The Play That Didn’t Work This Time – George Hill’s Late Turnover vs. Miami
Indiana’s final play against the Miami – Paul George’s desperation three on which no foul was called — is the one fans are most upset about. The bigger problem, in a process sense, was the poor execution on a few other possessions down the stretch.
Let’s look at one play in particular, a set that was notable given time/score and the fact that the Pacers failed to even get off a shot. Instead, George Hill threw an errant pass to Paul George that was gobbled up by LeBron James (which led to an intentional foul on Ray Allen, who knocked down two freebies to put the Heat up 3 with 10 seconds left).
Here is a break down of that failed possession along with the three other memorable instances that Indiana has run it — all of which worked out wonderfully.
When It Didn’t Work – Losing in Miami
Hill dribbles alone at the top of the key and then we see Paul George relocate to the left wing. LeBron follows him, obviously, and is likely thinking that Indiana’s intention is to get their superstar free in space to make a play. Right after, David West comes up from the baseline to, ostensibly, set a screen on Dwyane Wade, who was defending Hill. But he sets no pick, instead confusing Chris Bosh (who was guarding West) and Wade, who sort of half-trap a non-pick-and-roll and just generally get in one another’s way. Hill is able to use this brief moment to turn the corner and drive at the rim.
As this is happening, Roy Hibbert leaves his block to back screen LeBron so that George can head to the corner. Hibbert’s defender, Chris Andersen, doesn’t follow, however. You can see he has turned all his attention to the growing threat Hill presents, and he rightfully stays home to protect the rim. So we have Birdman rotating over to play very good, big help defense, and Ray Allen staying home on Lance Stephenson in the short corner.
I wasn’t in the huddle and have never heard Frank Vogel explain this play, but it seems clear that the options go (1) Hill makes a go-ahead layup, (2) he drives and kicks to George in the opposite corner, (3) he finds Stephenson in the short corner, or (4) all these are shut off and he throws it out to one of the bigs for a shot/re-set.
Here, Hill decided that he couldn’t get a good shot over Birdman, which was probably correct. So he zooms underneath the hoop to feed George in the corner. Unfortunately, the Hibbert screen never really freed Paul, so LeBron is close by. Roy could probably have been a little more physical in trying to block LeBron (it’s so far from the action that I doubt he gets whistled for even an egregious moving screen), but the bigger problem was George leaving early and not setting James up to really get deterred by the pick. To his credit, when he realizes LeBron is near but tailing him, he doesn’t just wait in the corner for a pass that will never get there (or at least not in time for him to get off a decent shot). George adjusts and cuts to the hoop in a way that, had Hill hit him in stride, he might have gotten him a layup try. Unfortunately, Hill is making this pass blind and is expecting George in the corner. So he isn’t able to adjust, in mid-air, to his teammate’s adjustment.
It almost looks like a broken NFL pass play in which good coverage forces a QB to scramble then a WR finds some space but the pass sails over his head since he started coming back up field and the passer wanted him to break deep. There was no way for the guys to know exactly what the other was thinking when split-second decisions are being made like that.
Thus, turnover. Their is fault to go around to Hill, George and Hibbert, but more than anything, this was just two defenders (Anderson and LeBron) doing a good job blowing up a set.
But while this set didn’t work this time, it is an end-of-game play that Frank Vogel has become fond of. Indiana ran it at least three times in the waning seconds last year and it had a 100% success rate (though we’ll see that one of those instances was very similar to this one and worked out mostly due to luck).
Georg Hill’s Game Winner vs. the Lakers
This is the best, flawless version of this play. It has a different set up than the incarnation Vogel used against the Heat, but the main concept is the same.
The difference is with George, who doesn’t relocate to the wing on his own but goes at the same time as West. They essentially both head up towards Hill’s man (Metta World Peace) to fake a ball screen. This clears out nearly the entire strong side for Hill, who exploits bad Lakers defense to hit the game-winning layup. It really helps that the Lakers’ defense was horrible here. World Peace gives up on Hill immediately without even being screened, leaving Pau Gasol on skates to stop Hill one on one — something that is compounded by Dwight Howard’s ridiculously late attempt to help. I guess the three-time Defensive Player of the Year was really concerned about Ian Mahinmi hitting a spot-up jumper on the weak side. (Though had he gotten there earlier, Hill probably could have gotten the ball to George in the corner for a three attempt since his man, Kobe, lost interest in following him there.)
It’s easy to mock the Lakers defense here. That whole team was a train wreck (and decisions like allowing Metta to be iso’d by Hill were probably a part of that), but this is a confusing set to guard.
Drawing Free Throws to Win in Memphis
About two months after this play worked to beat the Lakers, Vogel found his team tied late in Memphis on MLK Day. And he broke out the same set.
This is exactly the same version that they ran in Los Angeles. It is run much more sloppily, and Memphis (which was a top two defense in the NBA at the time, along with Indiana) plays it much better. But despite the poor timing and clumped-up faux screen, Hill gets separation from his man, Mike Conley, and drives hard to the hoop. He meets more resistance, but the refs whistled Conley for a foul as Hill rose for the shot. Hill made one of two free throws, and Memphis did’t get off a shot on the other end.
Forcing Overtime in Utah
Here we have a the forefather play of the the version we saw in Miami. This set came in the closing seconds of a game in Utah that was played just five days after it was used to win in Memphis.
The difference is that Paul George doesn’t run along with West to set the fake screen. As he did against Miami, he relocates earlier to the left wing and West waits a beat before coming up. But Utah defends the initial action well, as Al Jefferson sniffs out the action and stays home in the paint to prevent Hill from getting a good try at the rim.
Like in Miami, Hill makes a somewhat blind pass to George in the corner, but this was also an inaccurate throw. George can’t catch it cleanly. Fortunately for Indiana, the refs called Demarre Carroll for a foul as both he and George tried to grab the bouncing ball. George went to the line and knocked down the free throws.
Pacers force overtime (but lose, badly, as they played like garbage for the next five minutes).
Some Thoughts on the Xs & Os
This is a clever play that has now worked three out of four times (though the Jazz instance was essentially luck so let’s call it 50% successful, which is still pretty good). It uses misdirection and has generally confused both Hill and West’s defenders.
But both times when Hibbert’s man has stayed home, the play has gotten blown up more or less. By putting George in the far corner and relying on a screen to free him to get there (especially now that he is a scoring star and guys like LeBron are laser focusing on sticking to his hip) is asking quite a lot. If Hill is shut off from taking the layup, the pass Vogel is asking him to make to the weakside corner is very difficult. In the clips above, he makes it successfully zero times. In the Utah set, Hill probably would have been better served by trying to kick it back to David West, whose man was lost, but this is also asking a lot. Hill weights 37 pounds, presuming a cheeseburger dinner, and he has all his mass racing towards the cup. To slow that and make a strong, accurate pass out to the opposite wing would be difficult for LeBron let alone someone with Hill’s physique.
Ultimately, it is a cool, well-designed play that gives Indiana two good options to score. And that first option is a layup, which is a pretty good shot to get. Unfortunately, we have seen twice now that the second option may be better in design than it is in execution. When they can’t get Paul George open in that corner and the big man doesn’t allow him to get to the rim, things have gone south pretty quickly.
It will be interesting to see if they run this one again this season. And if they do, if any other wrinkles are added.