Tactics Breakdown - Hapoel U-NET Holon V Lenovo Tenerife
BILBAO (Spain) - The feeling of inevitability continues to roll on for this Lenovo Tenerife team as one of the feel-good stories of the season came to an end for Hapoel U-NET Holon. What promised to be a battle between the two premier point guards in the Basketball Champions League, was exactly that. Marcelinho Huertas ended with 17 points and 9 assists, whilst Joe Ragland battled for his 22 points and 5 assists. In fact, possibly as we might have expected, the way that both men went about their business also made for some of the more tangible tactical narratives to follow during the game.
If we look at the video below we can see the absolute core of the problem that any team faces when they play against Tenerife and in particular Huertas and Shermadini in the pick-and-roll. If you try to hedge you leave yourself open to Huertas hitting Shermadini on the short roll and then you need to leave a shooter like Salin, Wiltjer, or Sastre open when you rotate to help on the big Georgian. If you drop and try to cover the action 2v2 until Huertas' defender can recover back in front, you can't stay too long or Shermadini will get behind the drop and Huertas is throwing lobs to him. The choice that Holon made to start this game was to try and drop but stay so deep that the lob wasn't possible. The problem with that is you leave yourself at the mercy of one of the Huertas' mid-range scoring and decision-making. Not a good place to be.
And last night the Brazillian was not in a charitable mood. Time and again he punished this coverage in the first half by knocking down jumpers and shooting the patented one-leg runner
"We are happy because we controlled the game, the players made a very good game plan," said Tenerife head coach Txus Vidoretta in the post-game press conference. And clearly part of that plan was to try and get the ball out of Joe Ragland's hands.
Watch the clip below from early in the first quarter. As #20, Hayden Dalton comes to screen for Ragland, Shermadini stays to trap Ragland with Huertas. The rest of the Tenerife defenders zone up behind them and they are clearly prepared to allow #0, Steve Zack to take a floater from the free-throw line.
Against a player like Joe Ragland, however, no plan is going to work every time and especially when, as he described after the game, his mentality coming into the game was "It's winning time".
The first set in the video below is from Holon's "Head" series and on this occasion, #10, Guy Pnini sets a screen for Zack to try and prevent a hedge or a trap when he goes to set the pick-and-roll for Ragland. Then, this option in the series involves Pnini setting the back screen for Zack's defender to make it a "Spain" pick-and-roll. Ragland isn't hanging around though, he forces his way around the outside of the hard hedge and gets downhill to the rim. In the second clip, Tenerife use a flat hedge on the screen as Ragland's defender goes under the screen. In a normal mood, this might have been the end of the action as no advantage was created but Ragland was not in an ordinary mood. He waits for his defender to rush under the screen and uses it as a mini closeout then just burns by him.
In truth, Tenerife were in control for almost the entire game and even if the scoreline never ballooned to large leads, the tempo and rhythm of the game were never uncomfortable for the Canarias. In Particular, Huertas was playing the game at his speed and taking what was being given to him. In the two clips below we see more punishment in the pick-and-roll and perhaps more concerning for Holon was that he still found a way to get Shermadini going with an easy pocket pass.
Eventually, Guy Goodes was forced to adjust as they couldn't get any kind of grip on the rhythm of the game. As we can hear in the video below during the Holon timeout, the decision was made that they needed to "Hedge Out" and start forcing Huertas to make some different decisions. In the clip right after, the first hedge did lead to the ball leaving Huertas' hands and being turned over by the next pass.
On the other end, Tenerife were only increasing their aggression in the trap against Ragland as he was the only Holon player to really get going in the first half. Whilst it may look like a win for Holon in the first clip below (because they scored), Tenerife would have almost certainly preferred to see Michale Kyser taking a jump shot as opposed to allowing Ragland to get downhill and throw those lob passes the two of them love to connect on. The second clip was right at the end of the half and just when Holon were managing to hold the lead to 6 points and stay well within touching distance.
Much of the third quarter followed a similar pattern although for the first time Holon actually won the quarter 18-17. The major positive for Holon was that their adjustments - especially in the pick-and-roll - were starting to slow Tenerife down offensively.
In the first clip, we see Kyser and Chris Johnson switch the pick-and-roll between Huertas and Shermadini. Johnson, despite recovering from a shoulder injury in the first half, handled Shermadini as well as anyone has all season, and Tenerife were forced into a shot they didn't want. The second clip wasn't as successful as they tried to hedge and instantly regret it as Huertas finds Shermadini on the roll for the 3-point play.
It was the switches that ultimately became Holon's first real grip on the game. Goodes found his switching lineup with Ragland, Menco, Johnson, Pnini, and Kyser. Two straight possessions ended with Kyser and Johnson handling switches against Shermadini and Huertas.
And their first lead of the game finally arrived late in the fourth quarter with the same "Spain" pick-and-roll from their "Head" series.
Disaster struck when Chris Johnson fouled out chasing an offensive rebound and then got a technical foul for the reaction to the call. At the time it felt fatal as it completely removed Holon's ability to continue with the switching defense that had enabled them to wrestle control of the game. However, an Adam Smith jumper got them back within a point and the game was still on. But they were forced into an even smaller lineup with Ragland, Smith, and McGee all on the floor, with Dalton coming back into the game after 17 minutes on the bench to play the small-ball center. Tenerife are as good as any team in the world at the game of adjustments and after Huertas rejected a screen to get to his spot (one of his spots), they went into Wiltjer in the post. Once he drew the foul and knocked down the throws, that really was all she wrote.
Tenerife move on to the final where they will face a familiar foe in Manresa. The big challenge now will surely be about who can win the recovery battle. Tenerife have older legs but more experienced habits when it comes to managing their bodies. Maresa have the youth and energy on their side but most have never been in this situation before.