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Thunder Go Small, Get Big Results

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

We’re proud to present this guest post from Tim Sartori, a writer for FanSided’s 8points9seconds and for the TrueHoop Network’s Magic Basketball. You can also find him on twitter, @Tim_NBA.

Going into the third quarter at Staples Centre Friday night, the Clippers held a 90-86 lead over the Thunder. Prior to this game, the Clippers were 35-0 this season when leading after three quarters at home. Chris Paul was having a fantastic game, Serge Ibaka was in foul trouble, the Thunder were shooting poorly from three — it looked like the Clippers were going to take back home court advantage.

Yet somehow they lost, getting outscored 32-22 in the final quarter, now down 2-1 going into Game 4.

Jared Dudley was in the game early in the 4th, guarding Kevin Durant. The Thunder opted to involve him in the high screen-and-roll with Reggie Jackson, and got results quickly. See here, as Jackson drives and finishes around Glen Davis.

Dudley hedged hard to defend this pick-and-roll, so much so that for a moment it looked as if he and Collison were going to switch (and perhaps Collison thought so too). When Dudley tries to recover back to his man, Jackson uses the brief opening to get to the rim.

Caron Butler played a huge part in the Thunder’s big final quarter, making three big shots from beyond the arc. Because of matchups, Blake Griffin was forced to guard Butler. On all of Butler’s threes, Griffin stayed a few feet away from him towards the paint, looking as if he wanted to be able to rotate over and help quickly if needed.

This strategy proved costly right away, as Reggie Jackson found him on the weakside with a nice cross court pass, and Blake couldn’t get back out to him in time.

This next instance was just a couple of minutes later, in a near identical situation — high screen and roll, with the ball handler (this time being Kevin Durant) finding Butler on the weakside as Griffin is too far over and once again can’t get back out to him as the pass is made.

As Durant isolates at the elbow, this time Butler points out to Ibaka that Griffin is sagged too far down, and Ibaka sets a solid (and slightly illegal) screen on Griffin, to give Caron even more time to make his third three, giving the Thunder the lead.

In the case, Blake is totally at fault. Deandre Jordan is already in a position to help, there’s no need for Griffin to be so far over, especially after Butler has hit two threes.

Although, there’s not really anything he can do about the first two instances. On the first shot, it’s his job as the weakside defender to rotate over so the roll-man (Adams) doesn’t get an uncontested shot at the rim, as displayed here.

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Likewise with the second, this time with the roll man being Ibaka.

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You can see here why he needs to rotate over, as he does a good job to contest Ibaka’s shot off the pick-and-roll, yet Ibaka makes it anyway.

The only way the Clippers can really stop this, is by changing their whole philosophy in how they defend the screen and roll, to a method that keeps the roll-man defender with his man. That could be by ‘ice-ing’ the screen-and-roll (ball-handler’s defender forces ball away from screen, roll man’s defender stays sagged down), or with the guy guarding the ball-handler going under the screen.

They tried switching later on in the game, but it immediately proved a bad idea, with the Thunder taking advantage of the mismatches.

Here us an example of the  Clippers are intending to switch, with Paul making no attempt to get through the screen.

Clearly, Blake and Deandre aren’t going to be able to switch onto the far quicker Thunder guards.

The playoffs certainly isn’t the best time to change defensive methods you’ve been using all year — and heck, it might not even be necessary considering Brooks rarely plays those lineups with Butler at the 4 — but it was undoubtedly costly in game 3, and was the main reason the Thunder were able to take over the 4th quarter. If the Thunder continue to go small late in games, the same issue may present itself.

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