Note: I was too depressed to write a playoff playbook post after Game 3, and after Game 4, I was just relieved Boston wasn’t going to be swept. Now that the Celtics seem to have made this into a real series once again, let’s take another in-depth Xs and Os look at Game 5. And let’s hope, once again, that it’s not the last one of the season.
Like any good solution, let’s start by examining the problem. Here it is:
Do you feel like you just got repeatedly punched in the crotch watching those? No? Do it again. You’ll get there eventually.
Pick and rolls have destroyed the Celtics defensively throughout this series, and the combination of Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler has been particularly deadly. This shouldn’t be a surprise: We’ve discussed this before, but the Knicks are currently #3 in P&R Ball-Handler points per possession for the season, according to mySynergySports.com, and second in P&R Roll Man PPP. Simply put, the Knicks are good at this play, and it’s inevitable that they will get a lot of points out of it.
Or at least, they would get a lot of points out of it if Mike Woodson would run it more often. Here are some interesting numbers from Synergy:
New York’s offensive efficiency in Game 5
- Isolation: 26.3% of all possessions. 26 plays overall. 0.69 PPP.
- P&R Ball-Handler: 17.2% of all possessions. 17 plays overall. 0.65 PPP.
- P&R Roll Man: 5.1% of all possessions. 5 plays overall. 1.6 PPP.
You will notice, first and foremost, that the Isolation play efficiency is awful, but we already knew that. If you want a nice examination of how Boston has been shutting down New York’s isolation plays — specifically against Carmelo Anthony — by packing the paint, go check out this HoopChalk.com article on that subject. To sum it up, the Celtics know that Brandon Bass has the strength to withstand Anthony’s drives, and enough foot-speed to avoid utter embarrassment. They also know that if Bass is guarding against Anthony’s drives and the defense packs the paint whenever Anthony gets the ball, they have a solid chance of forcing Melo into a bad, contested jumper. Occasionally, these shots go in, but Boston can certainly live with 0.69 points per possession on 26% of New York’s possessions. We can probably expect to see the Celtics pack the paint against J.R. Smith tonight as well, since they can’t very well rely on Smith to have another 3-13 evening if he’s driving to the basket consistently.
Next, you may note that despite all appearances, the Knicks actually scored just 0.65 PPP against Boston in Game 5 in P&R Ball-Handler plays. These plays were the second-most popular for New York, and there was essentially one unifying factor between the sets that worked and those that didn’t: Tyson Chandler.
Much has been made about Chandler’s apparent absence from this series, but the fact remains that when the Knicks run pick-and-rolls through him, good things happen. When they don’t, the paint can get very crowded for Felton and other ball-handlers. Here’s an example:
First (and you may not be able to tell, due to the shoddy video quality), the screener is Kenyon Martin. As Felton attempts to go around the screen, Kevin Garnett actually manages to stay in front of Martin quite nicely, and Jason Terry rolls underneath the screen — something Felton hasn’t been able to punish the Celtics for throughout the series.
Since Martin’s screen was somewhat mediocre (and his roll was essentially non-existant), Terry is able to get around it fairly easily and cut off Felton’s progress.
You can see in the picture above that Felton sees his lane closing. You can also see how lackadaisically Martin is rolling to the hoop. In fact, he seems to either be setting a screen for J.R. Smith or inexplicably boxing out Paul Pierce. Either way, Martin’s roll is confusing here, and as a result, with Martin hanging well back away from the play, Garnett is able to dive into the lane and double Felton, who is forced to try to create a very difficult shot.
Smith is, indeed, starting to fade a little bit away from Pierce, and Martin almost seems to be screening him, but since Garnett is so comfortable helping in this situation, Felton is screwed. He can’t pass out to Smith, he can’t get the ball to Martin, so he is forced to throw up a wild shot. It gets blocked, and Boston is off the other way.
Throughout Game 5, the film shows that many of the pick-and-rolls involving ball-handlers and Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and any other Knick big fail because the roll man doesn’t quite do his job.
When Tyson Chandler is the roll man? Well…
Pick and rolls. Slip screens. Dunks on dunks on dunks. You get the idea.
Chandler’s success as a roll man is, of course, incentive in itself for the Knicks to run more pick-and-rolls with him. But it’s not the only incentive: Chandler’s success, logically, creates spacing issues for Boston’s defense since hedging and helping become considerably more difficult when the roll man is doing his job.
The first play is the biggest problem Chandler presents. His screen is PERFECTION: Terrence Williams can’t help but run straight into it, and there’s noticeable contact. This forces Garnett to try to hedge on Felton, which gives Chandler plenty of space to roll.
Garnett then has two options: Hope that Williams can recover on Felton or surrender the lob to Chandler and hope he can bat it away. Garnett chooses the former, and because Chandler’s screen has thrown Williams so far out of the play, he can’t recover. Felton scores easily.
The second play takes place a few minutes later, and it builds on the first. Once again, Felton receives a screen from Tyson Chandler. Once again, it’s a picture-perfect screen that creates plenty of contact, this time with Jeff Green, taking him out of the play. And once again, KG is forced to hedge too far to his left. The difference? This time Felton crosses over and splits the gap between Garnett and Chandler, driving to the hoop for the layup.
It’s essential that Doc Rivers finds a way to combat the effectiveness of Chandler’s screens defensively. Knicks coach Mike Woodson hasn’t been calling Chandler’s number enough on offense, but it would be risky to the point of fool-hardiness to assume that A) Chandler will be in foul trouble once again and B) Woodson will continue to rely too much on Anthony and Smith in isolation in Game 6.
I’m not sure what that solution is, but take comfort in this, if nothing else: Doc Rivers is much smarter than us. We can only hope that translates to effective defensive adjustments.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.