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Why the Pacers relied on two plays against the Warriors

On solving goalie defense and why the answers, even with sound process, also represented the problem.

Golden State Warriors v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After capitalizing on Golden State’s sloppiness and making a beeline to the charity stripe for most of the first half, Indiana’s offense once against fizzled down the stretch of Monday’s 102-100 close-run loss, producing only 16 points on 31 percent shooting over the game’s final frame, as what had previously been an elegantly orchestrated pick-and-roll ballet suddenly transformed into a game of collision avoidance with Draymond Green.

Though largely allergic, for good reason, to engaging the all-world defender in isolation or as part of a trap, the downside to maneuvering around his activity in pick-and-roll was still having to contend with him as a goalie. For example, take a look at this empty ball screen on the wing with Myles Turner cutting through to the opposite corner.

Ideally, that would create a scoring touch for Domantas Sabonis because no one is available to tag in the corner. But, notice how Draymond responds — or, rather, doesn’t respond — to the movement. With the tweener five lurking ball-side instead of staying attached to Turner, LeVert passes out of the re-screen, resulting in a reset. In that way, Green was still influencing how the offense was being run, even when the offense wasn’t being run at him.

To counter, the Pacers mainly leaned on two pet plays, with Brogdon and LeVert taking turns calling the shots. Let’s take a closer look at why, along with the good and the bad.

Horns Twist

Since static spacing was unlikely to be effective with Green overloading or shadowing, Indiana attempted to put stress on his ability to roam by first involving his check as the screener and then relocating to the ball-side corner. With both bigs at the elbows and wings in the corners, Turner would approach to set the pick from one side and then Sabonis would follow in doing the same from the opposite. For the most part, because Turner was quickly touching base and releasing, there wasn’t contact for the on-ball defender to trigger a switch. Likewise, the Warriors typically stayed with traditional pick-and-roll coverage against Sabonis, even when sensing his body, so as to avoid a mismatch.

The end result? An easy score around the basket, with Green inching outside the paint.

Also, notice what happened with under two minutes to play, when Green was assigned to Sabonis. Again, rather than switching, Golden State went with traditional pick-and-roll coverage, allowing Sabonis to roll against a guard as the lone tagger while getting clutch assists not only from Brogdon on the stop-and-go, but also Kelan Martin, who put extra stress on Curry by shaking out of the corner.

That’s the definition of how the Pacers can create advantages together — even against stiff defense. The only problem is, they never scored again after that conversion and there were also several empty attempts at the same play in-between those two examples.

So, what was the difference?

Pay attention to the corners. As LeVert demonstrated during the final possession of consequence when he slipped while attempting to attack the basket, his preference is to score moving to his left. That’s why he has a tendency to hard refuse picks on the right side of the floor — driving away from the screen, stopping, and then coming back off the pick-and-roll to create separation with his left. It’s also why he oftentimes makes it his first option, against any type of coverage, to simply reject the pick as Sabonis is moving to screen, as was the case, here, when he turned down the second screen only to find himself leveled off in a crowd.

From prior examples, knowing that Green was releasing from Turner when the ball was on the opposite side of the floor, that’s a case where LeVert, unless he can pull off a fancy behind-the-back pass, either would be better off sticking to the script and actually twisting off the screen from Sabonis. Or, Turner needs to make himself visible and pop into open space in the lane. It’s those types of spots where the starting big man, regardless of playing away from the ball, has autonomy to interject himself into the offense.

That said, there was also a clear reason why the Pacers went away from setting the pick for Turner to exit to the corner, as was the case on the opening play against the Knicks, and just started having him relocate there with the player already in the weak-side corner simply moving up to the wing: Green, in playing goalie, was easily able to switch.

In the end, Turner still got this and other fine shots out of kick-outs from subsequent pick-and-rolls that he’s proven himself capable of knocking down; however, on an off night, it’s probably fair to question why he and the team weren’t looking for other ways to exploit the scheme within the same existing framework — be it abandoned man flashes, cutting ball-side under the basket to open elbow room on the roll, or setting dummy flare screens to perhaps occupy the roamer.

Stack

Some of those same themes also showed up on possessions featuring stacked screens. Here, as was the case out of the prior play type, LeVert wants to reject the screen going to his left as it is being set. Again, generally speaking, there’s benefit to turning down picks on the approach as quick and easy coverage killers because the screener’s defender is typically off-balance, expecting the ball-handler to penetrate from the opposite side. In this case, however, Looney manages to slide in lock-step, almost as if he and the Warriors were perhaps anticipating — or, at least growing accustomed to — LeVert’s predilection for going away from the offense.

Then, there was also a weird hybrid possession where it isn’t exactly clear if LeVert was approaching as the back-screener in stack or was intended as the second screener for Brogdon to twist back, perhaps with a switch against Curry? Either way, the opportunity is there to play out of the middle of the floor with Sabonis but Brogdon ends up throwing a pass outside of Turner’s shooting pocket, precipitating a self-created three from LeVert.

For the frame, the Pacers shot 2-of-14 on field-goal attempts outside of the restricted area, with some being higher quality than others. On another night, some of those open perimeter looks could conceivably fall and LeVert might not lose his footing. Still, given the way in which Draymond was lurking around every corner, it’s also somewhat of a quagmire that the very shots that were needed as answers — and largely haven’t dropped during crunch-time this season — also reflect the problem for why the stocky savant was emboldened to help off in the first place, even if the overall process in attempting to circumvent him was mostly sound.