A full day has passed since our Charlotte Hornets surrendered a 23-point lead to the Orlando Magic and lost. Enough time has gone by for everybody to calm down and social sites to get over their radical ideas of firing coach Steve Clifford or trading Al Jefferson. Let’s break down what happened in that tragic fourth quarter and how we lost our big lead to Orlando.
For some the 32-million deal Channing Frye signed with the Magic seemed like a head-scratcher. However, as others have pointed out before me, there is plenty of logic in the addition of Frye. Frye is, perhaps, the best floor spacing stretch four behind the obvious upper tier (Nowitzki, Love and Ryan Anderson). Someone like that is exactly who the Magic need to put their young guards, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, in a position to succeed. Both Oladipo and Payton are questionable shooters who still need to establish their off the dribble mid-range shot (a necessary skill for ball handlers in the pick-n-roll) before we even get carried away with the discussion about their 3-pointer. Last year’s Orlando squad surrounded the rookie Oladipo in the starting five with blah floor spacers like Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless. Charlotte fans should know how hard it can become to score with two outside players who don’t threaten defenses from out far. That’s where Channing Frye comes in…
Look at these two late first quarter scores by Orlando guards and how much Channing Frye’s movement disrupts Bismack’s decision-making:
Frye’s shooting presence is so dangerous that Biz is mostly concerned with Channing rather than the upcoming drive to the basket. The second play is especially masterful with Frye getting in position to set a screen on the left side of Gary Neal. Neal, accustomed to Biz dropping back in almost all pick-n-roll situations, sets himself in a stance that allows him to evade the pick-n-roll and expects Biz to alter Payton’s path to the basket:
However, the second Bismack realizes that Frye is slipping the screen and popping back for a three-pointer, he steps towards Frye only to leave a lane wide open to the basket for Payton.
Fast forward to the end of the third quarter when all of this mess started… As previously mentioned in my “Maxiell vs. Biz” piece, Bismack isn’t savvy enough to step out to the perimeter on defense. We can have him closing down base-lines when “icing” the pick-n-roll but in general he lacks the IQ or, perhaps, experience to guard people out there. Not that it’s his fault as the Frye pick-n-roll is a tough dilemma, but by now we have him unsuccessfully hedging the Frye pick-n-roll. He gets back to Frye in time and prevents the possibility of a three pointer but doesn’t bother Payton’s progress:
Thus coach Clifford has his evidence that Bismack, even though he had blocked 6 shots at the rim, hasn’t got a place in this game anymore. I completely understand this move and agree with it. To start out the fourth quarter we roll out Jason Maxiell in Biyombo’s place. And this is were it gets iffy. I covered Maxiell’s general knowledge on defensive positioning in the a fore-mentioned “Maxiell vs. Biz” blog, however, also came to the conclusion that his body can’t execute all of his wishes. Here’s where I would have gone with Cody Zeller at the center position to guard Frye as his capability and improvement in perimeter defense has been noticed and noted in the week 1 blog.
Meanwhile, Jacque Vaughn went all out with the Frye pick-n-roll card in every possession. To up the stakes he gave Tobias Harris his rest and went small with Willie Green and Ben Gordon entering the game for the first time. Orlando has four guards and Frye on the floor, which means infinite spacing. Cody gets Evan Fournier as his match-up, falls asleep on the first play of the quarter and gets yanked for the more suitable Marvin Williams (of course, I’d rather gone with Zeller and Marv to begin with):
Kudos to Maxiell and Kemba for a somewhat successful coverage on the pick-n-roll though.
Of course, the Maxiell choice proves to be a train wreck afterwards. The next time he’s put in this situation he actually attempts an aggressive hedge, yet isn’t fast enough to get in front of Payton (nor would he be back in time to Frye if Elfrid somehow had attempted that pass). The “five out” line-up allows the Magic to get an open three-pointer, despite the efforts of Gary Neal and Marvin Williams:
We follow this up with two horrific and unnecessary transition defense breakdowns. First, Neal gives up an and-1 to Ben Gordon and then Kemba’s overzealous drive and fall leave us scrambling while being 4-on-5. Ten point game:
A small departure before the next clip. Remember, how some Hornets fans (talking to the RealGM audience now) unnecessarily got upset over Lowe’s comments on Kemba’s defense? That the perception of him having trouble against bigger point guards is over-blown and that at the end of the day there isn’t anybody out there who would really hurt him with his size. Well, guess what. This will happen from time to time. Frye and Payton have chemistry problems on the execution on this pick-n-roll but Payton has no trouble going to work on Kemba with four people spread around the perimeter. Hold this thought…
At this point I think it’s safe assume that Clifford ordered the bigs to hedge the Channing Frye pick-n-rolls. Bismack got stuck in no man’s land in the first quarter and evidently that was a problem so I assume he made that change during half-time considering that both Biz and Maxiell hedge during this stretch. Now, Maxiell does do a good job at it during these two plays. The first time he should have forced a turnover (the referee mistakenly gave the ball back to Orlando), the second time is an example of how that tactic can get you burned. Nine point game:
However, now I have to admit that even if the Frye pick-n-rolls did open up the game, we shouldn’t have lost a 20-point lead either way. It was a great move by coach Vaughn and he did get us in a spot where we, honestly, might not have an answer (I wish we saw Zeller on Frye though, in my opinion, our best option). But as much as that got Orlando back in the game, the play of our guards also helped them. Here’s Hendo getting beat one-on-one by Fournier and Kemba irrationally double-teaming (even after Clifford emphatically had us “digging” on those pick-n-rolls from the strong side, instead of the weak side, all first half long, probably because of Vucevic’s lack of passing ability):
Unfortunately, at this point it’s just a comedy of errors against the usual Magic starting five line-up (notice it already being on the floor on that Kemba double). Here we “ice” the pick-n-roll, yet no one boxes out Vucevic:
That gets followed up by Lance swiping at the ball and thus allowing his man to get by, Neal getting faked out by Gordon and losing his position and then Lance making the same error on Willie Green. Three critical fundamental errors by our guards on simple one-on-one defense. Tie-game:
This tragic comedy ends with the rookie Elfrid Payton taking advantage of his size on Kemba Walker and Magic already moving in front of us in the game. Surprisingly, I can’t even blame Al’s defense in the first two plays. You can see how harmless is Vucevic in the place of Frye as the screen setter as Kemba can freely go under his screens. He lacks the size to contest the first shot though and for some reason doesn’t contest Payton’s jumper in the second play. I don’t want to berate Kemba Walker on that missed box-out at the end, since it seems like such a random play to happen in that situation, however, at the end of the day it’s his fault as well:
To shortly sum up, I don’t find this game indicative of a larger picture problem. I enjoyed Lance distributing the ball on offense and I thought we did get good shots all game long, even in the fourth quarter (it’s hard to attack for a team like us when you give up 41 points in 12 minutes). I’d rather call this a random blip of a tough match-up in Frye and freaking Ben Gordon and Willie Green stepping up. However, we definitely should be monitoring the defensive play of certain guards in the future as I was displeased with Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson and Gary Neal on defense down the stretch.
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