This is how the Wizards stunned the Magic at the buzzer
How did the Wizards complete a lob in 0.8 seconds to beat the Magic? We break down Randy Wittman’s play design.
If that stunning Bradley Beal game-winner to beat the Magic looks familiar, it should. On the surface, it’s just like Memphis’ play to beat the Kings earlier this season, except without all the controversy about the clock starting. A ton of setup motion led to a guard going towards the rim for a lob, and the defense was horribly behind on the play.
But this game-winner was a bit different. The Grizzlies got Courtney Lee backdoor by pretending like he was screening for a big man at the top of the key (Marc Gasol), then slipping him behind a painfully-unaware Rudy Gay and Jason Thompson. This time, the confusing two-man action was between two wings (Beal and Paul Pierce) and relied less on trickery and more on a much simpler concept: misdirection.
If you watch closely, the Wizards essentially ran two plays that connected to each other: a fake play and a real play. The fake play involved two-man action between John Wall and Rasual Butler at the opposite elbow.
The point here is to occupy Elfrid Payton and Willie Green while giving the Wizards another option if the primary play didn’t work. Yet it proved to be significant in aiding the primary play, as we’ll show below.
The primary play is a Paul Pierce screen to curl Beal into the lane and towards the rim.
Here’s a zoomed-in version:
Many teams switch every screen in this situation, but Tobias Harris curiously stays with Pierce instead of picking up Beal. It’s unclear if this was the plan from the huddle or if Harris didn’t execute properly — the Magic didn’t switch the “fake” play, so I figure it’s the former — but the theory behind switching is to prevent exactly what ended up happening: Oladipo getting hung up on Pierce’s pick and losing Beal in a dangerous area.
Let’s now take a step back. Remember the “fake” play? Smartly, Butler hasn’t stopped his cut at the hoop. He’s instead heading for the corner three, which distracts Green, his man, for just enough time to prevent him from rotating to stop a Beal lob. This is the genius of the play design: it forces Green to make a difficult split-second decision. Indecision causes him to make the wrong one.
It’s a jumping contest from there, and while Oladipo is a far better athlete than Beal, he’s ceded too much of a head start and is getting too little help from Green. Well done, Randy Wittman.
A couple additional thoughts:
- We’ve yet to mention Andre Miller, who ensured the success of this execution with a perfect lob pass. But he’s been throwing perfect lob passes for years. We should expect nothing less from Professor Miller.
- As with any game-winning play, this succeeds through a combination of great execution by the offense and a poor job by the defense. We covered two Magic mistakes — not switching the initial Beal/Pierce action, Green being distracted by a less dangerous threat in Butler — but it’s also worth second-guessing the decision to put the long, athletic Dewayne Dedmon on the ball instead of near the rim. Coaches often put long players on the inbound passer to distract his vision, but it’s hard to distract a pro like Andre Miller. Perhaps Dedmon would have been better served near the rim. (Easy to say in hindsight, I know).
- A common criticism of defensive strategy on plays like these: why not just play zone and park players near the rim? The short answer is that coaches loathe giving up any shot in 0.8 seconds, which is plenty of time for a semi-open catch and shoot from the perimeter. But it’s worth noting the Celtics went zone in a similar situation in a recent game and prevented any shots from getting off. Perhaps more coaches should be open to that approach.