Monday, June 16, 2008

Kobe & Pierce: A Tale of 2 Pick-and-Rolls

Let's go to one old reliable, the NBA Hot Spots (courtesy of, and one new toy, RedLasso, to provide a quick & dirty examination of how Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce are being defended in the pick-and-roll in the Finals.

I'm going to skip the pretty pictures in the Hot Spots, and just focus on the data. I calculated the numbers for both Pierce and Kobe for each of the four concentric areas which are measured: At the Hoop, Mid-Range, Long 2's, and 3-Pointers, for both the regular season and the Finals. I included their percentage of shots in each of those four areas, as that's the number I want to analyze.

Here are Kobe's shooting numbers, according to Hot Spots:

Hoop: 320-513 .624 (30.5% of total shots)
Mid: 120-270 .444 (16.0%)
Lng2: 185-492 .376 (29.2%)
3pt: 150-409 .367 (24.3%)
TOT FG%: .459
FT: 623-742 (9.0 FTA/game)

Hoop: 11-24 .458 (22.0% of total shots)
Mid: 17-34 .500 (31.2%)
Lng2: 12-32 .375 (29.4%)
3pt: 6-19 .316 (17.4%)
TOT FG%: .422
FT: 34-44 (8.8 FTA/game)

The goals of the Celtics' defense are a) to keep Kobe away from the basket, b) to run him off of the three-point line, and c) to keep him off the foul line. Even with a small sample size, these numbers suggest the Celtics have done a tremendous job on the first two counts, as Kobe's percentage of FGAs taken either At the Hoop or from 3-Pt Land has plummeted from 54.8% in the regular season to just 39.4% in the Finals. Also, his FG% from those two areas is much lower, as well.

Quite simply, Boston is forcing Kobe to take 2-pt jumpers under duress. He did erupt for four 3s in the first quarter of Game 5, but a couple of those were tough shots that Boston can live with. The C's haven't had as much success as the Spurs did in keeping Bryant off the line (2.2 FTA in that series), though Kobe did shoot much better from the floor (.533) vs. S.A.

Take a look at these quick clips from Game 4 for examples of how the Celtics are defending Kobe in the pick-and-roll.

This is really pretty simple stuff. It all starts with the maniacal effort that Boston has displayed on defense basically since the start of preseason. In the clip below, there's a pick-and-roll with Bryant (Pierce) and Gasol (Garnett). First, watch KG's help:

KG "shows" hard to provide help and cut off Bryant's driving lane on one side of the screen. Then, Kobe and Pau reset and run it again, and KG shows on the *other* side of the screen to block Kobe's path again, forcing a pass. But frankly, that's ho-hum stuff from the Ticket, the kind of help-defense excellence he's displayed routinely for over a decade. No news here.

Now watch again, and focus on Pierce. He is the guy who strikes me on this clip - dude fights to go over the screen, not once, but twice on this play. Going over the screen against Kobe Bryant - which generally leaves a defender dangerously vulnerable to Mamba's lethal ability to drive to the basket - is not advised for the faint of heart.

Pierce knows he has KG behind him to help cut off Kobe's driving lanes, but still he's not satisfied - he's determined to deny Kobe a good look at a 3 from behind the screen as well. Kobe will get tough 2's or nothing at all. That's outstanding 2-man defense on the pick-and-roll.

This next clip is really just meant to show that it's more of the same with all of Boston's bigs. This PnR is Bryant and Gasol against Pierce and P.J. Brown. Like KG, P.J. shows hard to block Kobe (and probably gets away with a foul) while Pierce fights over the screen. The other Celtics rotate well, and Farmar ends up shooting an airball. We could probably find Perk showing like a beast, too, but we think you get the point.

At the end of Game 5, Mark Jackson remarked that L.A. needed to find some offense schemes that worked, b/c the 1-4 Kobe isolations were not getting it done. They've had to move away from the screen/roll game b/c the help from Boston's bigs has been too good. Meanwhile, Tex Winter apparently thinks that L.A. stayed with the triangle too long in Game 4.

I still think the Lakers need to try to get back to the execution of the core triangle offense which they displayed for most of the season after the Gasol trade.

But it's easier said than done, as Boston seems to have a defensive answer for everything. As Roland Lazenby noted in the piece we linked to above, coming into the series, "the Celtics coaching staff had done a great job scouting the triangle and with the Lakers in the basic format, Boston was able to send three or even four defenders at Bryant in the half court."

