We all know how deadly that Miami Heat defense is against pick-and-roll ball handlers. Per mySynergySports, the Heat allowed handlers to score just 0.69 points per play (PPP), best in the league. They also forced turnovers on 30.9% of plays ended by a pick-and-roll ball handler with a shot, foul or turnover, far and away the highest mark in the league. The Heat are able to do this by playing an extremely aggressive, trapping style of pick-and-roll defense that takes advantage of their athleticism both on the perimeter and along the back line.
Let’s look at how they defend one of those speed pick-and-roll handoffs Milwaukee likes to run. Here, Brandon Jennings comes off a down screen from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the baseline to get the handoff from Ersan Ilyasova at the elbow. The route he optimally wants to take is highlighted in green. The whole point of these speed pick-and-rolls is to give Jennings (and Monta Ellis) an easier time getting into the middle of the court, where they can put more pressure on the Miami defense.
Instead, Jennings bends his route too far outside and receives the hand-off at the three point line. It’s much more difficult for him to turn the corner and pressure the middle of the court from here, especially given the trap LeBron James and Mario Chalmers are about to set for him.
Look at the difference in space between where Jennings wanted to end up and where he actually ends up. The Heat trap forces him almost all the way to half court, where he is absolutely zero threat to the defense. LeBron has more than enough time to recover back to his man, and Jennings is forced to swing the ball to the opposite side of the court to Monta Ellis. Ellis doesn’t catch the ball until there are only 7 seconds left on the shot clock, and by the time he gets a screen from LARRY SANDERS! there are only 4 seconds left, so he just pulls up for a contested three.
That wasn’t the only time the Heat forced a pick-and-roll ball handler out toward half court, where he was in no position to seriously threaten their defense. In the first video here (the one linked in “wasn’t the only time”), Jennings is trapped by Norris Cole and Chris Bosh, but he keeps his dribble alive and is able to fire a bullet pass to Sanders along the baseline. Even if Sanders hadn’t dropped the ball out of bounds, Miami’s rotations were on point and would have kept him from an easy shot. Shane Battier was right on him before he even caught the ball, and both Bosh and Dwyane Wade had passing lanes cut off on the back side.
What the Bucks ideally want to see is something like this. Jennings comes off a high screen from Sanders and actually has some space to work with, so he immediately puts pressure on Birdman by taking it to the basket. He doesn’t get all the way to the rim, but he creates space for an open jumper with a step back, and he casually knocks it down before Cole can recover to him.
Of course, it’s not that easy. Sometimes, even when Jennings is given space, he willingly does what the defense wants him to do.
Despite the odd camera angle here, you can see that Jennings has a nice amount of space to work with after he comes off the high screen. However, rather than pressuring the defense by attacking the lane as he did above, he simply dribbles himself into a difficult step back jumper. This is what you deal with with Jennings as your point guard. (He thinks) he’s more shooter than slash and kicker, so he’ll often settle for a less than optimal possession when the opportunity is there to create something better.
By the time Game 3 ended, Miami had held Milwaukee pick-and-roll ball handlers to 2-for-11 from the field and forced two turnovers, for a total of just 0.43 PPP, two-thirds of their league-leading season average. The series will likely be over soon, and it’s really all but over already, but if Milwaukee wants a chance to steal a win and make it a gentleman’s sweep, they’re going to have to get more effort and more pressure out of their guards on the pick-and-roll.