On their best road trip of the year, when Indiana went 4-0 winning in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles (Clippers), they broke out a play that I hadn’t seen before. I’m not saying they never ran it — I miss a lot of things — but it definitely stood out.
Against the Hawks, in the postseason, they went to it again last night, though with less successful results.
We’ll get to that.
But to start, let’s look at the two ideal outcomes they got against the Rockets and Mavericks.
In back-to-back wins, they twice found themselves with a possession to end the first half. And they set up a crafty little way to get Lance Stephenson the ball moving at full speed. Essentially, the recognized his best attribute — running down hill when he can use either his physicality to finish strong or his keen decision making to find the open man — and they tried to turn a half-court possession into a virtual fast break led by Stephenson.
The Play Used in Houston
It is fast and impressive in real time.
Let’s break down the set they used to get Lance the layup.
They set up the inbounds play with everyone in a line at the foul line extended.
The two bigs run to the weak side to join Stephenson on the wing, leaving just George Hill (with the ball) and Sam Young on the right side of the court.
Young stops, hands the ball to Lance and — this is key — gets in the way of Carlos Delfino, who is covering Stephenson.
It is almost like a crossing route in the NFL. It’s definitely a lot like a moving screen in the NBA. But since Young just had the ball, he is given leeway to complete the pass and not really seen as a pick setter.
He’s just sort of in the way.
With Delfino behind the play, the Pacers have a virtual three-on-two break. Because as the top-side action was happening, Hibbert set a screen to help get Hansbrough good position on the right-side block while he turned to set up near the rim himself.
With Lance bearing down, the interior defenders need to stop the ball, which would leave an easy dump off as there are no help defenders around.
But Houston’s bigs are way too late to even do that. Lance has a full head of steam and sails in for an easy bucket.
The Play Used in Dallas
Here we see the play working to perfection again.
Similar set here. Hill with the ball, DJ Augustin on the right wing. Lance mans the same spot along with Paul George and David West hanging out on the weakside end line. Hill dribbles right to hand off to DJ.
DJ approaches Stephenson, who is really flying this time. It’s almost like he’s on skates. He has that Apollo Ohno lean going like he’s about to turn the corner fierce.
Jae Crowder, who was guarding Lance, becomes the embodiment of “Mama, there goes that man.” He’s out of the play immediately, pointing in desperation in hopes that somebody on his team will step up to stop the looming onslaught.
OJ Mayo is actually in very good position and hedges at Lance, but ultimately decides not to leave George Hill alone on the three-point line.
(By the way, this is a relatively new development in the NBA. Defenses so fear the three that they will — by design and with their coaches’ approval — not help off a shooter even as someone dribbles towards the hoop.)
With no resistance, Lance again gets a layup.
The Play Used in Game 5
As we can see, the Pacers grew to like this play late in the season. Now they are using it in the playoffs, on a possession to end the first half in Game 5.
Unfortunately for Indiana, this time Lance simply missed the layup.
I won’t bother to break it all down since the set is basically the same.
But note how they are trying to get Stephenson some touches, something he had at times struggled to create for himself before Game 5.
The Hawks played this better than the Rockets or Mavericks, but it still looked like a high-percentage effort. Johan Petro contests well, but Lance Stephenson usually makes that layup.
East/West Misdirection Is a Theme
One final wrinkle to note is how much Vogel likes to go to these East/West mis-direction plays on out-of-bounds plays at end-of-quarter moments.
Twice earlier in the year, he used a different type of play, but one with a similar goal of getting the interior defenders biting on misdirection.
It worked both times, though it never led to a field goal.
In this clip, from a win in Memphis on MLK, Jr. Day, George Hill earned two free throws after a foul on Mike Conley as he drove hard to the hoop.
Both Paul George and David West started on the block that Hill raced to but then came up to feign a pick-and-roll that was all decoy.
Days later, as we see in the footage above, on the same road trip in Utah, they went to a similar action.
This time, however, it looks like Vogel was going for the win.
Hill similarly drives right off the fake screen/roll, and I’m sure he would have taken the layup to tie the game had it been there. But despite the fact that it was cut off, Hill looked pretty intent on going to the second option: Paul George in the corner.
This time, we don’t get a shot attempt (George is fouled and hit two free throws to send the game into OT), but there is an extra screen here by Hibbert to free George. Further evidence suggesting Paul George was the first option is the fact that he leaves earlier than West this time (where as, in Memphis, they came towards the top of the key almost simultaneously).
Expect Future East/West Misdirection
Who knows if we will continue to see these exact sets. In the playoffs, teams actually have regular days off to put in new plays more easily if they desire.
But based upon Vogel’s tendencies shown in the plays above — not to mention the need for player and ball movement we keep harping on in the modern NBA — we will probably continue to see some sort of misdirection.
In high leverage situations where they need points after a dead ball, we can expect the Pacers to use some sort of this type of “wheel” action on the perimeter to try to get the defense moving behind them while they try to make a play.
(Note: This post was originally titled “The Double Dribble Handoff: Indiana’s New Go-To Play.” We changed it later to reflect the colloquial name of the play, The Vogel Weave.)