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.

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly offensively impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

As expected, Chris Paul said he will be good to go (players are the worst at providing a timeline for their injuries).

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.

Chris Paul plays the hero as Warriors devolve to iso ball in Game 5 loss

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I personally thought a Western Conference Finals game couldn’t get any uglier after I watched Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thursday night’s Game 5 matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors two teams produced three heinous quarters of NBA playoff basketball, made even more unbearable by the fact that we know how good these two teams can be when they’re really humming.

Much as it was in Game 4 it was Houston’s defense that was on display, ironically forcing the Warriors to play much in the way the Rockets do when they lose. Golden State battled the shot clock with isolation ball much of the game, with Kevin Durant getting the ball at the top of the arc as some of the league’s top players — including a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry — widened the floor in a 1-4 flat set for the 7-foot wing.

To their credit, both Curry and Durant were in good shooting form through the first half but as the periods ground on they started to slow. Draymond Green was Draymond-y, scoring 12 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds with four assists. Statistically, it’s hard to understand how the Warriors lost. Golden State shot better from the field, from the arc, and from the charity stripe. But their scoring was concentrated and their offense predictable at just the wrong moments.

Houston’s attack was nothing to shake a stick at, either. James Harden‘s scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, and as a unit the Rockets doled out 12 assists. Incessant switching and a tendency to hound the ball on defense allowed Houston to force a whopping 18 turnovers from Golden State. It was the most important statistic of the game for the Rockets, who scored 18 points on those turnovers despite being outpaced in 3-point shooting, points in the paint, and in fastbreak buckets.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Everything changed, and as we are wont to do, the game felt much cleaner. Both teams had their energy up, they traded baskets, and the lead went back-and-forth.

Enter Chris Paul.

Houston’s point guard was the savior, scoring 20 points on a piddly 6-of-19 shooting performance. But Paul’s box score did not tell the tale of his impact on the game. Several times with the shot clock winding down, Paul came up with big beyond-the-arc buckets, at one point hitting one over Curry, giving him back a shoulder shimmy much the way the Warriors point guard did in Game 4.

Paul’s leadership pushed Houston forward, but his commitment during Game 5 might get overlooked after the Rockets point guard was forced to check out of the game after a play with 51 seconds remaining. On a floater in the lane, Paul appeared to hurt his right hamstring. Unable to play, Paul had to watch the final minute from the Houston bench, and his availability for Game 6 is currently up in the air.

It was ugly and it was gritty, but the Rockets beat Golden State on Thursday night, 98-94, to take Game 5 and a 3-2 series win as the Western Conference Finals heads back to Oakland.

Now, we look toward Game 6 in California on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM PST.

Eric Gordon buckets, Draymond Green turnover seals game for Rockets

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For the second game in a row, the Houston Rockets were clutch in the fourth quarter and the defending champion Warriors clanked and fumbled their way to a loss.

Houston won Game 3 98-94 because down the stretch Eric Gordon made plays (and free throws) and Draymond Green fumbled away the Warriors chance.

It started with the Rockets up one with less than two minutes to go, when Eric Gordon — who led the Rockets with 24 points — drained a three that gave Houston some breathing room.

Six seconds later, Draymond Green answered with a three to keep it a one-point game.

With 10 seconds left in the game, a Trevor Ariza free throw made it a two-point game, giving the Warriors a chance to come down and tie or win. Then Green did this.

Gordon was fouled, hit two free throws, and it was ballgame.

The Rockets are now up 3-2 in the series and are one win away from the Finals.

Draymond Green thought Warriors might trade him after fight with Steve Kerr

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Draymond Green is the backbone of the Golden State Warriors, not just because he was the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green sort of does it all, including passing, scoring, rebounding, and myriad other scrap work that doesn’t show up on regular box scores.

But there was some doubt in Green’s mind in 2016 that he would stay with the team. Green was involved in an argument during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after things settled down the Warriors big man was concerned the team might trade him.

The thought of doing so is sort of ridiculous, but apparently that was something that flashed into Green’s mind given the tenseness of the situation between he and Kerr.

Via Bleacher Report:

But Green’s mood was still foul, and he left the arena that day believing his days as a Warrior were numbered. He feared the relationship had been fractured, that the Warriors would choose Kerr over him. That he’d be traded.

“One hundred percent,” Green tells B/R. “Especially with the success that he was having as a coach. Like, you just don’t get rid of that.”

The thing that makes Golden State great isn’t just the players, or the system, or Kerr. It’s the human resources management aspect of their organization that allows them to compete on the court in the way they do.

It’s not crazy to think that a player could be shipped out of town thanks to a disagreement with a coach, although the leverage players have these days likely has put a stop to that realistically happening. But that Kerr, Green, and management were able to get things back under control that season was to the benefit of everyone involved.