As 7-footer Andrew Bogut launched a three pointer on the Boomers’ first offensive possession Saturday night, New Zealand head coach Paul Henare leaned back and smiled.
After months of preparation, his plan was officially in action.
The pleasing thing for Henare was not that Bogut had launched the three, but why he’d launched it. The coach could see from that opening play that his players clearly understood the defensive game plan and were ready to implement it.
Switch the back-cut and dribble hand-off action.
It was a simple strategy – one that Lemanis picked up on straight away – but one which proved frustratingly disruptive to the Boomers’ offensive flow.
“They did a good job of getting us out of our rhythm there at times,” Lemanis said post-game when quizzed about Henare’s defensive schemes.
They sure did.
Possession after possession – especially early in proceedings – the Kiwis prevented Australia’s usual crisp ball-movement by switching that reversal action.
It’s such a key part of the Boomers offense; the big turning to reverse the ball, the wing back-cutting and the corner man lifting for a dribble hand-off.
It’s their default structure for moving the ball from side to side in the half-court. A staple of their regular flow offense.
Interestingly, it’s also what the Kiwis do, which is why Henare and his players were so locked in on how to disrupt it.
What made it so effective for the Tall Blacks, though, was that they didn’t just switch that action, they denied it. Playing high side of the back-cutter and, in turn, high side of the corner man, caused the ball to stick in the hands of the Australian bigs, 30 feet from the basket.
The pic below shows Jarrod Kenny switching off the back-cutting Matthew Dellavedova onto Chris Goulding during that opening play.Now here’s that play in full, as well as another example of NZ’s switches:
Lemanis spent chunks of his first few timeouts informing the Aussies about how New Zealand were defending that action.
“There were times when our rhythm got disrupted a little bit, so it will be good to be able to make some adjustments going into Game 2,” he told media post-game.
“I think that’s one of the impacts of having to bring some new guys in; that complete understanding of what your counters are. We hadn’t quite got there yet and we’ll be better for tonight’s game.
“Being able to have some preparation now, having an understanding of how they’re guarding us as well – we’ll be better prepared for that. In the end we found a way; we had 71 points and I’m not sure how many assists but certainly sharing the ball is an important part of how we play.”
There are a few possible adjustments the Boomers could make to these schemes.
One option is to pull the back-cutter straight up the middle. On the switch, his defender is now basket-side which allows him to sprint up the middle and catch a pass from the big with the ball. The opposite big then circles up for a high pick-and-roll while the opposite wing spaces to the corner (and the original big dives under the rim). This will be particularly effective if it’s Mills or Delly sprinting high and working the on-ball screen.
Another counter is for the big to simply skip-pass directly to the corner. If there’s enough separation and that’s Broekhoff or Goulding… three-ball corner pocket. If there’s no quick-trigger the wing will clear out and the big will step into some pick-and-roll action out of the corner.
A third possible counter is for that back-cutting guard to read the switch and head directly across the foul line from 45 to 45. The idea here is to create some separation from his new defender and for the opposite wing to space to the corner. Patty was clearly thinking along those lines when he was feeling it late in the 4th quarter…
The fourth option is to punish the mismatches that sometimes result from the switch. In a way, Patty did that in the clip above, scooting away from the slower Abercrombie to create space. Additionally, if that’s Newley/Broekhoff in the corner and Webster/Kenny switches on to them from the top, clear the back-cutter through and take those mice to the block. The bigger Aussie wings will then look to seal basket-side for some high-low action with the bigs.
There were a couple of other occasions where the switches worked against the Tall Blacks.
Here, Kenny thinks Brock Motum has the ball and is preparing for Patty Mills to back-cut. He’s thinking ‘cool, I’ve got Newley now.’ Uh oh…
Lemanis will adjust and Henare knows it.
That’s what makes the chess match between Games 1 and 2 so enthralling. Does Henare stick with what worked in Game 1 and challenge the Boomers to work their counters? Or does he flip the script entirely? Keep your eyes on that action.
The other main problem the Boomers faced on Saturday night was, of course, Corey Webster.
As we already knew, Webster is the key to the Tall Black’s success at the offensive end. He’s got NBA talent at that end of the floor and is absolutely oozing confidence right now. Like Nick Kyrgios’ yapping game, he’s in career-best form.
What makes covering Webster particularly difficult is how much of his team’s offense is designed around getting him open. His teammates are constantly reading and playing off him, looking for chances to get him separation from his man.
“There’s no secrets that our system is run, in large part, for Corey to get his looks,” Henare said post-game.
And no-one does it better than Mika Vukona. Honestly, if Corey lands an NBA training camp invite this year, he should try hard to take the vet along with him.
Meanwhile, the Webster/Dellavedova battle was enthralling to watch. It was Curry vs Delly all over again. That, of course, is a massive compliment to Webster but it’s fitting given his importance to the New Zealand team.
Delly worked hard to deny Webster catches on the wings and in hand-off situations, forcing other Kiwis to make plays.
“I thought for the most part we did a good job on him,” Lemanis said postgame.
“He’s a tough cover, he’s turned into a hell of a player and you’ve got to be committed to staying the course. You can’t take a second off with him.”
For all his impressive focus, Delly did lose him a couple of times – one in particular off an offensive rebounding situation – and, as Andrej explained, it only takes a moment.
“A couple of times we got caught on being late going under, getting clipped on a pick, just a little bit, and that’s all the time that he needs,” Lemanis said.
“But for the majority of the time I thought we did a good job of paying the attention to him that he deserves and forcing him to make tough shots.
“He’s going to make some but at that sort of percentage, I think that works in our favour.”
Where Webster fed, for the most part, was when a) Delly was off the floor and/or b) when Bogut and Jawai were involved in pick-and-roll situations.
As Andrew Gaze was starting to say after that first play, the big fellas have got to get involved. Webster eats those kinds of flat hedges for breakfast.
The issue for Lemanis, however, is that doubling or hard-hedging those actions is not really in either of Bogut or Jawai’s wheelhouses. They’re just not those kinds of defenders.
It’s why we’ll likely see some more of those smaller line-ups in Game 2 if Webster starts cooking. Andersen at the five and Bairstow/Motum at the four will allow for some far more aggressive help in those situations.
“We discussed it a lot in the lead-up to the game, depending on who you’re guarding just to lend a bit of a hand, so to speak,” Brad Newley said post-game when asked about Webster. “We could probably do a bit of a better job of that in the next match I think.”
- Were they playing with a brand spankin’ new ball on Saturday night? Watching the game back, we counted six separate occasions where it just slipped straight out of people’s hands.
- I’m not convinced that Bogut’s back is ok.
- Forget Mills & Boon, the modern day bromance is Mills & Jawai.
- If the boys can consistently replicate this kind of team defensive effort in Game 2, we’ll be on our way to Rio:
- Where have all the David Andersen haters gone?
- Abercrombie and Loe missed some really open looks late that the Aussies punished at the other end. Make no mistake, Game 1 was super close.
- Hats off to Basketball Australia.
- Lindsay Tait was good, but R. Te Rangi got the three votes for the Game 1 Haka.
- Patty Millions.
Thanks to Tom Hersz, Paul Vido and Tommy Greer for their assistance.