Last week, I wrote that David West would play a pivotal role for Indiana in the Pacers’ second-round series against the Miami Heat. Because of his ability to run pick-and-pop plays (which have hurt Miami all season long), I thought that if West played well, then the Pacers would have a real chance of winning the series. Miami, however, came into Sunday’s Game 1 with a nice adjustment against West’s pick-and-pops. The Heat — as they always do — showed hard and trapped the ball handler on high screens, but in addition to that, they came up with a way to also trap West as he caught the ball after setting a screen. The Heat were trapping twice in a row and relying on their perimeter defenders’ speed to rotate out of these traps. The strategy was extremely effective.
Here, West sets a screen on the wing and Darren Collison uses it to dribble toward the middle. As Collison comes off the screen, Udonis Haslem leaves West to trap Collison along with Dwyane Wade, who fights over the screen. West pops after setting the screen and releases toward the corner.
Collison sees the trap, picks up his dribble, and because Haslem is smothering him, Collison figures West will be open. But Miami is rotating, and as soon as Collison passes to West, Ronny Turiaf leaves his man to cover West. LeBron James, who is defending a man in the corner, rotates guard Turiaf's man. Finally, when the pass is made, Haslem hustles back to West and looks to trap with Turiaf.
Miami’s defensive scheme forces a contested jumper from West. He misses, and James rotates down to box out Louis Amundson. James grabs the defensive rebound and draws a foul. Here is the play in real time:
West manages to get his shot off before Haslem returns to trap him, but the trap is coming. If West holds the ball for a split second longer, he'll be in trouble, and that's exactly what happened the next time Indiana ran a pick-and-pop.
This is the same type of screen as the one we just looked at, just on the opposite side of the court. West sets a screen for Leandro Barbosa, who uses it and drives to the middle. Once again, Barbosa gets trapped by his man and West's defender (Joel Anthony) and West pops to the corner.
This play follows the same script as the previous one. Barbosa sees the trap coming at him and assumes West will be wide open on the pop, so he picks up his dribble and tries to get it to him. When Barbosa passes to West, Shane Battier, who is closest to the paint, rotates to West, while Anthony sprints back to spring another trap on West. Wade is already on the block in help position, so he doesn't have to rotate to Tyler Hansbrough.
On this possession, West hesitates for a second after he catches the ball. The result? Battier and Anthony converge on West and set a very solid trap. Here is the play in real time.
Once the trap is set, West has to dribble out of it and kick the ball to Collison in the corner. This is where Miami’s defense shines. Against most teams, that pass to the corner would lead to a wide-open 3. Against the Heat? James closes out so hard that Collison has to turn down the shot and drive baseline, where he is eventually forced into a turnover. The Heat are so quick on the perimeter that they can trap once, rotate out of it, trap a second time, and then rotate out of it a second time to close out on shooters. The Miami Heat, with their length and speed, are probably the only team in the NBA that can defend like this.
Coach Erik Spoelstra can be a lightning rod for everything NBA analysts and observers dislike about the Heat, but adjustments like this show that Spoelstra is a very good coach. From series to series and from game to game, he figures out ways to tweak the Heat’s baseline defensive game plans and use the Heat's size and speed to take away the opposing team's best option. Against the Knicks, that meant fronting Carmelo Anthony to make it hard for him to catch the ball on the block. The Heat are still doing that against the Pacers, but the new adjustment is this “trap and trap again” scheme they’re using to prevent West from getting open pick-and-pop jumpers.
In Game 2, the Pacers need to counter to Miami’s adjustment. What can they do? Well, instead of having a player waiting in the corner, they can have that player dive to the paint for a quick pass from West. They might also try to run pick-and-pop plays from the top of the key rather than on the wing. When Indiana did that in Game 1, the team created better scoring opportunities for West and found open shots for other Pacers as well.