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I mentioned in my recap of the Bobcats game that the C’s offense is especially effective in a sort of semi-transition mode. I’m not talking about a traditional 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 break, which the C’s have never been fantastic at either producing or converting. I’m talking more about a slow-ish break, where all five defenders are back but the C’s move quickly enough into their offense to catch the defense off guard.
This is where the C’s offense is at its most potent, and it sort of makes you wish the team weren’t currently ranked 25th in the league in pace.
This isn’t revolutionary stuff. Teams shoot a higher percentage when they shoot early in the shot clock, and it’s generally good to attack defenses—particularly good defenses—before they get their players where they want them. But I’d argue that the C’s are uniquely suited to score efficiently in these situations. They have great perimeter shooters all over the floor, one big guy (KG) who runs the floor well and passes beautifully, and a super-quick point guard who can switch from a jog-dribble to a sprint-dribble before the defense realizes anything is amiss.
A few examples from the Charlotte game.
We’ll start with the three that got Ray Allen going.
The play hardly starts like a fast break; Ray Allen rebounds a Bobcats miss and hands the ball to Rajon Rondo, who jogs up the floor. The Bobcats defense appears set. But check out this still:
Two things are good here for a semi-transition opportunity: 1) KG is already a stride or two from the paint, meaning he’ll be in position to do something—receive a pass, set a screen—if Rondo drives to the hoop; 2) Look at Pierce just above KG. He’s in the process of planting his left foot and making a snap decision with Rondo: “I’m setting a screen now; drive around it.”
Rondo does, and he’s able to get to his favorite area under the rim. That leaves us here:
Check out what Stephen Jackson is doing as Ray cuts toward the right corner. He’s standing at the elbow, paying no attention to one of the great shooters in NBA history. Instead, he’s focusing on Rondo, but he’s not actually doing anything to help on Rajon. He’s just looking.
The result: A very easy semi-transition three.
This play starts the same way—a seemingly innocent possession that turns deadly when Pierce sets a screen above the three-point line for Rondo. Notice what Pierce’s man (Stephen Jackson) does as Rondo drives around the screen:
We see Rondo surrounded by three guys; Jackson is the one just below the left elbow, with his back to us. He has dropped down to help on Rondo, but it’s lazy, half-hearted help. He has given Rondo the left sideline drive, which is what Rajon wants.
Also note what’s happening on the weak side: Perk is setting a screen on Gerald Wallace for Ray to run around and cut to the corner. Wallace does a great job fighting over the screen to stay with Ray and prevent Rondo from making the same pass we saw in the first clip.
But this leaves Perk unguarded at the foul line, since his guy (Tyson Chandler) has to dive down and prevent the Rondo lay-in.
Look where Perk catches the ball:
He’s about 10 feet from the rim with a very good shot-blocker about to try and stop him. I’m not sure Perk had the mobility, quickness and skill to finish this play even last season. Now he does. Great stuff.
There isn’t really much to this play. It’s just a combination of nice effort from KG in running the floor and poor defense by Tyson Chandler and the Bobs for letting KG get behind everyone. Once again, though, the first option—an easy KG lay-in—doesn’t materialize. Chandler gets back into decent defensive position as KG gathers the ball and Stephen Jackson (yes, again) darts into the paint for some way-to0-late help on KG:
It’s going to be tough for KG to finish from here. But as you can see, he’s staring at a wide open Ray Allen in the left corner. Splash.
And we’ll end with the prettiest play of the game, which also happened in semi-transition:
This is the only one of these plays that starts out looking like a fast break—an actual 3-on-2!—only Rajon can’t find a good passing angle and turns the ball out. But a second opportunity presents itself because the speed of the C’s attack has caught the Bobcats off guard and left them in bad defensive match-ups.
When I first saw this play (and even when I re-watched it), I assumed KG had again outrun Chandler down the floor. But look:
Chandler is planted in the paint, exactly where he should be. It’s Jackson that is chasing KG. The obvious thing for Chandler to do at this moment would be to jump onto KG and prevent the Rondo entry pass. There’s no one else for Tyson to guard. But he doesn’t, and my best guess is that he fails to do so because he is a bit flustered by the chaos of the situation. (Can’t you hear him thinking: “Jackson’s chasing KG? Diaw’s guarding Rondo? Well, that’s not good. What the hell should I do? Oh crap.”)
The final bit of the play happens here:
Again, the Bobcats are confused. It really shouldn’t be this easy for KG to thread a pass to Ray here. Rondo sticks out his hip to slow down Ray’s man (Felton), but Felton doesn’t fight very hard to stick with Ray. Maybe he thinks that Diaw, standing under the rim, will pick Allen up. Diaw, though, is focused on KG, so no one ends up switching onto Ray as he cuts to the rim.
Bad defense or confusion produced by smart offense that develops before the defense is ready? It’s clearly a combination of both. For the alleged top defensive team in the league, the Bobcats make some bad mistakes during each of these four plays. But the speed of the offense makes it more likely the defense will make those kinds of mistakes and magnifies their consequences—the defense doesn’t get a second chance to recover.
When you watch these clips, the natural temptation is to ask why the C’s average just 91.0 possessions a game; only five teams average fewer. It also makes you think that Heinsohn knows what the hell he is talking about when he calls (endlessly) for the C’s to push the ball.
Two things: 1) The C’s are an older team. They can’t run like maniacs all game long in December; 2) Each of these plays comes off a Bobcat miss. It is harder for the C’s to get into this offense when an opponent is hitting shots.