How the Bulls and Raptors Used Different Plays to Accomplish the Same Goal
With 15.1 seconds remaining in overtime in their game against the Chicago Bulls, the Toronto Raptors had the ball down by two points with a chance to tie the game.
Point guard Jose Calderon was the trigger man taking the ball out of bounds, while DeMar DeRozan spaced the floor in the far corner, Kyle Lowry lined up just outside the paint and Amir Johnson and Ed Davis stationed themselves just above the free throw line.
Once Calderon received the ball, Lowry came around a staggered double screen from Johnson and Davis designed to create space between Lowry and the man covering him—Luol Deng, who also doubles as the best perimeter defender on the Bulls. No doubt the Bulls wanted Deng to cover Lowry because Lowry is Toronto’s best off-the-bounce creator, and thus was the most likely candidate to get the ball in this situation.
Calderon inbounded the ball to Lowry as Lowry moved toward the near side. Then, using a hand-off as a clever bit of misdirection, the Raptors were able to get Deng to switch onto Calderon and Calderon’s man—Marco Belinelli—to switch onto Lowry. The Bulls didn’t know it yet, but the Raptors had already accomplished the most important goal of the possession—getting a subpar defender to switch onto Lowry.
Calderon took the hand-off from Lowry and dribbled around a pick from Davis near the top of the key. Because Deng was thrown slightly off kilter by the hand-off play, Carlos Boozer had to momentarily step into Calderon’s driving lane as Calderon came around the Davis screen. This in turn led Belinelli to drop into the lane to protect against Davis’ dive to the rim for just a split second, but that turned out to be a split second too long.
When Calderon wheeled around the shuttled the ball back to Lowry on the wing rather than driving the lane or hitting Davis on his roll, the Bulls defense was already beat.
Lowry caught the ball on the wing against Chicago’s weakest perimeter defender on the floor, who was on the move and closing hard. All Lowry had to do was put the ball on the ground and he was already into the teeth of the Chicago defense. Though Boozer got a hand in his face and gave a valiant challenge, Lowry’s floater dropped straight through the net to tie the game with 8.7 seconds remaining.
On the other end of the court, the Bulls lined up with Belinelli as their trigger man, and Deng, Boozer, Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson all bunched up near the free throw line.
The Bulls, like the Raptors on the previous possession, used a bit of misdirection to get their best perimeter creator the ball in a position to get himself a look at the basket.
First, there was the decoy route. Robinson came up toward the top of the key, flashed toward the inbounds man as if coming to receive the pass, but then continued on his way and cleared out to the opposite corner. While he was doing that, Deng was coming off a brush screen from Noah designed to get him the ball above the top of the key.
Once Deng caught the ball, the Bulls spread the floor for what looked like an isolation clear out for Deng against Landry Fields. Robinson was in the far corner, Belinelli on the near wing, Noah in the short corner on the near side and Boozer spread out wide at the opposite elbow extended.
As Deng dribbled above the top of the key, Boozer ran over as if he was going to screen for Deng in a pick-and-roll. But Boozer was only feigning the screen and continued across the court. This was decoy number two.
Deng dribbled hard and directly at Boozer as he was coming across to set the fake screen. Doing this enabled him to put Fields on his hip just as he crossed the three-point line. At this point, Chicago was going to get an open look at the basket no matter how the rest of the play played out.
If Deng turned the corner and beat Fields off the dribble, Lowry would have to crash down into the lane to guard against Deng getting to the rim, which would mean an open corner three for Robinson.
Instead, Deng stopped on a dime and pulled up short, sending Fields flying past him and creating enough space to take an 18-footer from just below the elbow. Nothing but nylon.
Two subtly different plays that nonetheless had the same goal in mind: to get the best perimeter shot creator on the team an open look at the basket. Toronto and Chicago employed two different strategies to accomplish that same goal, and for each of them it resulted in a made basket. In the end, it was another tough loss for Toronto in a season seemingly full of them.
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