15 years ago today, the Utah Jazz swept the Los Angeles Lakers 4-0 and advanced to their second consecutive NBA Finals with a 96-92 victory in LA.
As discussed when looking back at Game 1 – the entire series proved to be a systematic dismantling of a 61-win Laker club featuring 4 all-stars and picked by virtually everyone to defeat the Jazz. No play, however, baffled the Lakers more than Utah’s vaunted pick&roll. Doug Collins once said, “The beauty of the pick&roll is you take what the defense gives you,” and there was no better display of that in Game 4. The Lakers tried virtually every possible way to defend screen-roll and Utah still found a counter to score.
Here we’ll break down the different ways Utah’s pick&roll dissected the Lakers’ defense.
#1. Nothing complicated here (6:05-mark). 2nd-year point guard Derek Fisher chooses to go under on the screen. As a result, Jazz point guard Howard Eisley simply pulls up and drains an uncontested three-pointer.
2-a: Here (7:23-mark) the Lakers build a wall and force Stockton away from the screen and towards the baseline. (Traditionally this is how Phil Jackson teams have defended side screen-roll – with their objective to keep the ball out of the middle of the floor and toward the baseline where they can smother it with their length.)
2-b: Stockton&Malone have seen this a few times. Stock probes toward the baseline to force the Laker big to help, and Malone reads the gap and automatically slips to the basket as Stock hits him in stride with a perfect pocket bounce-pass. The Lakers weakside defense has to rotate to Malone prior to the pass. Once Malone catches the ball barreling toward the rim it’s too late.
3-a: This (7:55-mark) is Utah’s side screen-roll they like to run directly out of their UCLA shuffle-cut. Laker bigman Corie Blount plays Malone tight and is ready to show-out on Hornacek (one of the best shooters in the league).
3-b: But the screen never comes. Hornacek recognizes Blount is over-playing Malone high, and a subtle nod has the Mailman slipping the screen and delivering a layup over weak-side help-defender Elden Campbell (circled) who arrives too late to prevent the basket.
4-a: Moving forward to the 2nd-half (9:22-mark) the Lakers adjust and trap hard on Jazz point Howard Eisley. Eisley reads this, and buys enough time backpedaling with the ball to give himself a clean window to split the double-team with a bounce pass to Malone (circled).
4-b: Once Malone catches the ball, the Jazz are playing 4-on-3. The Lakers rotate to Malone from the weakside leaving a wide-open Greg Ostertag (circled) diving to the rim.
4-c: Ostertag makes LA pay with the dunk.
5-a: In 2-a and 2-b we saw LA force Utah’s side screen-roll baseline. Knowing LA’s tendancies, here (9:35-mark) Malone steps up and screens baseline.
5-b: Malone picks off Eisley’s man (Kobe) and this forces Malone’s defender (Elden Campbell) to come up on Eisley. This gives Malone a wide-open lane once he pivots and opens himself up to the passer as he rolls off the screen.
5-c: Again this is an automatic pocket bounce-pass Jazz point guards have executed to perfection and Malone converts at the rim as the weak-side help arrives too late.
6-a: And finally, another side-screen roll (10:00-mark) but this time LA doesn’t force it baseline and allows Utah (Eisley w/the ball) to go middle. They also choose to stay with the screener (Malone), putting the onus on their weak-side defense to rotate to stop the ball. Kobe (circled) has to drop off his man (#34 Chris Morris).
6-b: Once Kobe made his rotation, the backside defender (Eddie Jones) must make his. Jones must run at Chris Morris and force him to swing the ball to Shandon Anderson in the deep corner.
6-b: Jones doesn’t rotate and Morris knocks down a wide-open three.
The Jazz were always 2-steps ahead of LA. Whatever LA tried to do, Utah had a counter for it. The Lakers were more athletic and physically gifted, but the Jazz were smarter, tougher and played better as a team. Their sum was greater than their parts and together they capitalized on the Lakers’ youth and inexperience with one of the most enjoyable playoff series in franchise history.