After Thursday night’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks, I said the Blazers looked “prepared and cohesive” with regards to their defensive game plan, particularly involving Dirk Nowitzki. Because of this, they not only held him to 13 shot attempts in 41 minutes, but limited their good-look sacrifices to Dirk’s teammates as well.
Now it’s time for some show and tell. Jimmy brought his frog, Susie brought her dad’s Ken Griffey Jr. autographed baseball and we brought some defensive possessions of one of Portland’s best wire-to-wire defensive games of the season. Let’s take a look.
Defensive Possession One: We’ll start things off early in the first quarter. It’s not a great defensive stand, but it does show the Blazers being aware of what the offense is doing early on in the game. Watch which way their heads are looking, and how far they sink in the middle to be ready to help.
Just before Andre Miller gets picked off by Dampier, everyone is in ideal help position. You would like to see Camby show a little more, as in jump out and meet Butler coming off the screen, but Butler passed it off quickly and Camby stays with him in the post as Miller recovers. This is the correct decision. Dampier gets open on the elbow extended but, that not being his range, has to take a dribble and a Rudy-floater in the lane with Camby sliding in front of him. Good example of giving the right attention to the right people.
Defensive Possession Two: Fast forward a couple minutes to the 7:33 mark of the first quarter. Like the previous possession, the defense isn’t flashy or overly fast, but it’s effective as it forces Dallas’ weakest ballhandler and perimeter passer in Haywood to make a play on the ball while the Blazers deny the passing lanes. Watch LaMarcus stay with Nowitzki along the baseline while continuing to look for the ball.
I counted about three touches for Dirk with his back-to-the-basket on LaMarcus in the entire game. The Blazers didn’t want him working in that situation, so they deterred Dallas from that option, fronting Dirk for most of the night. They did it here and Haywood threw the ball away. The other Blazers forced that pass, though, first with Miller denying Butler on the left wing, then with Batum denying Kidd behind the play. Dallas’ wasn’t smothered, but with Haywood controlling the outcome of the play, they made him very uncomfortable.
Defensive Possession Three: Things can’t be all sunshine and daisies. Here, the defensive attention to Dirk ends up hurting the Blazers and giving Dallas an easy two.
When Barea gets the ball back from Marion up top, watch Juwan Howard slide over to get in position to defend the lob pass with Dante Cunningham denying Dirk from the front. This leaves Brandon Roy with Haywood and Marion around the foul line, so Roy stays with the closer man to the play, Haywood, as things develop. Rudy then gets picked off by Haywood with Roy in position to help on Barea. Here comes the breakdown. Jerryd Bayless, with everyone rotated a man to the right, has to choose between Marion near the rim and Terry in the corner. He chooses neither, shuffling his feet out of position on the right block as Marion gets behind him for the dunk.
While this is nitpicking a little, Bayless’ best play would have been to bump Marion and then run out to Terry to prevent the corner three. By hedging in the middle, he wasn’t indicating to his teammates which man he was taking care of. Would Juwan Howard still have been late getting over to Marion? Possibly. But the communication has to be there.
Defensive Possession Four: Midway through the second quarter now. This time Dirk gets open on the right side after a tough-to-read movement from Dallas, with Dirk taking advantage of Haywood pick-and-rolling to the bucket. But Martell still plays Dirk as the Blazers have all night, fronting him, and the second Dirk puts the ball on the floor Aldridge is in front of him and Martell is on the side with Juwan covering for Aldridge by ducking into the middle.
With the rotations to Dirk, the Blazers were out of position on the pass. In other games this would have meant an easy dunk or layup for Marion as he cut down the middle. Here, despite Howard being a tad slow, they still get one man up to stop the straight-line drive, and then Aldridge comes over off Dirk to contest the shot.
Defensive Possession Five: We’re at the 2:35 mark of the second quarter now. I show this play to you for one reason. Try and guess it.
After running down on offense, with a loose ball situation in the backcourt, the entire Blazers team gets back and find their men within moments of Dallas recovering. Again, something that doesn’t happen every night with this team. Juwan’s foul on Dirk was a little silly, but considering Dirk was probably about to pour out a vial of doom on Howard, it might have been a good play.
Defensive Possession Six: Now we’re getting into the really good stuff, beginning at the 8:00 mark of the fourth quarter. Highlight Aldridge here.
LaMarcus puts a body on Dirk as he moves to the right side, fronts him, deflects the pass and then fronts him again. Better yet, he finishes the possession with the rebound. Someone send Aldridge a box of Belgian chocolates for his work on Dirk. While the overload to Dirk’s side left Marion free for a jumper, that play happening is as much a result of Jason Kidd throwing an excellent pass than anything else. Roy still slid over to protect the drive.
Defensive Possession Seven: At the 4:40 mark of the fourth now, and this is Portland’s best sustained defensive effort of the entire night. Highlight Rudy.
Rudy starts by hedging on to Kidd after a screen, then shows help again as Kidd shifts momentum back to the right. Rudy is out of position now on Terry, but both he and Roy race out to Terry on the pass in a convergence of sprints. Roy gets there first and Terry passes off, so Rudy then sprints back into the corner to cover Roy’s man. End Result: a 30-footer from Jason Terry and Blazers ball.
This, my friends, is the type of defense the Boston Celtics won a championship with two years ago. Everyone is covering for one another, which is good, everyone has the freedom to be aggressive with confidence in the help defense, which is also good, but as Rudy showed there, they weren’t depending on the help, just rotating and rotating to the open men until the play is over. This is great.
We’ve said all year post-Oden that the Blazers are an offensive team without the defensive consistency to hold leads with. Even with Marcus Camby giving everyone a boost of “I got your back” confidence, this statement has often held true. Thursday night, against Dallas, that statement was completely false. Do we now hold them to this high standard? That would be a mistake, as Portland just hasn’t shown the ability to replicate such performances three or four times a week. But if the Blazers are playing defense like this consistently, then we’re talking about them winning a playoff series.
Blooper Reel: I just thought this was funny, because Dirk sets an epic fail of a moving screen and finishes it off with a half-hearted little shove on Rudy. Tsk tsk, Dirk.