Then, as Forum Blue & Gold noted, "In the first half of game four the Lakers came up with a way to make the pick-and-roll very successful against the Celtics, getting the ball to a big at the free throw line on a sort of pick and pop play and having the other big cutting to the basket. The Celtics adjusted to that, changing how they defended the pick-and-roll."

Prepare, execute, adjust, execute some more. You're telling me Tom Thibodeau didn't merit so much as an interview for any of the job openings out there? Geez.

OK, for quite a contrast, let's look at the Lakers' pick-and-roll defense vs. The Truth. Here are Pierce's Hot Spot shooting numbers:

Hoop: 214-373 .574 (34.0% of total shots)
Mid: 70-166 .422 (15.4%)
Lng2: 82-194 .423 (17.7%)
3Pt: 143-363 .394 (33.1%)
TOT FG%: .464
FT: 409-485 (6.1 FTA/game)

Hoop: 17-29 .586 (38.6% of total shots)
Mid: 4-10 .400 (13.3%)
Lng2: 4-15 .267 (20.0%)
3Pt: 9-21 .429 (28.0%)
TOT FG%: .453
FT: 37-45 (9.0 FTA/game)

Again, it's a small sample size, but still, these numbers seem to reflect what our eyes are telling us: L.A. is unable to keep Pierce away from the basket.

To quote Forum Blue & Gold again: "The Celtics stick to their game plan and what they do, the Lakers go in and out of their plan. The Celtics have some lapses, but for the most part are more true to who they are. They play hard on defense. They find a weakness they think they can exploit on offense (say Pierce covered by Radman) and they go right at it. Every time down."

Amen to that last part. Keep it in mind as we look at Pierce against the Lakers D in Game 5.

Pierce torched the combo of Radmanovic and Walton in many ways, including on the side pick-and-roll on the left wing. Pierce often chose to simply ignore the screen, and take advantage of a mismatched defender who was also leaning toward the screen. Watch these two, which resulted in a hoop and a foul:

Then, in the fourth quarter, when Kobe took over the defensive duties vs. Pierce, the Lakers went to an odd scheme which the Celtics exploited repeatedly. The set up was a PnR with Pierce and KG vs. Bryant and Gasol, way up in the right corner near halfcourt, with the rest of the court spaced with shooters R. Allen, Posey and House.

Kobe was angled toward the sideline, such that it looked like he was setting up to trap Pierce, rather than playing conventional defense where he was between Pierce and the basket. But all it seemed to do was leave Kobe vulnerable to be easily picked off by KG, leaving Pierce basically unguardable in a one-on-one matchup with Gasol.

Here Pierce got to the basket for a foul:

On the next possession, they ran it again. This time, Kobe recovered to help Gasol double Pierce at the basket, but that just left KG wide open for an elbow jumper:

How about one more, right down Broadway to draw another foul with 3:00 left:

Yes, Kobe did come up with his game-clinching steal in a similar set, but that swipe from behind (a borderline foul) was hardly fundamental D that can be counted on consistently.

All in all, it was just way too easy for Pierce to get to the basket in Game 5. The Lakers need some answers on both ends of the floor, both in terms of scheme and execution, or else the Larry O'B's gonna be hoisted on Tuesday night in Boston.


At 4:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow..reading that, you'd be hard pressed to believe that the Lakers actually won that game.

Sounds the Lakers can't play offense or defense. And Celtics are just brilliant.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

Fair enough - Gasol and Odom *did* step up in Game 5, and KG's bad fouls really hurt BOS.

But the point of this post was to look at the series as a whole (Kobe clips are from Game 4, Pierce from Game 5).

And from the perspective that the Lakers were consensus favorites coming into the series, yet Boston has been the better team overall.

A big part of that is because Pierce has played Kobe relatively even, statistically:

PP: 22.8p, 4.8r, 5.6a, .453 FG
KB: 26.4p, 5.0r, 5.8a, .422 FG

esp. considering that Truth's numbers are up from the reg. season and Kobe's are down:

PP: 19.6p, 5.1r, 4.5a, .464 FG
KB: 28.3p, 6.3r, 5.4a, .459 FG

Call me crazy, but that leads me to believe that the Celtics are doing a good job on Kobe, and the Lakers not so much on Pierce.

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