Welcome students. This exercise will be my chance to use my average basketball mind to explain the actions of elite players. Hopefully in a way that’s easy to digest, like a basketball smoothie. Not a smoothie made out of a basketball… Whatever, you get it. For this shiny, brand new, first installment, we will be looking back at Friday night’s game between the Indiana Pacers and the Orlando Magic. True marquee teams, I know. The Pacers are the second seed in the East, while the Magic are in 10th, so the Pacers were clearly favored to win. However, it took overtime and a clutch shot in the final seconds from Malcolm Brogdan to put the Magic away. The Magic were leading in overtime right before this play, which we will now take a look at (9:02-9:11 in the video):
Domantas Sabonis gets the ball at the top of the key to start this action. Remember, this is the end of overtime. Already, I see one issue:
Evan Fournier is recovering towards Brogdon, a 42% three-point shooter, but then he stops and sags towards Sabonis. I think that is too much space based on how quickly a pass could get to Brogdon. Still, there is some explanation for this. At the end of regulation, Sabonis got the ball in almost this exact spot, drove towards the basket, and scored over Nicola Vucevic, who is also guarding him here. That tied the game and sent it to overtime. So perhaps Fournier is thinking if he hedges, it might discourage that. Plus, the Pacers only need a two to win. Even though Brogdon was only 1/4 from three at that point, you gotta know who your man is.
The next thing that happens is Sabonis kicks the ball out to Doug McDermott, a dangerous shooter in his own right. Terence Ross of the Magic tries to steal the ball. A valiant effort, yet an unnecessary gamble because now he’s in a terrible defensive position. McDermott moves against Ross’ momentum putting the Magic in a rough spot:
This moment in time shows just a few of the challenges. (The letters match up and everything!)
A. Vucevic has dropped to cut off Sabonis’ drive and be ready if he rolls to the hoop, but he’s a step away from contesting any action at the top of the key.
B. McDermott is using a Sabonis screen, blocking Ross from being able to fully recover. He can pull up above the foul line for an uncontested jump shot. Or…
C. This may have been what Fournier was worried about. He is in a good position to slide over to help on McDermott. Unfortunately, if Fournier slides over, Brogdon is even more open and McDermott just has to kick the pass out. Which he does.
For Brogdan, that is essentially a wide-open shot as he has a clear line of sight to the basket.
Now for some backseat driving—or more affectionately, Cody’s Coaching Corner.
How should the Magic have played this? As I said, Fournier was in a tough position once McDermott turned that corner. For me, it’s an issue of initial positioning. If Ross gets that deflection, he’s a hero. He didn’t. Now every link in that chain is strained. If he stays home on Dougie McD without lunging for the ball, he can contest the pull-up jumper possibility by fighting over Sabonis’ screen. Then Fournier can take that extra step back towards Malcolm “The President” Brogdon. At least that way it is a tougher shot and you are playing the percentages. It is very hard to reign in that instinct if you think you can grab a steal. This play starts with 8 seconds on the clock. While that is an eternity in basketball time, it does create a high-pressure situation for the offense. The important part to remember is that you are playing with the score and the clock in your favor.
And shout out to TJ McConnell:
That’s a joke. What he is doing is actually spacing the floor. If Sabonis had decided to drive like he did in the 4th quarter, TJ’s defender would have had an equally hard decision to make as Fournier. Also, after the shot, TJ dives towards the rim for an offensive rebound opportunity.
Which brings me to my final, and most obvious, point. Sometimes the shot goes in. After this made three, the Magic called timeout. They had two seconds to work with to try to hit their own game-winner. Their play was a mess; however, Fournier did get a shot off at the buzzer that missed. If you keep watching the video, you’ll see that it was jumbled from the start and he had no rhythm after his pump fake. If his attempt lands? I’m doing a breakdown of that play instead. Sometimes the shot goes in. Sometimes, it does not.
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