Here’s a look at the defensive lapses that allowed Cleveland — a.k.a. Lebron — to come back from yesterday’s 22-point deficit.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix wrote about the simplicity of Cleveland’s attack.
1. If Boston is going to make one more run in the playoffs, it needs to shore up its defense.
Cleveland’s coaching staff — which was without Mike Brown after he was ejected in the third quarter — wasn’t drawing up complicated sets during the team’s second-half comeback. The Cavaliers entire playbook for the final 24 minutes was essentially ‘LeBron, go to the rim and make something happen.’ Boston though, had no answer as Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Tony Allen took turns getting bullied by James. James is the reigning and soon-to-be MVP, so that’s not a criticism. But the Celtics needed to find a way to get the ball out of his hands in the second half and couldn’t do it, allowing James to dump 32 points on them over the final two quarters. For the game, the Cavs shot 51.3 percent, the third straight opponent to shoot 50-plus percent against Boston.
When Mannix wrote, “The Cavaliers entire playbook for the final 24 minutes was essentially ‘LeBron, go to the rim and make something happen.’” he wasn’t lying. Not at all. The most complicated set the Cavs ran was a simple pick and roll, which they ran time after time.
Unfortunately for Boston, the Celtics have had real troubles solving pick-and-rolls this season. Before the Cleveland game Paul Pierce said, “I think we’re breaking down in just one area: Our pick-and-roll defense has to get better. I think it’s simple and plain.” And he’s right, the Celtics have been bothered by pick-and-rolls all season. It’s the most basic play in the book, but it’s also very difficult to defend.
Celtics Hub’s Zach Lowe wrote a post today explaining the difficulties of guarding the pick-and-roll, and specifically guarding a Lebron James pick-and-roll. Lowe does a good job breaking down the C’s attempts to shut down the pick-and-roll, but glosses over one aspect that I thought especially critical in the C’s lack of success: A flat hedge by the bigs.
What is a flat hedge? It’s when the big man, instead of jumping out hard at the ball-handler coming off a screen, sags off the defender and plays him somewhere between him and the basket. If you don’t get my miserable description, here’s an example:
Notice how Lebron goes straight by Big Baby. When a defender gives a flat hedge, it allows a ball-handler to pick up steam on his way to the hoop. When Lebron gets a full head of steam, it’s impossible to stay in front of him, especially for a big man.
What the Celtics should have tried is a hard hedge. If you don’t know what that is, let me explain. When the ballhandler comes around the screen, the big man pops out, forcing the ballhandler to take at least a step backwards. What this does is give the other defender time to get through the screen, and takes away the ballhandler’s momentum. Here’s an example of a solid hard hedge:
Notice how the big man pops out quickly and aggressively, forcing Ray Allen to switch directions. Sometimes, a hard hedge isn’t quite as effective. But, if done correctly, it would have at least slowed James down and allowed Paul Pierce to get through the screen and cover him, rather than leaving a big man on him.
So, to recap: A flat hedge allows a rapidly-moving Lebron to attack an immobile big man at full speed. A hard hedge lets Paul Pierce get through the screen and back to defending Lebron (instead of a big man on him in no-man’s land), while slowing Lebron down a step or two. What would you guys prefer?
Alas, there is no blueprint for shutting down Lebron James. It’s impossible. But a more aggressive hedge would have been a nice way to at least slightly contain him.