Chicago Bulls' Boozer reacts after being called for a foul in their NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston

The Extra Pass: How the Lakers took advantage of Carlos Boozer’s defense


The Lakers’ win over the Bulls on Sunday was a real workmanlike effort that showed improved dedication on the defensive side of the ball and growing chemistry. The Lakers really seem to be hitting their stride at the right time as they make an end of the season push to qualify for the playoffs.

The Bulls, however, have hit a bit of a rough patch lately. They’ve lost three of their last four games, and their lone win came on a last second three pointer to beat the free falling Jazz.

And while their lack of offense — a season long issue — typically gets focused on most when discussing why the Bulls have trouble winning games, it has actually been their defense that’s been letting them down of late. Per the NBA’s stats database, the Bulls have a defensive efficiency of 106.7 over their last 4 games — a mark that is a full 8 points per 100 possessions worse than their season average.

For a team that relies on getting stops to win their games, they’re not getting enough of them and the results are what you’d expect when that is the case.

One player who was particularly exposed down the stretch of their match up with the Lakers was Carlos Boozer. In the 4th quarter the Lakers offense seemed to target Boozer in pick and roll actions to make him defend on and off the ball, forcing him into positions where his decisions would determine how successful the defensive possession would be.

In this first play, the Lakers switched up their pick and roll action to purposely involve Boozer. Rather than have Dwight Howard set the screen, Kobe Bryant motions to Metta World Peace to come and set the pick and with him comes his defender (Boozer):


Boozer is actually in decent position to start this play, sitting in his defensive stance and seemingly ready to slow down Kobe as he comes off the screen. However, with Kobe attacking full speed, Boozer simply doesn’t have the lateral quickness to contain Kobe:


With Boozer looking like he’s going to be beat around the edge, Joakim Noah has already slid into the paint and is ready to contest the drive. However, with Noah committing to helping on Kobe, Dwight Howard is left open at the basket. Kobe recognizes this and hits him with a lob that Howard finishes easily:

The Lakers would run this action over and over again in the final minutes of the game, hoping to get Boozer to make mistakes or to get his teammates to overcompensate for his deficiencies. Here, we see that Boozer recognizes he can’t give up the corner to Kobe so he adjusts his coverage in the P&R:


Look at how low Boozer is sitting below the screen now. When Kobe comes off the pick, Boozer is nearly 10 feet from the ball and is  on his heels in retreat. As Kobe attacks that space, Boozer only continues to give ground, ultimately ceding a wide open 15 foot jumper that Kobe knocks down easily:

But it wasn’t just Boozer’s defense at the point of attack that the Lakers tried to expose. They also put him in positions where he was on the back line of the Bulls’ defense and forced to make the key rotation to stop an easy basket.

This next play starts with Nash running a high P&R with Howard while Boozer is on the weak side defending World Peace. As you can see, Boozer his hugging the right lane line:


So far, so good right? Well as the play advances we start to see how Boozer becomes a liability. After Nash came off Howard’s screen, he initiated a hand off sequence with Kobe who then came off a screen by Howard. After that pick is set, Kobe looks to attack the middle of the floor and Howard rolls down the left lane line. Meanwhile, Boozer is standing in nearly the exact same spot he was when the possession started:


You can only guess what happens next. Kobe hits Howard with a pass and the result is a dunk with Boozer’s reaction to the pass to late to prevent any of it:

Boozer should have left World Peace in the corner, rotated into the paint earlier, and forced Kobe to make the skip pass rather than allowing an easy pass to Howard on the roll. Up to that point in the game, World Peace had missed all six of his three point attempts and is not a threat from that spot and Boozer needed to understand situation and who he was guarding better than he did.

Of the Lakers final 10 points, 8 came on plays where they either attacked Boozer at the point of attack or as a back line helper out of pick and roll actions. It’s closing situations like these where it’s obvious how much the Bulls miss Taj Gibson. Gibson, with his superior athleticism and defensive instincts, is a staple of Coach Tom Thibodeau’s crunch time lineups usually replacing Boozer for reasons that are pretty clear from the clips above.

But Gibson is out with injury and it was Boozer who was tasked with being a key cog in the Bulls’ scheme. He couldn’t get it done, though. And the Lakers, recognizing that he was the weak link, attacked him over and over again to close out the game.

Report: 76ers supporting, not blaming, Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor
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76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor fought a man in a Boston street.

The team has released a short, vague statement. CSN Philly:

“We are aware of the report and we are currently working to gather additional information. Until that time, we will have no further comment.”

But what do the 76ers really think?

Chris Broussard of ESPN:

I spoke with somebody close to him. They’ve talked to the 76ers. They’ve talked with the NBA.

The Sixers are very supportive of Okafor. They understand the situation, but they have to do their due diligence and look into it.

The Sixers are supporting him. They’re not blaming him. If they have to discipline, it still won’t sully him in their eyes.

Again, I’m told that they’re very supportive of him.

If the 76ers really support Okafor, they’ll do so publicly. Leaking their support anonymously doesn’t really move the needle.

I also find this report a little dubious, because Broussard only said he talked to someone close to Okafor. If the 76ers’ viewpoint came filtered through an Okafor rep, there could be a lot of spin – though it’s possible Broussard also spoke with someone from the team.

What choice do the 76ers have but to support Okafor, anyway? He’s a promising young player on a team that desperately needs hope. It seems he made a major mistake, but it’s not a career-ender. And as long as the 76ers are keeping him, they might as well stand by him.

However – based on what we’ve seen, which is obviously not everything – this incident should “sully him in their eyes.” He appeared to be the aggressor, and the team should be concerned by that. Perhaps, further investigation has provided extenuating circumstances, but absent new evidence, the 76ers should view him less favorably – and be proactive about helping him correct any underlying issues.

That’s the support Okafor needs from them.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.