Like last week, this week’s Savvy/Shabby is going to take a look at late game execution. However, this week is a little bit different, because instead of looking at late game execution on offense, we are going to be taking a look at late game execution on defense. First, we’ll going to look at a stop the Lakers got in triple overtime that helped them finally pull away from the Suns. Then we’ll look at a curious foul taken by the Utah Jazz in a one-possession game.

Lakers Get A Stop

After a big Kobe Bryant three-point shot, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves up by one with two minutes to go. On the next possession, the Suns went to their bread-and-butter: the pick-and-roll. The Lakers were able to get a stop and turn it  into two transition points.

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As Steve Nash brings up the basketball, Marcin Gortat comes way up to set the screen for Nash. This is important, because Gortat is so high that Nash isn’t a threat to pull up for three immediately after coming off the screen. With the shooting threat of Nash not there, Derek Fisher is able to go under the screen without worrying about a jumper off the dribble (one that Nash seems to knock down every single time). As Fisher goes under the screen, Pau Gasol hedges, keeping Nash from getting in the lane.

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Fisher gets under the screen and back to Nash in time, preventing the jumper. At this point Nash makes the decision to penetrate, trying to get to the lane. Ron Artest is on the wing, defending Vince Carter, a shooting threat from the outside.

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However, Artest is also paying attention to the basketball. He sees that Nash commits to penetrating, and once that happens Artest goes for the steal.

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Nash tries to stop and make the pass, but he slips and Artest is able to knock the basketball away and gain control of it.

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Artest takes the basketball all the way down the court where he is able to finish with the big slam/bicep kiss. Here is the play in real time:

Notice how even though Artest is covering Carter on the wing, he isn’t focused too much on him. He has his head on a swivel as he watches both his man and the basketball. This is what allows him to see Nash committing to driving and then go for the steal, which he gets.

Utah Commits A Strange Foul

Down by six points with 38 seconds left, the Utah Jazz needed a quick three point shot to turn the game into a one possession game while leaving time for them to get the basketball back. That is exactly what they get, as Paul Millsap hits a three with 31.9 seconds left. However, after the make, the Jazz defense commits an error.

The Utah Jazz seem to have the Rockets exactly where they want them as Houston enters the basketball in the corner. The Jazz look like they are going get a trap in the corner, but then Raja Bell comes over and takes the foul, sending Houston’s Kevin Martin to the free throw line.

  • Hitting the shot with 31 seconds means that even if Houston runs the clock all of the way down, the Jazz will have 7 seconds to get a game-tying three point shot off, as long as they force a miss. With three timeouts, the play would be a set play from the side instead of a full length-of-the-court play, making it easier.
  • I understand why teams do foul in this situation (I don’t really agree with it), if you don’t foul and the opposing team lets the clock wind down all the way and do score, you are out of the game. A foul early in the clock allows teams to extend the game.
  • Even if you agree with the extend the game¬†philosophy, this is still a bad foul. The reason is because where the ball is — in the corner, in a position to be trapped. Why not try to force the steal, and then if the Rockets break out of the trap, foul? If you don’t foul right away, you may even force a timeout, creating a situation where the offense has to inbound the basketball, creating another opportunity to get a steal. At the very worst, it runs 10 or so seconds off the clock, leaving 20 seconds left, still plenty of time.

With that foul down three, the Jazz didn’t give their defense a chance to try and tie the game. Instead, they fouled and hoped for a miss or two that didn’t come.

When people think about late game execution, they usually think about it on the offensive end. These two plays show you that execution late in games is also important on defense. The Lakers played that Nash pick-and-roll perfectly, and were able to get the steal and the win. The Jazz didn’t execute correctly, fouling up three, and they ended up losing the game.

Until next time.