Paul George’s Bad Defense Gave Trevor Ariza Open Threes

Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /
Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

You have to hand it to Trevor Ariza for his role in Washington’s Game 1 win. He scored 22 points while hitting 6-of-6 3-pointers, doing damage both in half court sets and by running the floor in transition.

As a career 34.7% shooter from deep, he isn’t known as a marksman, but he shot an impressive 40.7% on 3s this season, and this is largely a function of his ability to hit from long range when he’s open and the Wizards’ ability to get him open shots. Ariza isn’t going to destroy a defense by himself, but if you let him get open on the perimeter, you shouldn’t be surprised if he rains triples all over your head.

Last night, Paul George did exactly that all too often. Three separate times, to be exact, George got caught helping too far (basically for pointless reasons), and Trevor made him pay.

Here was the first instance, which came on the first play of the game.

This is the most obvious instance of Paul George screwing up badly. After Ariza gets an offensive rebound, he gives the ball to Nene in the middle and heads out to the arc. George then meanders over to try to bother Nene. It’s almost comical the way Nene doesn’t even notice the “little” guy trying to pester him while he casually tosses a one-handed pass to Ariza in the corner. Trevor couldn’t be more open, and he drills the shot.

(Also: Give Ariza some credit for recognizing the pointless double by George and flaring to the corner. Both he and Nene were on the same page, something that was impressively common last night amongst the Wizards and should greatly trouble Indiana.)

Here is the second instance.

Beal and Nene are running a high screen-and-roll at the top of the key, and George is on the right wing checking Ariza. It is a well run action, and Nene catches the ball rolling to the hoop. There is a definite threat here.

But Mahinmi played it well, recovering in time to challenge Nene at the rim. Plus, if Ian needed help, Luis Scola is also under the rim. From what we’ve seen of the Pacers’ defensive scheme in recent years, there is no reason for George to drop so far into the paint. His job here is to guard the kick-out passing lane and prevent a potential 3-pointer.

Perhaps he has started dropping further in such situations because he no longer trusts the system? Since at least February, Roy Hibbert has not been the same rim protector he was when the Pacers’ defense was truly formidable. Maybe George has just been cheating down increasingly often as he senses the once-ironclad interior becoming more penetrable.

Or I suppose it is possible that Frank Vogel has told George to help clog the paint in such situations. I highly doubt it, however.

No, I’m nearly certain this is Paul George just losing sight of the team principles and not maintaining the discipline to stay home. The result is a Ariza getting the ball open behind the arc. As sloppy as the delivery is, he still gets it in plenty of time to knock down the corner 3. In fact, George is so far out of position that Scola is the only one who is able to manage a token contest.

Here is the third time PG loses Ariza. Of the three, it shows the most egregious mistake by George.

Paul George is on the weak side (right wing) and should be paying attention to Ariza, who had already made five 3-pointers in this game. Instead, he makes an astoundingly bad call, running way over to the top of the key.

The only action going on there is Bradley Beal popping up off a screen. It is no real threat and Lance Stephenson was right there. It looks like George was trying to catch John Wall (the ballhandler) sleeping. I think PG wanted to jump the passing lane and pick off a lazy swing pass.

Instead, Wall sees exactly what is going on. As does Marcin Gortat. Wall skips the ball cross court to Ariza, and Gortat seals the deal — literally — with a heads up screen. It’s possible this was the intended outcome all along. Plenty of teams (including the Pacers a few times per season) run a play like this. But this, to me, looks more like Wall, essentially, reading a linebacker playing too close to the line and lobbing an easy pass over his head to a tight end running a crossing pattern.

Regardless, it’s way too easy all due to Paul George cheating.

In the game, he cost his team (at least) 9 points by sagging off too far, and turned Trevor Ariza into Steph Curry. There is plenty of blame to go around for the late-season collapse and the ongoing way that the Pacers are embarrassing themselves in the playoffs.

But is it really any wonder that this team’s once-vaunted defense has become mediocre when you see its best wing defender selectively choosing when to adhere to once-sacred principles?

Those principles — and the nearly ideal personnel to carry them out — were what made this team borderline great for a time. Without that, they’re just a team with five rather talented starters. And that makes them no different than most teams that get bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs.