How the Lakers Beat the Hawks: The Evolution of a Defensive Stop

Darius Soriano —  March 4, 2013

Last night’s win over the Hawks was both frustrating and exhilarating.

Watching the Lakers commit careless turnovers and have stalled offensive possessions in the process of giving up a 16 point lead was worthy of multiple anger induced curse words. Watching Kobe close the game with a monster dunk and a tremendous finish over one of the best wing defenders in the game was worthy of multiple celebratory curse words. And, in the end, since a win is a win we’ll all likely just remember the final Kobe plays, add them to our catalogue of memories of why we love him and move on.

But the end of the game also featured a couple of defensive possessions that were key to how victory was decided. After all, the Lakers only needed that last Kobe lay in because the Hawks scored on a fantastically diagrammed action. And Atlanta only lost the game because when running the same exact play for a second time they couldn’t get the bucket. So, rather than just file the end of this game under “Kobe was awesome” let’s take a look at those final defensive possessions and how the game was put in danger only to then be sealed with Steve Blake’s steal.

Before we get to the final plays, we require a bit of backstory. In the 4th quarter one of the ways the Hawks were really hurting the Lakers was by running Kyle Korver off pin down screens to free him up for jumpers. Korver scored 7 of his 16 points in that final 12 minutes by using a lot of the same plays the Celtics would run for Ray Allen (or the old Pistons would run for Rip Hamilton). Korver would start on the wing, run to the baseline and either continue in the direction he was running to receive a screen or reverse course and come off a pin down to make the catch so he could get off a jumper. Running this action freed Korver up for several jumpers and the Lakers were having trouble defending it.

One of the defensive counters to this play, however, is for the man defending the screener to step out (or “hedge”) towards Korver to either disrupt the pass or to make Korver hesitate on his shot until the defender chasing him can recover back to the ball. Of course, Korver understands that this type of defensive adjustment is coming and, when seeing the extra defender step out towards him, knows to try and hit the screener with a quick pass. (As an aside, if this play looks familiar it’s because the Jazz used to run this same action for years with Korver and Boozer under Jerry Sloan in his Flex offense). Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Korver has already walked his man down to the baseline and has decided to come back in the same direction he came from to receive a screen from Johan Petro. You see Jodie Meeks is in a trail position and Earl Clark looking at Korver as he approaches the pick.

Korver 1

When Korver comes off the pick, Clark hedges out — leaving Petro in the process — to try and either tip away the pass or to disrupt Korver upon receiving the ball. Korver, however, recognizes Clark’s attempt and after making the catch immediately touch passes to Petro who is wide open going towards the rim.

Korver 2

Here’s how the play happened in real time with the result kind of funny, at least for Lakers fans since, well, you’ll see:

Petro’s miss and Josh Smith’s airballed put back attempt aside, this play went exactly as planned. The Lakers had to overcompensate for Korver’s shooting ability by hedging hard on the screen and after a nice pass they got two point blank shots at the basket.

Now, fast forward to the end of the game. It’s the Hawks ball with 33 seconds left, they’re coming out of a timeout and looking to score the go ahead basket. As an aside, here’s what I tweeted right before this play:

We pick up the action with Korver already along the baseline and in a position where he’s setting up the pin down screen that Al Horford is going to set:

Horford 1

Korver comes off this pick, but the real design of this play is to set up Horford slipping this screen to get a shot right at the rim. The Hawks smartly, and maybe because of how Clark played the screen earlier, knew that if Horford quickly darted into the paint he’d be wide open:

Horford 2

Lo and behold, Horford was wide open. Here’s how it looked as it happened and notice how Dwight, after the dunk, motions to Ron as if to say “I was stepping out to help on Korver”:

Fast forward to the Hawks next possession and they again find themselves down by one after Kobe hit that fantastic lay in. What do you think the Hawks are going to do? If you answered “run the exact same play”, congratulations you deserve a prize. Except this time they switch up the action by having Josh Smith set/slip the screen:

Smith 1

Using Smith as the screener turned out to be a smart play because it put a different defender who wasn’t involved in the action before (in this case Kobe) in a position to guard the slip. Kobe, as you can see, was not prepared:

Smith 2

Whoops. There’s goes Smith, wide open, cutting to the rim. However, even though Kobe wasn’t prepared, Ron and Dwight Howard were. In the still above, you can already see Ron eyeing Smith cutting to the rim. And, if you look at Howard, you see him ready to pounce as well. They both reacted well:

Smith 3

As you can see, Ron did well to disrupt the pass just enough to make Smith bobble the ball. And with Howard bearing down on him as well, Smith had no angle to shoot and instead forced a pass that Steve Blake picked off:

The anatomy of these plays show how the Lakers, though seemingly caught sleeping were able to evolve and show enough awareness to make the game clinching play. Give the Hawks credit for executing well throughout the game and playing to their strengths while preying on the Lakers’ aggressiveness. They used Korver brilliantly as a scorer, then as a passer, then as a decoy to set up their final possessions.

But on the play that sealed the game, it was the Lakers most aware defensive players — Ron and Dwight — who saved the day with quick, instinctive reactions. Ron especially deserves praise here as he was excellent in slowing Korver down the stretch — post game D’Antoni said Ron came to him and said “I’ll take Korver” down the stretch and praised his defense to limit him in the final minutes — and showed great awareness when leaving his own man to bother Smith and helping to force that turnover.

Darius Soriano

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to How the Lakers Beat the Hawks: The Evolution of a Defensive Stop

  1. Great breakdown, I was at this game, they really were breaking down a lot on defense last night, that play before was clearly Dwights responsibility to stay with screener who slipped to basket, they weren’t even setting great screen for Korver on the run-out. Dwight on the other hand has so much room to improve on the screens he sets on the offensive end and he has to learn how to set multiple if one doesn’t work, that is what was freeing up Kobe for the great penetration last night.


  2. I could be mistaken, but I thought that Artest tipped Smith’s pass before it basically just dropped into Blake’s hands.


  3. Brian,
    You could be right. Difficult to tell on the replay that I had. It is clear that Ron’s recovery influenced Smith’s ability to hold the ball cleanly, though.


  4. nice post


  5. Damn Darius.
    Great Breakdown.

    My 11G daughter is a great 3pt shooter for her high school team…
    I need to make sure to send this link to her high school coach to help free her
    up for some clean looks. LOL

    You da man D.


  6. There are at least 20 P&R that I could remember the Hawks played to near perfection. This is supposedly what a coach is hired to do — designing plays. And the analysis presented here is what a defensive coach is supposed to do. There are a few things troubling here:

    1. I can’t remember one Lakers P&R that is by design. Lakers either rely on Nash’s instinctive P&R, which is much easier to defend and often ended up in turnovers these days, or rely on Kobe’s heroic magic acts, which he is still capable of delivering at this age, but not if the opponent is Thunder, Spurs, or Heats.

    2. It does not seem to be any recognizable defensive scheme against these 20 or more P&R by the Hawks. As you said they often ran the same play over and over again. And only broken up near the end almost by accident.

    3. The Hawks PG can take Nash anytime they wanted, and there is “nothing” he could do about it. The situation is so bad that I would suggest Nash stay three steps away from the opponents. Why three steps towards the basket? Because he is always two steps behind in action.


  7. darius: in keeping with last night’s los lakers theme: pensaba que mi cabeza iba a explotar anoche y yo se decir malas palabras en 7 idiomas.

    translation: thought my head was going to explode last night and am fluent in cussing in 7 languages. so what else is new, right?

    como decir? thought i’d pee my pants when kobe was clearly fouled on the wrist but the call was that he touched the ball last: atlanta ball.

    i mean you play an entire game and the refs spend an enormous amount of time looking at the replay on a monitor screen, never mind that they ignore their ignorance and look solely for possession. tres ratones ciegos
    in search of a brain. loco en la cabeza. think everyone knows that one.

    sige haciendo buen trabajo (keep up the good work)

    Vamos Los Lakers


  8. Another Great Breakdown. I hate to be so critical all the time but some elementary mistakes are made time and time again. Lakers lucked up on the 1st one when Kobe left Smith to contest no one backed him up and Smith missed a shot that players make all the time. The 2nd one Dwight Howard this year is on full display missing assignments and blaming a teammate for his obvious mistake. No one, other than Kobe, will get on him though because they want him to come back next year. The last one Hawks ran the same exact play and Lakers lucked up the ball wasn’t in a passers hands. Smith was open the pass was late. All the plays have Korver coming off screens which is a big part of Hawks offense. Therefore these defensive breakdowns should be avoided because the coaches scout these things and tell the players what to do pregame. But here the Lakers are again getting fooled on plays they should already know are coming. I remember Dave McMenamin found another team’s scouting report pregame and posted it on espnla. Hope a reporter gets there hands on one of the Lakers to see if any defensive schemes are on it.


  9. Can anyone explain why Nash is on the floor with 9 seconds left for a defensive stop?


  10. BleedPurpleGold March 4, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Ya watching luke?!? Hes in beast mode right now….11mins 9dimes… always good2see him play well, still have loads of sympathy 4 him


  11. @Nate

    Its like you’re asking why is Dwight in the game on the line. Teams may implement the Hack A Dwight strategy.


  12. 1 main reason the Lakers are winning these days:
    Mr. Kobe “The Warrior” Bryant.

    The Warrior is going to need a lot of help on Tuesday if we are to beat a Thunder team who will aim to destroy us quick and early wanting revenge.


  13. Rusty Shackleford March 4, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    Great question Nate. I don’t get that either. Only his free throw shooting from an intentional foul after a missed shot comes to mind but he’s not a good rebounding point guard either. My guess is that he’s D’Antoni’s guy and that’s about all there is to it.

    How much value has Earl Clark provided the Lakers? Since Jamison has found his role so has he.

    Jarret Jack is a free agent after this season and I highly doubt Golden State is going to pay a backup what he will has earned for himself this season.


  14. Kevin: I agree with you that we should be able to avoid many of these breakdowns. If R Westbrook blows by someone or KD simply is too good for someone to cover, then that is talent, and you can blame it on age, lack of quickness, or just a roster that is not good enough. When it comes to basic coverage on PnR, helping the helper, and allowing simple pop outs for wide open three’s – that is due to lack of appropriate schemes, lack of team defense, and/or lack of desire. In football, sometimes the corner can’t keep up with the wide out due to talent. Other times it might be a blown coverage and the guy is wide open. The Lakers have what is effectively a large number of blown coverages. Add our turnovers to this mix and I guess we should be thankful we are not in the NFL.


  15. On the other game, Luke Walton is balling at Cavs-Knicks game.

    I guess his back is OK?!


  16. Jazz down 10 after 3 in Milwaukee


  17. Robert: because we’d be the eagles, right?

    Looks like Jazz are about to win a game that they probably should’ve lost meaning Lakers need to do the same tomorrow. Another thing LeBron is the most demonstrative player in the league showing up the refs surprised he doesn’t get more technicals.


  18. The Jazz game just went to OT, Kevin_.


  19. Looks like the Jazz will lose again.


  20. After acquiring Dwight and Nash this off season, along with Meeks and Jamison on the cheap. Resigning J. Hill, while also being able to maintain Pau; never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would be scoreboard watching, at the beginning of March none the less, in order to see the final results of teams such as Houston, Utah and G. State. All of this for the sole purpose of seeing whether we can secure a 7th or 8th playoff seed .. Start of April, checking for the end results of squads such as OKC, San An or Mia is something that I figured I would have been involved with. For obvious reasons. But with the reality that we’re facing right now, all I can say is .. Damn!


  21. Here is whats good about the various recent losses by GSW, the Rockets and Utah. This is a very rough way of looking at it, but overall the Lakers are 7 games behind in the loss column to the three teams (2 behind Utah, and the Rockets and 3 behind GSW). Utah, the rockets and GSW have 4 games amongst themselves which means 4 losses amongst those games, and the Lakers play the Rockets once and GSW twice. So if they win those 3 that makes up the seven. Point being, essentially this is already in the Lakers hands to win or lose. Obviously, some additional losses by the teams they are chasing would only help.


  22. that is due to lack of appropriate schemes, lack of team defense, and/or lack of desire.

    Partly. It is also due to having a roster of mostly old, slow guys with lateral movement issues and no game-changing great defensive players, now that Howard is no longer in that group. What happens with Howard a lot is that his lateral movement is so compromised that he winds up out of position, or recovers late, or can see a mistake he needs to cover for but can’t get there, and then turns around and yells at somebody.

    Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think D’Antoni has done a very good job coaching the defense, but I think a lot of what looks like bad execution is old legs and balky backs.


