Coaches love drawing up in-bound plays. So much so that I listed it as one of my Favorite Things:
“The team gathered around the coach drawing up an in-bounds play on a clipboard, and the bench rising together as the play creates an easy basket. ‘Nice call, coach!’ “
When I first wrote that, I had in mind a specific in-bounds play we ran against Redlands University. It featured one post screening across the key for the other post, under the Redlands basket. We knew that Redlands was switching screens. In the huddle, I told the player setting the screen to “slip” the screen, and that he would be open for a lay-up. The bench watched the play unfold as I predicted, and there was much rejoicing.
I thought of that moment in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals, when the Lakers got the ball back under the Nuggets basket with 2.1 seconds left, down one point, without a timeout. I assumed the Lakers already had something in their tool-box for this situation. Maybe something with “screen the screener” action, maybe a flare screen, perhaps a back-screen to the short corner, or a hammer screen to free Danny Green in the opposite corner.
They did none of those things.
Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were on the weak side. DG made a cut towards the hoop, but without a screen, and only a slight jab-step before his cut. He was definitely NOT open. KCP started in the far corner, and drifted a bit higher on the court. Essentially, they just kept their defenders occupied.
On the strong side of the court, LeBron James was at the elbow. Anthony Davis started on the opposite elbow. Surely LeBron was going to screen AD’s man, and then dive to the hoop. Or AD would curl off LeBron’s screen, allowing LeBron to pop towards the corner. Or AD would start towards the screen, spin and catch a lob at the hoop.
None of those things happened. Instead, LeBron — who after the game said he was the primary option — took a slow step and a half forward, and just stood there. AD, without first jab-stepping, simply ran to the three-point line, going nowhere near LeBron. No one screened anyone. That seemed to be the entire play!
Luckily for the Lakers, Mason Plumlee (“covering” AD) and Jerami Grant (on LeBron) totally messed up the coverage. My guess is that they had been told to switch any screens. Plumlee wrongfully assumed LeBron was going to actually, you know, set a screen. As a result, when AD started across the court, Plumlee just ran over towards LeBron and pointed at AD as if to tell Grant to switch.
If Plumlee had stayed with AD, either AD would not have been able to get the ball at all, or at best, would have had to catch the ball over Plumlee’s defense, and try to get a shot up with both Plumlee and Nikola Jokic all over him. AD likely would not have had time to pass to anyone before the clock would have run out.
Yes, AD’s shot was pure, and the Lakers won. In my view, they were lucky to do so. True to form, none of the announcers mentioned that the Lakers really didn’t do anything which should have led to an open shot for anyone. You can watch the play again here:
1. Though he didn’t play particularly well, DannyGreen! was tied for the best plus-minus for the Lakers. In Game One, he had the best plus-minus on either team. Somehow, year after year, he manages to have an outstanding plus-minus. Maybe a reason he might be headed for a third ring.
2. Both coaches played guys who most fans would not predict would get significant fourth quarter-time in this type of game. Alex Caruso for the Lakers, PJ Dozier for the Nuggets. Both played very well, though Dozier’s 4 missed free throws will surely bug him for years.
3. Jokic scored the last 11 Nuggets points. The basket before his hook at the rim with 31 seconds left was amazing. He guided Murray’s air-ball from the top of the key through the basket as the shot clock expired. Jokic is a basketball sorcerer.
4. While AD’s game-winner got all the (well-deserved) attention, he, KCP, DG and Rajon Rondo all made threes in the last seven minutes, all of which were tougher than the game-winner. In the first half, DannyGreen!! banked in a three from just off the top of the key. And didn’t call “bank”. And each of those five three pointers counted the same number of points as the game-winner. Come to think of it, they each counted one less than Dozier’s four missed free throws.
5. Speaking of big men hitting big-time threes in the playoffs, how about a little flashback to Tim Duncan’s game-tying three against the Suns in Game 1 of the first round of the 2008 Playoffs? It’s perfectly fitting on 9/21/20 — a.k.a. Big 3 Day.