The Sixers held Derrick Rose to 18 points on 17 shots (and three free throws) last night. In the second half, Rose scored 3 points, didn't hand out a single assist and turned the ball over three times. Rich takes a close look at how Jrue Holiday's phenomenal play at the point of attack completely took away Rose's right hand while the rest of the team shut down the lane behind him.
The Chicago Bulls are a very good team, a top-level championship contender. There will be no disputing that in this post. They have last year's MVP in Derrick Rose, the Coach of the Year and a defensive mastermind in Tom Thibodeau, and a bunch of other talented players who know what their role is and perform it to perfection. They are deep, energetic, and just downright good. There's also one other thing that needs to be noted about the Bulls now: Just like a number of other teams that were dismissed as bad (Well, because a lot of them are), they walked into the Wells Fargo Center last night and were handed a one-sided double digit defeat.
Really, the only thing a lot of people would say that separates the Sixers from teams like the Bulls is that elite player, however vague of a term that is. There's no need to get into a whole argument about that line of thinking right now, but one of the many things that needs to be highlighted from last night's game is the pretty ordinary game the Bulls got from their superstar. Specifically, how did the Sixers do that? The answer is two-fold: Great team defense and a terrific effort from a single player, Jrue Holiday.
The Sixers are pretty well equipped to guard people on the wings if they want to with a world-class defender in Andre Iguodala and a guy who flashes a lot of potential on that end of the floor in Evan Turner. Many have noticed one trend this year with Iguodala, namely that he has trouble with the smaller players as he has already struggled to varying degrees against Andre Miller and Deron Williams, coincidentally coming in the Sixers' only two home losses. He guarded Rose for a few possessions in the second quarter last night and Rose got into the lane pretty easily, so you can add Rose to that list. It just seems like these guys who can get to the rim have a low center of gravity on their drives, and that sort of neutralizes his length. This isn't really a slight against Iguodala, as not many people can keep Rose out of the paint at all, but the Sixers fortunately have a guy who does a better job than most.
Brian noted the other night that Deron Williams struggled against Jrue and I sort of argued. The numbers don't usually lie (Williams shot 6/18 against Jrue than night), but I felt that Williams missed a couple of easier looks that he usually makes. In hindsight after watching last night's game, it's probably time to start giving Jrue the benefit of the doubt when it comes to defending point guards. His ability to move his feet is another weapon the Sixers have used this season. Last night, he showed that he has the combination of physical and mental ability to be a great defender.
Specifically against Rose, Jrue had a two-part plan to limit the damage. The first thing he did was play him very aggressively. If there's one thing that's tough to do against a lightning quick guard like Rose, it's to make him uncomfortable running offense. He's improved his jumper a lot since he got into the league, but making him a jump shooter seems to be the common belief on how to limit his scoring, or at least make him get to whatever number in more attempts. That is not at all what Jrue did last night, picking him up intially well outside the three-point line. Jrue wasn't putting relentless ball pressure on Rose forty feet from the hoop, but he was bodying Rose up a couple of steps outside the three point line, not letting Rose get too comfortable in initiating Chicago's offense. There's no way anyone in the NBA can harass Rose, but Jrue at least was a nuisance.
