NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 5: Forget the bright shiny offenses, this one is all about the defense

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Kobe_suns.jpgIt’s not about Kobe Bryant seemingly scoring at will this series. Or Pau Gasol in the post. It’s not about Amare Stoudemire or the awakening of the Suns bench.

It’s about defense — that is what has decided every game in this series up to now, it is what will decide Game 5 tonight at Staples Center. The winner Thursday probably wins the whole shootin’ match in the West. This is huge.

In the first two games, the Lakers defense took away the Suns easy baskets on the pick-and-roll. Lakers guards fought over the top of the pick, the big men showed out and other Lakers stayed at home on the three-point shooters. The Lakers took away the dribble penetration that the Suns thrive on and forced them to be jump shooters, and while the Suns are a good jump shooting team they hit less of those than dunks. Or open threes.

But that changed in Games 3 and 4, as did the Suns defense.

The Suns zone defense has gotten a lot of publicity, but it really hasn’t stopped the Lakers from scoring — particularly in Game 4, when the Lakers were putting up points at a high level.

But the zone has dictated how those points have come, and with that the flow of the games. The Lakers launched 60 three pointers in the last two games, and they are not a good outside shooting team. This led to a lot of long rebounds and the chance for the Suns to get easy baskets in transition. The Lakers scored, but the Suns defense helped them score much more.

If the Suns can again keep the Lakers from getting their points at the rim — turning the Lakers into jump shooters like LA is trying to do to them — they will get those same break chances, those same easy points and maybe the same wins.

Kobe is going to get his, but will he get any help from teammates this time around who stop shooting outside and start driving inside? Can Nash and Stoudemire keep getting their shots at the rim, keep exposing the slow rotations of an injured Andrew Bynum?

The answer to one of those questions will be yes, because they will have figured out the other team’s defense. Whichever team’s defense hold firm will win Game 5. And maybe have earned a trip to the Finals.

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

James Harden makes impressive chase-down block. Really. (video)

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If we’re going to post all of James Harden‘s defensive lowlights, it’s only fair to acknowledge this impressive block.

Please overlook the fact that Jason Terry is 39 years old.

Steven Adams posterizes Rudy Gobert AND Derrick Favors with one thunderous dunk (video)

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Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors form an impressive defensive tandem that usually walls off the paint.

If there were any walls here, Steven Adams jumped right over them.

Video Breakdown: How Kyle Lowry dismantles NBA defenses from 3-point range

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Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry is arguably the team’s best player thanks in large part to his increase in 3-point shooting ability this season. He’s just above 43 percent from deep this year, much better than his career average of 36 percent. Lowry has increased his 3-point percentage six points over last season, and he’s a big part of why the Raptors are so good on offense, and why they’re a contender in the Eastern Conference.

So how does he do it?

Watch the full video breakdown on Lowry’s 3-point shooting above, or read the text version of the article below.

Early Offense

I looked at a lot of tape of Lowry over the last 3 years and he hasn’t changed much on his shot mechanics. There’s no big change in his sweep or sway toward the basket when he shoots, and he still brings the ball up from his left side.

Part of his leap is be how quickly he’s getting his shots off and how many of his early offense field goal attempts come in the form of 3-pointers.

Lowry has bumped up how many 3-pointers he’s taken in the early offense, recorded here as between 24 and 15 seconds on the shot clock. Year-over-year he’s taken nearly eight percent more of his field goals as three pointers in this range.

This takes form on the court in a couple of ways, both in transition on the fast break and on quick 1 or 2 dribble pull ups off the pick-and-roll.

Transition

With the ball in secondary transition here, Lowry gets a quick screen from DeMarre Carroll to open him up for a 3-point bucket against the Hornets. And that’s still with 18 seconds left on the shot clock!

Pull-up and off-the-bounce jumpers

The other way Lowry scores quickly is off the dribble, with quick pick and rolls. Toronto is great at screen assists — picks leading to an immediate field goal — and have three players in the Top 50 and two in the Top 10 in setting them.

Here, the Celtics defender cuts off Lowry’s attack to the middle of the floor. The screener sets up to Lowry’s right, but then quickly flips it to his left. One dribble, and it’s an easy 3-pointer.

Here against Portland, the Raptors run a two screen setup with one wing and one post. The Blazers make the switch and try to blitz Lowry, but he stays resilient and sinks the bucket with what little space they allow him anyway.

Working with DeMar DeRozan

The other thing that’s been talked about a lot is the gravity of DeMar DeRozan, who himself is having a career year for the Raptors. While Lowry is making a ton of unassisted 3-pointers this year, the Raptors point guard does benefit from DeMar.

Part of that is how good they are in transition together.

Here you can see DeMar bringing the ball up the court with Lowry in front of him. He sets the screen, then fades to the arc. Three Utah Jazz are trying to stop DeRozan, and Lowry is left all alone.

When he’s not the primary ball handler on the break, Lowry will immediately get out to the wing. DeRozan has a way of finding him to get up quick Js.

Of course, in good old set plays the Raptors see this gravity effect as well.

Here Toronto is running another double screen with a guard and a post, but Lowry is one of the screeners. At this point, all three Heat players are guarding against DeRozan’s midrange jumper, leaving just enough daylight for Lowry.

Toronto is also third in the NBA in “hockey” or secondary assists, which means two or more passes leading to a made field goal.

On this baseline out of bounds play, again it’s DeRozan’s gravity that frees up Lowry. As the ball is inbounded, DeRozan sucks three warriors defenders with him, including Lowry’s. Meanwhile, Kyle is running down the baseline to get a bucket off a pass on the opposite side of the floor. All the raps have to do is rotate the ball.

So that’s a little bit on why Kyle Lowry has been so good. It’s been about shot selection, decisiveness, and some practice in addition to the effectiveness of his teammates.