Saturday night marked the return of Steve Nash for the Los Angeles Lakers, just one game after Pau Gasol made his return. In a thriller of a game, the Lakers prevailed 118-115, in overtime. Things weren't always smooth or easy for L.A., but they once again came back from behind in a game they spent being outplayed. In overtime, the Lakers looked to using the key for their offense, Steve Nash, and it worked like a charm. While not every play converted into points the sets they ran created great opportunities for the Lakers, and with a little more time and familiarity, show the promise of how deadly the offense can be in the half court as a team. We'll be breaking down a handful of plays from overtime, and then a bonus addition of an inbounds play the Lakers ran twice with two very different outcomes (the first time they ran it it turned into an easy dunk for Kobe Bryant. The second time? An even more potent result).
The play begins with Steve Nash at the top of the arc and Pau Gasol working for position at the elbow. Both Gasol and Dwight Howard are at the elbow, with the corners loaded, which is also known as Horns.
Nash gets the ball to Pau and moves off-ball into the key
Kobe Bryant cuts into the key with Nash setting an off-ball screen to free him up. Dwight keeps his man away from the rim just enough to create a pocket for Kobe to work into.
Pau delivers an on-point pass and Kobe is fouled upon catching the ball. Unfortunately it was a non-shooting foul, so it turns into a wasted play.
The Lakers again begin the play in Horns.
Again Nash gives to to Gasol to work at the elbow.
Instead of working around to Kobe to screen for him, Nash stops in the paint and sets a screen right on the back of Festus Ezeli. Klay Thompson is sticking to Kobe in the corner, giving Dwight a lane to cut off the screen.
Gasol lets the lob go from just inside the arc, but Dwight is unable to gather it up for the dunk. Another good play, but another missed opportunity.
The Lakers go back to the high screen with Nash and Dwight at the top of the arc.
Metta World Peace keeps Jarrett Jack in check, while Pau has David Lee's attention split. Curry is left behind Nash off the screen from Howard and Ezeli moves to stop Nash from penetrating. Howard is rolling with very little in front of him, aside from a tentative Lee and Klay Thompson has begun cheating off of Kobe.
The entire Golden State Warriors team collapses into the paint to stop the Nash/Howard pick and roll, leaving both Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant alone on the perimeter. While the pick and roll didn't create an opportunity for Howard to finish, it sucked in the defense and left the Warriors in a poor defensive situation.
Kobe catches and drains the long two. The defense is still completely collapsed.
With under a minute left and a four point lead, the Lakers continue to run the high screen.
Dwight immediately rolls into the paint, as Festus Ezelii again switches since Curry is left sucking vapors. Klay Thompson steps into the paint to stop Howard, leaving Kobe wide open in the corner.
Again, the entire Warriors defense is sucked in, leaving Kobe completely alone.
Kobe gets the ball but Klay Thompson does a good job recovering and forces Kobe to put the ball on the floor, which eventually turns into an isolation miss from Mr. 41 field goal attempts. Still, the space created off the high pick and roll with Dwight and Nash is astounding.
Clinging onto a 1 point lead and a chance to ice this game, with the success the Lakers have seen with the high screen from Howard and Nash, they run it again.
Curry again is left behind, with Klay Thompson starting to cheat towards the key as Howard rolls towards the rim.
The defense is again sucked in, but Klay Thompson begins to close out on Kobe.
With Howard putting a body on Festus Ezeli, Stephen Curry just catching up to Nash, and Klay Thompson committing to covering Kobe after the repeated kicks out to the wide-open man off the high screen and roll, Nash takes the shot that puts the final touches on Golden State.
As a bonus, we'll take a look at an inbound set from the Lakers they ran twice with great success. Both plays start the same, with Kobe inbounding the ball to Howard, and Nash in proximity. The secondary big, in this case Jordan Hill, is sitting at the elbow leaving room in the key.
Steve Nash steps into Kobe's man and sets an off-ball screen as Kobe begins to cut to the rim. Howard holds the ball just inside the arc. Notice that Meeks keeps his man out of the paint, and David Lee is unaware of what's going on as he attaches himself to Jordan Hill.
Dwight Howard delivers a great bounce pass to a cutting Kobe, and the screen sets his man way behind the play. David Lee begins to rotate, and Stephen Curry moves to stay in front of Jordan Hill.
Too little too late for Lee, as Kobe gets up for an easy dunk. Should Lee had successfully rotated to stop Kobe, Meeks was alone in the corner ready to catch and shoot.
Same opening as the prior inbound play broken down, this time at a critical point in the game. 33.9 seconds left in regulation and the Lakers down 1.
Nash again sets the screen to free up Kobe. David Lee is in position to make the stop this time as he's pulled completely away from Pau and is in the paint to make an easy rotation. Harrison Barnes is also aware of Kobe cutting, and begins to cheat away from Metta World Peace. Festus Ezeli does a great job of pushing Dwight completely out of position, as there isn't much he can do that far out from the arc.
Kobe is again set free from the off-ball screen from Nash, but with Howard so far out he is in no position to make the pass. Barnes cheats over even more, and Lee has now almost entirely moved his focus to rotating against the cutting Mamba.
Nash cuts around the front of Howard to bail him out of no-man's land (aka Chris Duhon's stomping grounds) as Kobe continues cutting baseline. Both Pau and Metta are in position to screen for Kobe as he comes around baseline.
Dwight begins his roll to the rim but David Lee is ready in the paint. Kobe is given the space he needs of the screen, but the high screen and roll from Nash and Dwight is out of sync as the Lakers try to recover the play.
Howard has options at the elbow. He can hit Pau in the key, who has a bit of space to operate. Kobe is open and has space to take a shot. Or, he can drive the ball himself with room to gain steam. Keep note of Metta in the corner, with Harrison Barnes diverting his attention over to Howard.
Dwight decides to drive into the paint himself, causing the defense to collapse once again. Metta slides out to the corner with Harrison Barnes over committing to stopping the drive and he drains a huge three that puts the Lakers up 2 in regulation.
These two plays both stemmed from the same exact inbounds set, which will undoubtedly become a pocket play for the Lakers to implement in critical situations (as this was). There are simply too many options, and too many threats, not to take advantage of the this play creates for the Lakers. The fact that this play develops so fluently after the first option of Kobe cutting baseline is diffused is impressive, to say the least.
The Lakers executed within the offense almost to perfection as the game concluded, despite a game in which Kobe Bryant took 41 shots and the referees spent the majority of the game blowing their whistle and removing all flow from the game. Even if plays weren't ended with an assist or field goal from Steve Nash it was clear that having him running plays out of the half court made for an incredibly dangerous offense. It isn't surprising to see perfectly placed passes out of the pick and roll from Nash. What IS surprising, however, is the use of Steve Nash as an off-ball screener. Multiple times it was a Steve Nash screen that created the space needed in these plays and it was highly effective.
With this being the true first game the team has played together with all of the integral pieces in place, the Lakers looked crisp down the stretch offensively. With a little time and more in-game repetitions, the work they put in through overtime is just a small taste of what may come for an incredibly talented lineup.
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