The other thing that Jrue's aggressive defense showed is that Collins' schemes and the Sixer big men have Jrue's trust. The idea of steering an offensive player to the help can be overused at times, especially when a team has a great shotblocker (Every time Dwight Howard blocks a shot isn't because a defensive player "steers" someone to him. They often play aggressively and get beat, knowing they have that strong line of defense at the rim). In the Sixers' case last night, they did actively steer players. Collins had one of the big men, usually Elton Brand, stray from his man to provide a roadblock for Rose to the lane. In the picture below, Brand's man is Carlos Boozer. Look at where he is, at the foul line, inviting the pass to Boozer. On the play, Rose makes the correct decision and hits Boozer with a bounce pass that leads to free throws, but the picture gives you a look at two things: 1. How aggressive Jrue was outside of the three-point line, picking up Rose and 2. How Rose was staring at EB all night, right in his path, whether he was at the top of the key or the left side of the floor:
The picture also demonstrates the second part of what Jrue was doing. He completely overplayed Rose to his right hand all night. Look at that picture again and notice where he's playing. Jrue sent a message from the outset of the game that if Rose were going to go by him, it would have to be around the left side. If you play Derrick Rose straight up or lay off him, he will go around you with his right hand, and he will more than likely score. He just will. I saw this when Rose scored 8 of his 17 points last night in the last 3:14 of the first half. There is a pretty easy explanation for this: Jrue Holiday left the game with two fouls with 3:14 and Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner were put on Rose. Neither of them, plus defenders in their own right, followed Jrue's blueprint of taking away Rose's right hand. Two of the made baskets were drives where Iguodala and Turner tried to play Rose straight up, instead of aggressively taking away his right hand. Here they are:
I emphasize aggressively because that is what worked so well for Jrue. It seems a little counterintuitive to basically invite a player like Rose a path to the hoop, but you have to give up something when cutting off half of the floor. Jrue was playing Rose in a way that he couldn't get back to his right hand at any point unless he was able to back dribble and create some space because he was literally guarding Rose's right hand, staying right on his hip. With Jrue's ability to ride Rose as soon as he put the ball on the floor with his left, Rose wasn't able to completely get by him until he needed to get a shot off near the rim, and at that point he's unable to cross over. Even in some cases where he does get past Jrue, which is going to happen with a guy like Rose, they aren't straight line drives. I really like this play where Jrue gets "beat" by Rose. Rose gives a pretty good hesitation move and heads to his left. The beauty of this is that even though he shakes Jrue initially, Jrue recovers and takes away the angle so that he can't get into the paint at all. He ends up having to take a long step to just get by Jrue and because of this, he takes off outside of the paint from a long ways away from the rim. This allows Brand, even at his age, to become a shotblocker and start the break for Iguodala. So maybe Jrue doesn't even get beat at all here, because he knows he has help if he can keep Rose out of the paint:
The Bulls love to run screens to Rose's right to get him going in that direction. Jrue overplayed these as well, forcing him to get back to his left. In this video coming up, Jrue used the same principles he tried to use all night, keep him away from his right hand. At the foul line are two Sixers' big men in Brand and Tony Battie, really guarding nobody and ready to help. Rose badly wants to get to his right and Jrue dekes him, sort of overplaying the middle drive for a second and then quickly beating him to the spot so he can't get around the screen. He guesses right and Rose runs right into him, crashing into Jrue (and Noah), coughing up the ball to Jodie for a Jrue dunk on the other end:
Watching Jrue's defense turn into a weapon has been a pleasure for all of us who knew he had it in him since he was a rookie. As Doug Collins has made stopping the ball screens a priority this year, he's really flourished.
Now of course, everyone contributed last night: Iguodala was the best player on the floor. Brand struggled shooting but made a major impact on the defensive end and on the glass. Battie gave the Sixers 15 minutes of good defense. Jodie knocked down a three even though he struggled. Turner (defense and passing) and Lou (scoring) ignited the team. Thad was his efficient self. Lavoy Allen gave them a really solid 15 and 6, and is proving that he is not the worst player in the NBA as ESPN ranked him. The Voose, who is healthy and who played well during the year, can't get off the bench now because Allen (the 6th big man when the season started) is playing so well. Heck, Jrue had a really nice offensive game too. His defense is only a piece of the puzzle.
Now obviously it's a lot of fun to root for the team that is trying to prove the general logic wrong that you can't win without a dominant player. Teams have won a fair amount of regular season games solely by defending and sharing the ball, but they are usually first round fodder in the playoffs. All we'll hear all year until the playoffs from other sources (In our heads too, probably) is that the Sixers won't be able to do anything significant without a superstar. The question they've raised in their last two wins against Orlando and Chicago is, "What if the Sixers consistently turn the other team's star into an ordinary player?"
The thing I love about these last two games is that the Sixers limited a dominant point guard and a dominant big man. We all know they have an antidote for the dominant guys who fit in the other category.
Speaking of dominant wing players, we'll see how they deal with the Heat on their second go-round. I've heard they have a couple of those guys.