The Wolves got Kevin Love a couple of easy baskets against the Houston Rockets during their fourth and final meeting of the season by finding ways to get him moving across the lane and into the strong side of the floor. I thought I’d examine a couple of plays by breaking down how they developed and the options it leaves Minnesota on the floor. I figured I’d get my Sebastian Pruiti on for a little bit.
(Color code key: Yellow – action happening with the ball, green – moving parts in the play, blue – targeted option for the score)
First Play – 3:56 1st quarter
Minnesota starts with some basic misdirection. It looks as if Kevin Love is going to set a screen for Ricky Rubio to run a pick-and-roll or a pick-and-pop to begin the play. Rubio quickly dishes it to Love who hands it right back to Ricky to start the actual set.
As Love hands the ball off back to Rubio, he sets a soft screen on Kyle Lowry and then dives toward the low right block, where Michael Beasley is looking to set a back pick on a recovering Scola. Scola is behind Love on the play because he had to hedge on Rubio coming around the initial screen. As this is developing, Nikola Pekovic is moving toward Ricky to set a screen and free him up to get to the left wing.
As Rubio comes around the Pek screen, instead of attacking the basket he flares out to the left wing. Away from the ball, Love is moving toward running Scola off of Beasley as Martell Webster comes across the lane to set another pick on Scola. Dalembert will step up to stop dribble penetration, but he’s actually moving Ricky to a better spot to deliver the pass.
At this moment, Scola has recognized where the play is headed. He’s avoided Beasley’s hinderance and now has to get around Martell’s screen. The part I truly love about this play is Pekovic’s hesitation on rolling to the rim ends up giving the Wolves a huge advantage pretty soon.
As Love is leaving the restricted area and coming down to the lowest left block, Rubio is already delivering the pass. Look at where Dalembert is on the play. He’s either looking for a better view of the Wolves bench, guarding the referee, or he’s the best defender on the court and has been taken completely out of the equation. Scola has tried to cut off the passing angle but he’s just missed the ball. And Pekovic is being patient for Martell and his man to clear away from where the ball is headed.
Martell has cleared the lane and Pek is even with Kevin Martin who is headed in the wrong direction. Rubio has delivered a great pass to Love and the entire area in front of the hoop is devoid of Rockets’ defenders. Because Pek didn’t just roll immediately toward the basket, it allowed perfect spacing and a little bit of cunning to allow everything to develop. As soon as Love secures the pass and Scola misses the steal, it’s a two-on-zero play at the hoop with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
I included this final frame because I wanted to show a final screenshot of where the defense ended up. Dalembert has just now retreated to the painted area and Kevin Martin isn’t even below the dotted line. Courtney Lee and Kyle Lowry haven’t been able to drop down to help either. Even if Scola had recovered to get between Love and the basket, all it takes is dropping an easy, short pass to Pek for a simple dunk. This is such a brilliant play the Wolves ran against Houston early on.
Second Play – 1:22 2nd quarter
Wolves start this play with Luke and Wes on the wings, Rubio handling the ball up top, Love on the left block and Pek coming from the right side of the lane. Pekovic is coming across to set a pick on Scola so Love can pretend he’s headed for a post-up on the right side of the floor.
Love comes across the lane as Rubio delivers the ball to the right wing. It looks like a pretty basic play that is about to get a lot more confusing for the Rockets. Dalembert isn’t really coming over to slow down Love right away. He’s clinging to Pekovic, which is giving Scola a lot less real estate to move across the lane to recover.
As soon as Scola has recovered, he front Love to take away an easy post-entry pass. Unfortunately for the Rockets, this actually benefits the Wolves quite a bit because it opens up the space for Kevin to move back across the lane toward Pekovic, while Luke reverses the ball back to Rubio at the top.
With Rubio controlling the ball up top, Love sets a pick on Dalembert to bring Pekovic over the top of it and into a passing lane for Rubio. Scola has to hang behind because he was fronting Love on the right side and you have to be conscious of Pekovic catching the ball at around 6 feet from the hoop and powering through for an easy score.
Rubio then swings the ball to Wes on the left wing. When it’s apparent Rubio isn’t dumping it down into Pek, Scola has to get over to Love because the Rockets haven’t really switched on the screen. This allows Pek to take both Dalembert and Scola out with a screen as Love drops down to the left block, right in the target area of where they want him to catch the ball.
Pekovic retreats away a couple steps away from where Love is receiving a quick pass from Wes. The pass from Wes is key here. He doesn’t hesitate at all. As soon as Love gets free of the defenders inside, he throws a perfect pass down to Kevin, which allows him to go up with the ball as soon as he catches it. At this moment, Scola and Dalembert are trying to recover to where Love is.
I included this frame because I wanted to point out the space that the play leaves the Wolves with as Kevin goes up for the score against Dalembert. Scola is late recovering to Love and has no chance of making the play. Instead, he should have rotated to put a body on Pekovic.
Love scores on the play as he’s fouled by Dalembert. Other than Sammy, there isn’t a single Rocket in place to cover the paint at all. Scola has been taken out on the play and failed to retreat to relevant spot on the floor. Even if Dalembert gets Love to miss the shot without fouling, you have Sammy with his momentum taking him toward the baseline. This leaves Pek and Love in place for an offensive rebound. Considering that Pekovic is the best in the NBA right now at offensive rebounding percentage and Kevin Love is still himself, I like the odds of them cleaning up this play for an easy score, even of Love can’t convert against Dalembert.
Just a couple of examples of the Wolves using their strengths inside and some misdirection to get Kevin Love some easy baskets at the rim.