what was unfolding in the paint with the defense shifting its focus to Joakim and Boozer. But instead, Hansbrough collapsed on the ball-handler (Noah) and no one marked Korver.
Joakim kicked it out. Kyle knocked it down.
Here’s the moment of truth. Three guys guarding Noah/Boozer. No one checking the marksman behind the arc who Clyde Drexler just recently realized looks like Demi Moore’s boyfriend.
My explanation was just the Cliff Notes. Head over to NBA Playbook for more expert insight on the particulars and more images to help illustrate just exactly what transpired.
You can also see the play in full in the video below.