It’s often said that Game 1 of an NBA playoff series is merely the appetizer served during the generous feast of the delicious postseason. In these glorified “get to know you” sessions teams are trying to feel each other out, spot weaknesses and identify strengths, tendencies and patterns. It’s the first of many chess matches.
Game 2’s offer us our first glimpse into the direction and philosophies behind how each team will probably approach the rest of the series and perhaps the playoffs. Unsurprisingly this most recent set of Game 2’s upheld this annual NBA tradition and there’s no doubt it will continue into subsequent games and series.
After suffering a 130-103 loss to Philly in Game 1 in which they essentially lost the game in the third quarter, squandering a four point Heat lead going into the half, Miami was determined to play a full four quarters in the second iteration of this 3 seed vs 6 seed matchup. Head coach Erik Spoelstra emphasized a high press, high pressure and communication heavy defense to counter Ben Simmons brilliance and the Sixers potent three point shooting. Simmons still had a great game, finishing with 24 points on 10/17 shooting with 9 rebounds and 8 assists, but he was undoubtedly bothered by the Heat’s defensive scheme, especially in the second quarter where Justise Winslow and company forced the young Australian to give the ball up and busy his mind with the mundane activity of bringing the ball up instead of surveying the defense for Philly’s shooters or cutters. The high pressing defense also helped negate the Sixers three point offense–holding them to an abysmal 19% mark– a massive improvement for Miami after allowing the Sixers to shoot 64% from three land the game before.
Here we see Justise Winslow picking up Ben Simmons full court, challenging him physically and keeping his feet moving to match Simmons long strides. Notice how BS doesn’t even get the ball past the half court line until there’s 17 seconds on the shot clock and past the three point line until there’s 13 seconds. It might seem insignificant but this kind of full court pressure throws off Philadelphia’s timing and prevents the offense from developing into any kind of rhythm. Winslow’s enthusiastic reaction also tells us this can have a powerful psychological effect on both teams as well.
James Johnson picked Simmons up from full court as well. Here you can see how Miami’s defense exerted its physicality on Simmons, literally muscling the point guard off the ball and creating some easy transition opportunities with their tough defense.
Now this is just beautiful team defense. The Heat funnel Simmons into the paint where Wade reaches in. forcing Simmons to pick up his dribble and reset the offense–already a small victory for Miami. The Sixers shooters play hot potato with the ball as they try to find a window for a free release or an entry pass but the Heat’s high pressing defense prevent any semblance of offense to develop before the shot clock runs out.
If Miami can maintain this energy and effort on defense with Spoelstra’s deft coaching prowess, the Heat have a real shot of delaying The Process.
New Orleans Pick and Roll Offense
While the story of the Pelicans Game 2 win over Portland was centered around Jrue Holiday’s defense and penetration, #playoffRondo and Anthony Davis being generally awesome one of the main factors in both their wins in this series is the effectiveness of the Pel’s pick and roll offense. Alvin Gentry has designed the offense around 1/4or 5 pick and rolls along with constant cutting and off ball screens. They’ve been a bit uneven this season and had to recalibrate their slow, deliberate offense when DeMarcus Cousins was a focal point and replaced it with a high octane style that emphasizes pace and space since his season ending injury. Credit to Gentry and company for bouncing back from an injury that many assumed meant the end of NOLA’s postseason aspirations, thus far Portland hasn’t been able to stop the Pelicans from executing their offense, especially out of the pick and roll.
This is the kind of simple pick and roll that New Orleans can convert with relative ease against the Blazers. Space the floor with shooters and let Holiday or Rondo force Portland into mismatches and allow AD to get some easy buckets or a foul going downhill–a direction that no one in the league wants Davis following. Portland may have to pull over a help side defender and pray that their rotations can close out on the open shooter they leave open in either corner.
Even when a defender does come over to help on the P&R, as McCollum does in this sequence, the lob negates any hope of stopping it. Davis has long been one of the best finishers off alley oops and its often a pass that’s a lot easier for guards to make than a contested entry level pass into the post.
To keep Portland on their toes, New Orleans has even employed running pick and rolls through their wings. This is a brilliant sequence in which the Pelicans send Ian Clark out as a decoy in order to isolate the left side of the floor, running through an AD pick at the free throw line before sprinting to the corner to drag his defender with him, while Rondo waits patiently atop the arc, occupying his defender away from the second action where AD then sets a screen on Mo Harkless so E’Twuan Moore can receive the clean pass from Rondo. Once he has the rock Moore slashes to the paint to bring Ed Davis over while Harkless, after hedging the Davis screen, follows closely behind with neither Davis or Harkless covering the wide open Davis.
New Orleans has used not only Clark but also Davis as a decoy in order to get open looks on offense. Notice how Clark and Davis mime a pick and roll action in order to hold the Blazers attention while Rondo sets a screen on the ball watching Aminu to free Darius Miller for the open three.
The threat of Davis or guard penetration in the pick and roll has the added effect of dragging defenders away from one side of the floor, leaving shooters like Mirotic open for wide open triples that Portland cannot afford to concede.
New Orleans has even deployed Miro in pick and pop actions which is just unfair.
New Orleans is executing on both sides of the floor so far and I can’t imagine they won’t be able to maintain this on their own home floor. Alvin Gentry has instilled this team with confidence and the offensive system that emphasizes both guard penetration, off ball actions and allowing AD to do AD things. Oh, and did I mention playoff Rondo? Things are looking positively relaxing thus far for the squad from the Big Easy.