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Oklahoma City Thunder: The art of defending the pick-and-roll

by Berry Tramel Published: June 2, 2012

Basketball has a ton of undiscovered statistics. Or at least unpublicized. For instance, we now know how many pick-and-rolls the Spurs used in their 120-111 thrashing of the Thunder in Game 2.

Ninety-seven. At least that’s how many Kendrick Perkins said the Spurs used, and Perk got his info from Scotty Brooks’ staff, which I assume knows because it charted them. And of those 97, Perk said, 73 were picks on Russell Westbrook.

Think about that; 73 times in a 40 minutes, 38 seconds, Westbrook was screened or had to go around a screen. That’s a lot of bumping. That’s a lot of fighting. That’s a lot of movement, independent of all the other movement Westbrook has to make in a game.

Even if Westbrook had been doing a decent job of curtailing Tony Parker, that’s reason enough to give some relief with Thabo Sefolosha dogging Parker instead. Brooks indeed moved Thabo onto Parker for Game 3, and the results were splendid for the Thunder. A 102-82 victory in which the Thunder played much better defense and Westbrook was free to focus on offense and playing the passing lanes on defense.

“They’re running him off a lot of screens and a lot of pindowns, and we’re asking him to control the team on the offensive end,” Perk said of Westbrook. “I know Russell is a special talent as far as his athleticism, but that’s a lot to ask out of a guy for 48 minutes of running through screens and the way (Tim) Duncan set good picks and stuff like that and Parker running around. That’s a lot to task out of him. I thought it was a good adjustment that we made by putting Thabo on him and by taking a lot of the pressure off Russell.”

Brooks’s first response to questions about Westbrook was “Perk better stop giving you all our figures. That’s meeting room only.” Then Brooks turned serious. “The coverages, it helps when you have different guys on different players. If you’re a point guard in this league, you have to set the offense up, get everybody involved. On defense, you gotta be able to guard pick and rolls. It’s always good to have everybody taking cracks at the good players. You can’t have one guy on a great player, give him the same coverage. They’re going to tear that apart.
“I thought Thabo did a good job, when we did have Russell on ‘em, James on ‘em. We had the other guys on ‘em. You’re going to have to do that. (Manu) Ginobili and Parker are the best penetrating decisions-makers in the league. And they do it where you don’t think they have opportunities to score or pass, and they make those passes every time.”

Brooks said Westbrook was “the guy who was a big part of the win. I know Thabo had an amazing effort and made shots and did so many great things, (but) Russell really controlled the tempo of that game. He got us easy looks, and he got us shots when we needed them. There were two or three times where they got on a little mini-run. Then we always countered with a great shot, great pass or a great setup. I thought Russell was really good. His defense was good on (Danny) Green. His defense was good in the team concepts. Russell, I thought he had a terrific game moving the ball. He didn’t shoot the ball as well as he’s capable of doing. But he really did a good job just controlling the tempo, being a great floor leader.”

Here’s another inside-the-game revelation from Perkins. Brooks didn’t call for total switching or automatic switching. He asked his big men to call out the switches. When they felt comfortable, call for a switch.\

And Perk said the switches worked best late in the shot clock. In other words, with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock, he was likely to call for a switch, which would give Parker or Ginobili less time to attack the quickness mismatch.

“Coach said we could read it, and during the switch we just had to guard our man and try and do the best that we could do so they contest the twos,” Perk said. “It was just late shot clock. It wasn’t that it was just Ginobili. It was just late clock. You get tangled up in the screen and whatever. I think for Ginobili, he do a great job of stringing the bigs out when he comes out on the pick and roll. So he kind of forces you into it.

“We played better as a team. I thought everybody was tight on the string. Everybody did their job in pick and roll defense. We talked about coverages. Everybody did what they need to do.”

Watch that in Game 4 Saturday night. See when the Thunder switches on screens. The later in the shot clock, the better.


by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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