Wolves in Motion: Final play against the Blazers
For the final play of the Wolves-Blazers game, Rick Adelman drew up a play that gave Ricky Rubio a fairly basic pick-and-roll set with the floor spread and plenty of options off of that play. And the Wolves actually ran it really well. They ended up with Dante Cunningham pump-faking, nearly traveling, and then having to rush a jumper just a bit against his defender.
After the game, Adelman described the play they ran:
“The last play was a bang-bang play. I thought it was the best play we had. Pek might have been open rolling down the middle. At least he was going right to the basket and forcing the action. Dante made a nice pump fake, missed the shot but he’s not used to having the ball in his hands like that.”
Cunningham had made eight of his 10 shot attempts in the fourth quarter and was 20 for his last 25 heading into that final play. The Wolves options on the play were essentially spot-up shooting from Barea and Shved on the two sides, Rubio driving to the basket, Pek rolling to the basket or DC pupping near the top of the key.
“When Rick draws up a play, it’s not only one option,” Rubio said in the locker room after the game. “You never know what’s going to happen. It was like a different option and I felt that was the best option because he was shooting pretty good. But they defended it pretty good too.”
How good was the play and could it have been better? Let’s take a look.
Here’s the initial action on the play. Rubio catches just to the left of the top of the arc and is dribbling to the right side of the court. Pek is coming across around the 3-point line and setting a screen on Rubio’s man. Shved is on the left wing and Barea is on the right wing. As Pek sets the pick on Rubio, you’ll notice Dante is up around the free throw line so his man can’t drop into the lane to take away the potential roll there.
The Wolves are actively spacing the floor in order to give Rubio more room to operate with Pek and play off of what the defense gives them.
As Rubio turns the corner on the pick-and-roll, Pek is diving down to the basket and Cunningham is moving back above the free throw line. This leaves Aldridge with a decision to make. He can leave Dante for the wide-open jumper or he leave the lane wide-open. This isn’t Darko Milicic on the court so you’re not going to chance the miss from two-feet away.
Rubio sees both options here. He knows Dante will be open but he has to be patient and freeze the defense so they don’t take away his passing lanes to at least one of the options. Aldridge is playing 2-on-1 until JJ Hickson can recover to Pekovic inside.
Wes Matthews has to cheat a little bit on Cunningham until Hickson can recover to Pek so Aldridge can recover to Dante. And you’ll notice at the top of the frame that Barea is running up toward Rubio. This could have been Barea going rover like Jackie Moon or it could have been a chance to fake a handoff and keep Nicolas Batum (the best defensive player on the floor for Portland) completely out of the play.
Rubio is going to deliver the pass to Cunningham. Notice the giant area I’ve outlined with the blue box there. That is open real estate for Alexey Shved to do something and that’s the one adjustment or read on the play I would have love to have seen utilized. With the action happening at the top of the half court, the Blazers are focused on the ball there. And their momentum will naturally gravitate them away from the backdoor cut that could have been available.
DC has the ball now and the Wolves own the lower half of the half court. Unfortunately, nobody is prepared to take advantage of it. There isn’t much time left with just under three seconds, but had Shved started cutting to the basket before Wes Matthews started recovering back to him, Pek would be an obstacle for Hickson to get around and Dante could have hit Alexey with a simple bounce pass for the game-tying attempt.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Shved never cuts and the Wolves never see that giant opening along the left baseline. It’s now up to Cunningham vs a closing Aldridge. Aldridge is 6’11” with a wingspan of 7’4.75″ and a standing reach of 9’2″ with his hands straight up. Throw in roughly a 34-inch vertical leap and his max vertical leap when he was entering the league in 2006 was 12 feet. That’s a long object to shoot over.
Dante is forced to pump fake because Aldridge closes out beautifully on the play. He BARELY keeps his left pivot foot to avoid the travel. At this point, it’s probably too late to throw the pass to a late cutting Shved, but look at all that area around the basket and Pek sealing off Hickson in the paint. That pass was still technically there because Matthews is either playing the greatest game of possum ever or really out of position to defend the play on the baseline.
Dante gets to the left side of the floor before he gathers for the shot with one second left. I highlight the open area there to show he could have been a little closer when he took the shot, but it’s not like he had nearly enough time to get deep into the lane. Also, he probably wasn’t sure if he had traveled or if the refs would call it because it looked so close in real time; I imagine that gives you a bit of a sense of urgency to go get the shot before anybody changes their mind and blows the whistle.
Here’s video of the play:
It’s not a bad shot at all; it’s just a shot that Dante rushed because he wasn’t balanced. I would guess he was worried about it getting off in time after he started gathering for it, which would explain why he didn’t have proper followthrough and why it came up so short.
Was it a good shot for Dante in terms of where he normally makes his jumpers?
That’s Dante’s shot chart on the season. As you can see, he’s much better from the right side of the floor and below average from the left elbow. Because he had to pump fake and move to his left, he went to an area in which he shoots 5.4% lower than the top of the key. But it was still essentially an open jumper for a guy who has been on fire lately.
“Well, it was a pick-and-roll we were doing all of the fourth quarter and it was working,” Rubio said. “They crossed, Dante came up and we had JJ and Alexey in the corner and me driving. It was a good play but we couldn’t finish.”
It was a play that had been working all night long and it left them with plenty of options. Not sure you can ask for much better execution (outside of Shved cutting the baseline earlier in the play when Portland wasn’t in position to defend it). Interesting thing to think about:
If Andrei Kirilenko is healthy and on the court instead of Shved for a situation like this, do you think AK cuts backdoor when Matthews is out of position? Would Dante have noticed it and delivered the pass? Would Hickson have recovered and blocked the shot? There were lots of possibilities on that final play.