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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Selecting your poison: defending the deadly James Harden pick-and-roll

The 76ers are removed from an ideal group, however they do have a luxurious few groups in NBA historical past have had.

That’s, after they lose the NBA’s scoring champion to damage, they will flip to a former scoring champion to assist fill the void.

James Harden reminded everybody Monday evening that he does, in reality, nonetheless have it. Harden exploded for 45 factors, on 17-of-30 taking pictures, powering the 76ers to a 119-115 win over the Celtics in Sport 1 of the Jap Convention semifinals.

As soon as he got here in strolling like this, you had a sense it is perhaps a protracted evening for the Celtics.

Harden received wherever he needed, and scored in quite a lot of methods, however the bulk of his harm got here within the pick-and-roll with Paul Reed, P.J. Tucker and different Sixers.

Give Doc Rivers, Harden and the 76ers credit score. That they had a strategically sound recreation plan and executed it extraordinarily nicely, and Harden burned Boston over and over and over. It felt like Trae Younger Sport 5 2.0.

“Defensively, I don’t suppose they felt us,” Al Horford mentioned.

That’s for positive.

The Celtics must rapidly put Sport 1 behind them. In the event that they don’t, and so they drop Sport 2, their season could possibly be over fairly quickly.

On the similar time, they should be taught from Monday’s debacle to ensure it doesn’t occur once more. Harden is a transcendent offensive participant, and he’s going to get his, however the pick-and-roll merely can’t work that excessive a proportion of the time.

So how ought to Boston defend it? Effectively, it is dependent upon the specifics of the play, however there are three guidelines the Celtics ought to typically observe: 1) don’t swap only for the sake of switching; 2) if they’ve to change, swap aggressively, and talk; 3) as soon as the swap occurs, play approach up, anticipate the stepback to the fitting, assistance on the drive and rotate accordingly.

Let’s take a look at some examples:

On this one, Good shouldn’t have routinely assumed Horford would assist. Simply because he sticks his arm out and alerts to Horford, it doesn’t imply he can nonchalantly stand behind the display.

As a substitute, he ought to have dedicated to going beneath the display, prevented Harden from taking a 3 and then anticipated assist from Horford. Horford wanted to step up and make life no less than reasonably troublesome for Harden, slightly than keep again and fear concerning the Reed roll. No disrespect to Reed, who had an amazing recreation, however the Celtics need him taking pictures as a lot as potential.

On this one, Jalen McDaniels units the display. Malcolm Brogdon does the fitting factor and sneaks round it to stop Harden from launching a step-back 3. However, Robert Williams backpedals and is on his heels. As a substitute, he ought to have gotten in Harden’s airspace and made him cross.

“It’s nearly choosing up our strain and making an attempt to make individuals uncomfortable,” Tatum mentioned.

Nobody else is open right here, so Harden needed to shoot. Williams ought to have made it harder so it wasn’t all on Brogdon. Jayson Tatum then might have rotated to cowl McDaniels, and Brown might have watched Tucker within the nook. Credit score to Harden for making one more powerful shot.

This one might need been essentially the most telling of the evening. The Celtics have their finest defender in Good on Harden, and Good makes the fitting determination by going over to change his path.

Harden calmly brushes him apart, goes to the step-back and fires away. Look carefully at Good’s physique language. Harden might have gotten away with a slight push-off, however the refs weren’t going to name it. Good must anticipate that stepback and make him a driver.

Give Tucker credit score right here as nicely. He’s a wonderful screener, and the Sixers executed it to perfection. On the similar time, Jaylen Brown was too nonchalant and didn’t battle onerous sufficient to get round it. As soon as Horford sees Brown is beat, he must step up. Initially, no, however at that time, sure.

Final however not least, the shot of the evening. This one wasn’t a pick-and-roll, however the story is identical. No disrespect to Al Horford, who’s an impressive defender and had a stable all-around recreation, however he simply can’t guard Harden 1-on-1 when he’s feeling it. Few guys can, however Horford undoubtedly can’t.

The Celtics shouldn’t have let that swap occur. As soon as it did, they need to have despatched assist and made another person beat them. The Sixers have succesful shot-makers, however the man with 42 shouldn’t be getting that straightforward of a glance with the sport on the road.

“It’s a superb studying expertise for me and understanding how I might deal with it subsequent time if I’m in that place,” Horford mentioned.

Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla famous that doubling Harden early received the 76ers some open 3s, then Harden hit the large shot over the swap to win it.

“Hindsight is at all times 20-20,” Mazzulla mentioned.

So, to sum up right here:

  • Harden is extraordinarily proficient. He’s going to get his.
  • It shouldn’t come that simply. The Celtics must make him a driver and a passer.
  • As soon as the decide comes, if Brown, Tatum, Good, Brogdon, Derrick White or Grant Williams is on him, aggressively discover a path again to the ball.
  • If they will’t get across the display and alter the stepback, then as a final resort, ship Horford to the ball. If that occurs, attempt to ship extra assist and let another person beat you, then additionally attempt to talk and rotate to stop open 3’s.
  • One other workaround is that when the Celtics see the screener heading towards Harden, they will swap proactively and have another person tag alongside slightly than Horford.
  • So long as Joel Embiid is out, contemplate going small with a Good-White-Brogdon-Brown-Tatum switch-everything lineup.

Harden is nice. We already knew that, however he reminded us Monday evening. However he shouldn’t completely dominate the best way he did in Sport 1. The Celtics must play protection the best way they know the way – after they have been at their finest final yr – and determine find out how to preserve him in test.

Embiid or no Embiid, that is very a lot a sequence, and transferring to Sport 2, no adjustment is extra urgent than the stymying Harden decide and roll.

“He’s an amazing participant, he makes powerful pictures,” Brogdon mentioned, “however he can’t have the sport he had.”

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