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

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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):

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

NBA VP explains decision not to suspend Draymond Green; says very different play than Dahntay Jones

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second quarter in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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All day long NBA Twitter — and the Warriors, and the Thunder — waited for the shoe to drop on a decision about suspending Draymond Green for a kick to the “groin” of the Cavaliers’ Steven Adams.

Everyone just waited. And waited. And waited.

It took that long because the league wanted to be thorough — watching the film, looking at similar incidents (and the punishments there), talking to the players and the referees, and thinking it through. It was a decision with a huge impact on the series (Golden State was not winning Game 4 without Green).

So why did NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe decide not to suspend Green, rather upping the foul to a flagrant 2 and taking on a $25,000 fine?VanDeWeghe talked in some detail to Sam Amick of the USA Today in a piece you should read right now. This is just a highlight.

We have professional investigators that conduct the investigation. They talk to the players, they talk to all the referees, including the replay officials, and they all come back and report to me. I obviously discuss it internally, and especially with referee operations, get their perspective. But at the end of the day … every play is different and that’s the problem. You take into account everything. You take into account t what the referees have said. They obviously went with a Flagrant One last night, and you take into account the comparables. The problem with comparables is they never tell the whole story.

One comparable a lot of people supporting the suspension brought up was the one-game suspension for Cleveland Dahntay Jones just a day before (for a punch to the groin of Bismack Biyombo. Except VanDeWeghe says it was not comparable.

But just to talk about the Dahntay Jones situation, I think that was basically a completely different play. That, you had somebody (who was) tussling for a rebound, and Jones brings back his hand his hand is open. And as he brings his hand back forward and makes contact with Bismack’s (Biyombo) groin area, the fist is closed. And so you have contact with a closed fist, so to me that’s a very different scenario and, to me, a different fact pattern, so it’s very different from what we’re talking about with Draymond, that I viewed as a flail that is becoming, you know, pretty common amongst our players in trying to sell calls. Draymond does it a fair amount, Westbrook does it a fair amount, and a number of other players. Unfortunately, in this particular one, Draymond’s leg connected in the same Adams groin area, the same area, as the Jones one, but everything else about the call, or the play, was really different.

That is what the Warriors tried to sell, and the league came to find — Green was fouled but in trying to sell that call a little he accidentally kicked Adams where men least like to be kicked.

None of this is going to change anyone’s mind — if you’re convinced Green’s kick was intentional, and he should have been suspended, there is no evidence that will get you to think otherwise. This is just context, it helps everyone understand the process and the decision. More information is a good thing.

Raptors race out to lead, hang on to beat Cavaliers 105-99, even series 2-2

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball in the fourth quarter against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Now this is some adversity.

After winning 10 straight games to open the playoffs, the Cavaliers struggled in Game 3 in Toronto last Saturday, but that felt almost like a setback rather than a change of direction in the series. At least it did until Game 4 tipped off.

Toronto again came out with fantastic energy again on defense, scrambling and contesting everything. The Cavaliers were not attacking (well, except LeBron James) and were kicking out for threes — and missing. As a team, Cleveland was 3-of-22 from three in the first half. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry was hot on the other end, both hitting long threes and setting up teammates. Lowry was 8-of-11 shooting in the first half, 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and had three assists as well.

Raptors led 57-41 at the half. They needed every point of that down the stretch.

Cleveland started the second half on an 11-0 run and came back behind Kyrie Irving (15 second half points), LeBron, and a more focused defense. With six minutes to go in the game Cleveland even took the lead. It felt like this was when the Cavaliers would assert themselves as the best team in the East.

Except the Raptors out hustled and out executed the Cavaliers down the stretch. Bismack Biyombo was grabbing key rebounds inside (Patrick Patterson had a huge offensive rebound as well), and Lowry and DeRozan remained hot — the guards combined for 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the fourth quarter — not taking threes (0-of-1) but attacking and getting to the basket an the line.

The result was a 105-99 Toronto win that evens the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland Wednesday for Game 5.

“I thought we come back, had control of the game, was up three points, then we made some defensive mistakes you can’t do down the stretch, and they cost us — each time we made a mistake they made us pay,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said postgame.

This was another game where Toronto played with great defensive energy and the Cavaliers responded by settling — they took 41 threes in Game 3 (hitting 13), Monday they were 13-of-42. J.R. Smith was 3-of-11, Kevin Love 2-of-7 (and sat out the fourth quarter with a potential injury, he was limping). The guys that kept the Cavaliers in it in the fourth (besides LeBron, who was fantastic again) were Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, who combined 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. But it was not enough.

“We’ve got to be more well balanced,” LeBron said on a night he finished with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting. “We started the game, we had some great looks, but when they’re not going you’ve got to be able to switch it up and get into the paint and do what you can do. I was able to get into the paint a little bit, Kyrie as well, but we just haven’t shot the ball from the three point line.”

Offensively, the Raptors were carried by Lowry and DeRozan, which was the case all season. Lowry had 35 points on 20 shots and looked every bit the All-Star version of himself.

“He’s made shots,” Lue said. “He’s being aggressive. He’s making shots. Tonight he made some early baskets that gave him some confidence, I thought, in the first quarter, and he carried it throughout the game.”

DeRozan had 32 points on 23 shots and was getting to the spots on the floor he liked. Once in Toronto both Biyombo and Patterson have done a good job of switching up their screen angles on the pick-and-roll, and the Cavaliers get flummoxed by this.

“We’ve got to find a way to be more consistent,” Lowry said. “(He and DeRozan) need to find a way to be consistent throughout a whole series.”

Then again there was Biyombo, the free agent to be making the case he should get paid big this summer. He finished with 14 boards — including a number of key ones late — and three blocks. His presence inside has the Cavaliers hesitant to attack the paint.

This sets up a lot of interesting questions heading into Game 5 Wednesday.

Can Toronto play with the same energy on the road? Can Cleveland adjust to the Toronto defense and get back to attacking the paint? Will Lowry stay hot? Will Love regain his stroke?

The bottom line is this is a series now — best of three. And the Cavaliers are no lock to advance.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s red-hot shooting second quarter

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Kyle Lowry found his shot back home in Toronto.

After a rough first couple games (actually a rough couple rounds to start the playoffs), Lowry has gotten hot back home, and that seemed to peak in the second quarter when he shot 6-of-7 overall and 3-of-4 from three. He had 15 points, 20 in the quarter, and the Raptors were up 16 at the half.

LeBron James with early dunk, flying scoop around Biyombo (VIDEO)

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LeBron James was making his presence felt early in Game 4 in Toronto.

Toronto again got an early lead and was scrambling, defending, and playing with energy, but the Cavs were playing better on offense in this contest, trying to keep it close. That started with LeBron making some plays, starting 3-of-4 from the field.

The alley-oop was good, but the scoop shot where LeBron adjusted in midair was special.