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Bubble observations: Mavericks look for familiar shot in attempt to force overtime

Milwaukee Bucks v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Last week, we took a look at a familiar play the Milwaukee Bucks ran in a game in the bubble in an attempt to force a game with the Brooklyn Nets into overtime. In that piece, we focused on play design.

On Tuesday, the Dallas Mavericks needed three points to force a potential overtime in an eventual loss to the Portland Trailblazers. The play was unsuccessful, but that should be no surprise as it is an incredibly tough thing to execute from a time-and-score perspective.

Let’s take a look at what Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle drew up and compare that to what Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and staff did in similar situations this season.

In these situations, although I’ve not seen a statistical analysis, many NBA coaches look to draw up a play to produce a shot in the near corner — meaning the corner near the point of the inbound pass. That is precisely what Dallas was looking for here, as seen above.

It appears that former Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is the first option and Luka Doncic is the second. Each received a screen from Maxi Kleber to create a passing lane for the inbound passer, Dorian Finney-Smith.

The execution is solid but, in the end, Hardaway ends up missing wide left.

It seems Portland was prioritizing defending a Doncic shot attempt, which appears to have been well anticipated by Carlisle. After all, many teams draw up plays designed for their best player in late game situations.

Early in the season, Atlanta needed a three-pointer to force an overtime during a home game against the Toronto Raptors. In this case, Pierce opted to not focus on a play that would lead to a shot in the near corner.

In the play seen above, it seems the goal is simply to allow Trae Young to create a shot off of the dribble. With 4.5 seconds on the game clock, there is plenty of time to allow Young to look for a reasonably confident shot, considering the circumstances.

In these situations, coaches have a philosophical decision to make. Do they draw up their best play for the scenario? Or do they simply ask their best player where they want the ball?

In the former scenario, coaches may want to use their best player as a decoy of sorts, as seems the case in the Mavericks’ example.

When your best player is, like Young, an undersized scorer, some coaches just want to ensure he is given the space to operate. Considering the Raptors defensive length, that could have been the thinking on this play.

This example doesn’t produce the most make-able shot. But, there is nothing wrong with giving Young these repetitions from which to learn and grow.

In this example, three points are needed on the play to tie a game with the Los Angeles Lakers. There is more time with which to work, but the Hawks looks to attack quickly.

Here, we see a play designed focused on the near corner. Young inbounds the ball to Vince Carter, then gets a screen from Alex Len with the objective of freeing up the point guard for a shot from the short corner.

It doesn’t work out, however, as Lakers coach Frank Vogel has his longest defender, Anthony Davis, defending Len. That makes him available to help on Young as he comes off of the screen.

Carter is able to get downhill and kick the ball to Cam Reddish for a desirable shot, even though the results were not as desired.

In the most recent example of a similar situation, the team ran, by all appearances, the same play they deployed against the Lakers.

Young inbounds the ball to Carter. John Collins is the screener in this case. Cleveland defends the primary action well and denies Young the corner.

In this case, Young shows that he has a counter and reverses path to lift into a dribble handoff (DHO) with Carter. However, the Cavaliers are switching everything and Young has little room with which to create a shot.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Pierce approaches these situations from a philosophical standpoint. Will a shot for Young be the priority in all cases? After all, he is the team’s No. 1 offensive option, best overall player and, very likely, Atlanta’s best tough shot maker, especially from beyond the three-point line.

On the flip side, will they use the defensive attention allocated to Young to create a shot for a player with a higher release point, and thus harder for the defense to contest?

For example, the final play outlined above had an option for Collins that might have been viable after the defensive reaction to Young, and it might have produced a relatively valuable shot.

As for the bubble, coaches tend to save their best score-and-situation plays for the postseason. So, it could be fun to see what they have in store as the playoffs get started next week.