The most frustrating thing about the way in which the Pacers collapsed during the fourth-quarter of Game 2 wasn’t the 7:56 seconds that they went without a basket, nor was it the final 12 seconds that they peppered with inexcusable miscues; it was the intermediary of those two intervals, when they found what worked and went away from it.
Down two with 3:12 to play, Bojan Bogdanovic buried a three out of this faux flex action flowing into a down screen to take a one-point lead.
Poached from the Mavericks after signing Doug McDermott, the set played to the strengths of Bogdanovic by incorporating movement with a dash of misdirection rather than expecting him to play to the strengths of Victor Oladipo.
The same cannot be said of the next three trips down the floor.
Granted, the Croatian National Team star drilled a step-back three over Al Horford, but the expectation that he find an angle or create a shot was at the crux of the possession, as well as the two that proceeded it.
Much to his credit, Bogdanovic has added depth and shadow to his game this season with his increased willingness to put the ball on the floor and attack at a variety of depths; but, he isn’t a natural playmaker when the defense collapses, and he isn’t going to overwhelm opposing bigs with his speed in lieu of a screen or off a switch, a la Oladipo.
And yet, the Pacers tossed him the ball at the logo off a zipper cut and expected him to go to work as if he were Oladipo (twice!):
What exactly is Bogdanovic supposed to do with the ball this far away from the hoop (particularly since the Celtics have made it a point to account for the way in which he leverages his broad shoulders around the rim by bringing over an extra defender in order to force him into tough wide angle bank shots or awkward dipsy-doodles)?
Per Synergy, the Pacers ranked 27th in the league during the regular season in points per possession on isolations and 24th in isolation frequency. To further put things into perspective, Oladipo finished out the year as the team’s leader in isolation efficiency, minimum 80 possessions. On top of being unavailable, the high-octane guard’s points per isolation plummeted from 1.03 in 2017-18 to 0.78 in 36 games this season.
Without a high-level — or, even high-volume — shot-creator, Indiana desperately needs to avoid falling into the 1-on-1 trap in Game 3.
One way to do that is to counter Boston’s counter. For example, the Celtics are adjusting for the loss of Marcus Smart’s blanketing 1-on-1 coverage by chasing Bogdanovic over screens and switching defensive responsibilities once he cuts middle, thereby effectively transforming once-dynamic staggers into stagnant isolations.
In order to wrangle back control of those screens, variety needs to be the spice of life.
Like, how about using Bogdanovic as the first screener for Wesley Matthews with Thaddeus Young as the second and spacing Myles Turner, along with Al Horford, to the corner?
Watch what happened earlier this season with McDermott playing the would-be role of Matthews. As soon as Bogdanovic noticed that McDermott’s man went under one coming off the second screen, he flipped around and chased the stagger with a wide pindown and faded when his defender followed in kind, like so:
Chicago didn’t switch this at the end like the Celtics have over the first two games of the series. However, if this is Boston, the big defending the second screener would be occupied by McDermott/Matthews clearing out, rather than being available to immediately flatten out Bogdanovic coming off the curl. Even with a wing-to-wing switch, the Pacers would at least have greater flexibility with two shooters involved in the play.
As is, the Croatian National Team star doesn’t quite have a handle on making no-dribble lob passes or one-dribble whip passes to pindown screeners off a quick slip, so there isn’t much guesswork involved for the Celtics to play him to score.
In the interest of keeping the mystery alive while preempting those off-ball switches, Matthews could also simply screen his own check and let Bogdanovic wheel around him for three.
Regardless of which wrinkles they decide to employ, more important will be that they actually decide to employ wrinkles.
Rather than being baited into playing hero-ball without a hero, the Pacers need to empower Bogdanovic to be a hero within the flow of the offense. Doing so provided a temporary respite from the fourth-quarter scoring drought in Game 2; and, who knows, maybe that ill-fated out of bounds play, wherein Myles Turner appeared to forget his marching orders, would’n’t have proved as critical had they stuck with it.