All season long, David Thorpe has been talking to me about which teams are playing good defense. It was his first question when we all started watching games back in the pre-season, and it's his most pressing concern now.
Of course it's no secret that the Cavaliers were on that list. When healthy, the conversation starts with the Celtics.
But many times over the last several months, Thorpe has praised various aspects of how the Magic, Rockets, Lakers and Nuggets defend, too. It's probably no surprise that those teams are all very much alive and kicking in the playoffs.
One of Thorpe's points was demonstrated in two separate plays last night. It's a sign of a well-coached defense. And it goes like this:
When a defense has given up a shot, everybody's postions change. Defenders crash the boards. The offense prepares to spot up, get back on D, or grab the offensive rebound. And if the offense does get the ball, they have a brief advantage because of that -- the ball is typically near the hoop, and defenders are scrambled all over the place. Very commonly the offense has a nice choice between going right up with the rebound for a putback, or kicking the ball out for an open 3.
Last night, Thorpe says he saw the Magic's J.J. Redick do something uncommon. As soon as it was clear that Boston had secured an offensive rebound, Redick sprinted to find his man, shooter Eddie House, who was wide-open and spotted up at the 3-point line. The Celtics weren't even looking for House yet. Redick made sure they would not find him open.
"A lot of defenders would consider it their job to get to House as fast as possible once he caught the ball," says Thorpe. "But Orlando had the best-rated defense in the regular season because they do smart things like getting out there before he could even catch the pass."
In the late game last night, Thorpe noticed Houston's Shane Battier doing the same thing several times.
"Sometimes, when a shot's coming off the rim, you'll see Battier sprinting across the floor for no apparent reason," says Thorpe. "But as the ball is rebounded, and the team looks for scoring options, you'll see he's in place to stop a pass to a scorer that most of us couldn't have even imagined a few seconds before."
This particular move -- getting to the shooters quickly after an offensive rebound -- has a limited effect in most games. But to Thorpe's eyes, it's a tidy sign of a defense that is being driven by active minds.