  23. I don’t think we will catch Houston because they will move up, but I do think we will catch Utah. Houston just got better by acquiring Aaron Brooks, the one thing that does concern me is the lack of big men compared with the top teams remaining on our schedule (with no Pau and Hill).


  24. actually I thought those were major defensive lapses and the Lakers were lucky with the bobble on the last play. Guess if you put up video you can spin it any way you want.


  25. Troll man

    Thought I was the only one who saw that. Dwight got beat bad on first play and Clark on the other. 2inches off on pass and it was over and a terrible defense effort. Perhaps the coach might consider putting someone younger then 39 at the end. Both passes might have been made a bit harder to throw..

    Still a bad defensive team with zero help from the bench at end of games.


  26. Warren Wee Lim March 5, 2013 at 1:55 am

    Utah lost against Milwaukee which was an unlikelihood. Seems to me that the stars are aligning for us to make the playoffs. For what is another story, getting there is where the fun is.

    We go to Oklahoma tomorrow and this is the game that defines us if we’re worthy to be making the playoffs or just better off resting in the off-season. Here’s our sked till end of March:

    @OKC – w
    @NOH – w
    vs TOR – w
    vs CHI – w
    @ORL – w
    @ATL – w
    @IND – w
    vs SAC – w
    @PHX – w
    vs WAS – w
    @GSW – w
    @MIN – w
    @MIL – w
    @SAC – w

    I dunno with you but it seems to me that OKC is the only real test (@IND too maybe) among the next 14 games. 12-2 and I’ll be happy. During which I can see Utah going 7-5 at best, and realistically at 5-7.


  27. Warren Wee Lim March 5, 2013 at 2:00 am

    April is a much tougher proposition. But if we indeed go 12-2 for March, we’d have enough momentum to carry to April and through our Cinderella finish. All for Dr. Buss.

    vs DAL
    vs MEM
    vs NOH
    vs GSW
    vs SAS
    vs HOU

    April holds 8 games, but 7 of them will be played at Staples. IF we indeed go 12-2 for the rest of March, then we will be hot. You can pretty much book a 7-1 finish as well.


    Who’d have given us a chance to win 49? This will be the toughest (and most fun) 49 wins of our history.


  28. Warren–

    At NOH is going to be tough because it is the second of a “back to back” with OKC

    Chicago, even in LA, will be tough, if for no other reason than Thibs always seems to have a good gameplan to slow Kobe down, both in BOS and now in CHI

    At ATL and IND will be tough games–LA struggles against teams that play quality defense (see CHI above)

    At GSW has the potential to be a tough matchup if Curry is still killing it. Do you think he won’t score 30+ on Nash? And Jarret Jack always plays well against the Lakers

    Two against SAC would be “penciled in wins” for most teams, but LA has struggled against that team, especially in Sac-town.

    In short, I hope you’re right, but 7-7 isn’t beyond the realm of possibility either.

    You are right, though–this is the softest overall stretch of games LA is going to see–they have to make their move now, because games against SAS, HOU and at POR (the Rose Garden curse) lurk at the tail-end of the schedule


  29. Warren Wee Lim March 5, 2013 at 10:08 am

    I for one am not a dreamer. You may call me an optimistic realist. But these games I see can very well be the easiest anyone can ask for even with our noted brain farts against less-than-stellar teams.

    The Lakers are not out of it. Why we’d want to strain ourselves this much begs another debate. While it helps us keep Dwight (winning) we have to realize too that we can’t win it all this year. But it will make for a very good Hollywood story for sure.


  30. Tra: I have that very thought about 10 times a day (20 on game days).
    rr: I think we are close and only differ by degrees. We both acknowledge that the Lakers have some slow legs (especially defensively), and we both acknowledge that the schemes/chemistry/coaching are also lacking. We may differ on the amount pegged to each reason, but we certainly agree that the combination of the two is devastating, and not in a good way : )


  31. Warren: On one hand you are saying 19-3 is possible and that you are a “optimistic realist”. The optimist part I agree with : ) On the other hand you are saying “we have to realize too that we can’t win it all this year”. Not sure how both of those can be true : ) If we indeed did go 19-3 I think we would be capable of winning it all. Personally I would think we actually have a better chance to win the NBA championship, then we have of going 19-3 : )


  32. ““I was stepping out to help on Korver”
    Sure the Dwight bashing is dull at this point but it infuriates me when he is caught out on D & then angrily blames his teammates.