The Portland Trail Blazers have a lot to clean up in Game 2 versus the Pelicans if they want to even the series. The first and most glaring part is pretty simple: They need to make shots. Some of this is just stuff like C.J. McCollum going 7-of-18 from the field. Some of it is redistributing spot-up shots for Evan Turner to better locations.
The Blazers defense overall was effective, holding the Pelicans to 98.6 points per 100 possessions. However, there’s a tactical issue they may face more and more as this series goes on, and they need to be wary of it.
Stop, drop and roll
This season, the Blazers have defended the pick-and-roll in a consistent, disciplined manner. They drop their big, most notably Jusuf Nurkic, sending the guard over the screen to recover, and they keep their shooters home. This has made the Blazers one of the league’s best at defending spot-up shots, as their wing defenders are always home to contest.
Their weakness is in giving up shots off the dribble to the ball-handler coming off the screen. The lob isn’t as much of a concern because Nurkic is big enough to maintain space between the ball and the roll man. And most guards aren’t good enough to make you pay coming off that pick. At least in the regular season.
That’s proving to be an issue against the Pelicans, and could be a bigger one going forward.
Let’s start with the mid-range jumper off the pick and roll with guys like Holiday and Ian Clark:
And then there’s the Davis problem. The other counter to this coverage is to have the screener pop instead of roll. It puts Nurkic in the uncomfortable position of having to reverse, then go back forward to close out, which he’s uncomfortable doing.
Here, instead of the roll being in front of him, Davis hesitates and gets a running start. Nurkic tries to cover that ground and, well, Anthony Davis is Anthony Davis:
Davis can also just hit the jumper off the pop as well:
And so, of course, Nurkic is forced to adjust, and when he does, the opens up the driving lane for the guards, even Rajon Rondo:
Watch what happens when C.J. McCollum (top middle of the screen, #3) starts looking at Davis. His man, Mirotic, cuts under and gets a bucket:
Holiday ranked in the 68th percentile for scoring out of the pick and roll as the ball-handler. Stuff like this floater helps.
There are adjustments the Blazers can and will make; again, the offense was a bigger issue than the defense in Game 1. They can switch, they can rotate harder. (That requires more second and third rotations, which is dangerous, but you do what you have to do). Getting Mo Harkless back (eventually) will help.
But this individual quirk of how the Blazers guard the pick and roll (which is similar to what the Raptors and Celtics, other top defenses do) opens up the opportunity for the Pelican guards to get loose again in this series. If you want to know how the Pelicans’ scoring chances are going, you can start with how this pick-and-roll coverage develops
Top photo: Anthony Davis (23) and Jusuf Nurkic.