If you were like me and you watched the Thunder lose to the Raptors on Sunday, the final four possessions offered a bit of a litmus test as to how we evaluate successful plays. The Raptors ran two set plays for Leandro Barbosa, and came away with two clean looks that ended in a 3-pointer to tie and a point-blank lay-in to win. The Thunder ran a set play for Russell Westbrook and a final second play for Kevin Durant and both missed, resulting in the Thunder loss.
NBA Playbook's Sebastian Pruiti takes a look at the Westbrook shot and breaks down exactly how the Raptors defended the play:
Be sure to click over to see screen caps that break down the play. You can watch the full sequence here:
A few additional comments below the fold:
- The strategy is subtle but I think unmistakable - the coaches had done their scouting homework. This was not a final shot possession, so the odds that someone other than Kevin Durant taking the shot were higher, and the guy most likely to be taking that shot was Westbrook. The Raptors staff knew this, and decided that this was a preferable direction rather than giving even a struggling Durant an open shot.
- Since the Raptors knew that Westbrook might get the call, they played their defense precisely to funnel the shot into his hands and not Durant's. They did this because Westbrook as of late has not been finishing plays at the rim and because his medium range jumper is still suspect.
- From the Thunder's perspective, the play was obviously designed to create a two-for-one situation - get a shot up quick to prevent the Raptors from running out the clock on the other end. Because of this scenario, I don't have a problem with the quick shot or the lack of any passing. What I do have a problem with is Durant's terrible attempt at a screen. While the Raptors did defend well, it was made far easier by Durant not offering any resistance at all to prevent Jose Calderon from running under the screen. Perhaps this was to prevent a chance for an illegal screen call, but even just a half-second of token resistance would have taken Calderon out of the play.
- Even WITH the proper defensive strategy called, Westbrook still had a very good look at the front of the rim. Calderon's ability to stay in the play and Amir Johnson's rotation to the lane to stop Westbrook were just enough to make him double-clutch the shot and leave it short on the rim. Even so, it was still a good offensive set and a makable shot. The defense offered just enough resistance to change Westbrook's shot from a short pull-up jumper or a clear path to the basket, to one that got challenged by one of the Raptor bigs. It was just enough to prevent the score.
- If the same situation arises in the future, I'd still be very comfortable with the Thunder play. I'd just like to see Durant make a better effort at the screen, because it forces the defense to react instead of allowing them to dictate where the shot goes.
- If Westbrook had made the shot, would this defense still be considered "perfect?"