In the GreenLab: Defeating the “Sag” Defense | Red's Army - The Voice of Boston Celtics Fans
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In the GreenLab: Defeating the “Sag” Defense

In the first part of the GreenLab series, I examined several options of how Rajon Rondo can defeat defenses that go under screens against him.  This defense forces him to shoot the jumper and attempts to cut off his passing and slashing angles.  As I pointed out, the Celtics function as a team to cover up his shooting issues and do have several ways to defeat it.

In this second part, I'll go over how Rondo and his teammates work as a team to defeat the much discussed "sagging" defense.  Kobe Bryant made this famous during the 2010 NBA Finals and a lot of teams have attempted this approach on Rondo since, most notably Jared Jeffries and the New York Knicks during last year's playoffs.  The Lakers and Knicks defenses are featured most here, so read below for different options the Celtics run to defeat the "sag."

LAL Sag Option 1: Paul Pierce Jumper – In this first option, as Rondo brings the ball up, Kobe is sagging below the free throw line.  Ray is parked on the right corner, while KG is occupying the right low block.  Shaq sets a simple screen for a Pierce jumper.  Pierce misses, but is able to get his own rebound and make the second attempt.  This also forces Kobe to help out on Pierce, allowing Rondo to sneak in for a rebound if he chose to.


LAL Sag Option 2: Rondo Jumper – Here, KG receives a pass at the top of the 3-point arc, then passes it back to Rondo.  As he does this, he immediately sets the screen ob the sagging Kobe to create extra room for Rondo to knock down the jumper.


LAL Sag Option 3: Pierce Jumper 2 - Here, Rondo quickly passes it to Ray who is at the top of the 3-point arc.  As he does this, he cuts quickly towards the basket, taking Kobe with him.  As Ray passes to KG on the left wing, Perk sets a screen for Pierce to curl out for the jumper.  Rondo cutting through allows Kobe to stay with him, leaving single coverage on Pierce.


LAL Sag Option 4: Pierce Drive and Foul – This is the same setup as option 1 (Shaq setting a screen) only this time, Perk sets it for Pierce and instead of taking the jumper, Pierce drives to the basket and gets fouled.  Kobe has to reach in, and Bynum has no choice but to foul him.


LAL Sag Option 5: Pierce Drive and Foul 2 – This is a basic clear out-isolation play for Pierce.  But the fact that Kobe stays on Rondo (as Rondo cuts through, faking a screen) allows Pierce to take Artest one-on-one.


LAL Sag Option 6: Pierce Back Door – As the Lakers successfully get back in transition and halt the C's attack, Rondo hesitates for just a second while Kobe begins to setup his sag.  And Rondo turns on the jets, Pierce makes a perfect back door cut on the snoozing Luke Walton for the easy lay-up.


LAL Sag Option 6 Pierce Back Door Fail – This is the exact same setup, without the element of transition.  This is to contrast how the play can fail.


LAL Sag Option 7 Rondo/KG Screen – Here as Rondo brings the ball up the left side of the court, he quickly passes it to Ray Allen and sets a soft screen for KG to set up in the post.  He then cuts to the middle, taking Kobe with him, clearing out space for KG to work.  KG misses his shot, but Rondo is able to use his rebounding skills (and Kobe's sagging away, and being lazy) to sneak in for the offensive rebound and put back.

On the second example in the same clip, Rondo sets another screen for KG and cuts through, only this time KG re-screens for Ray instead of posting up.  Ray is able to carve some space for a jumper.  The sagging Kobe is taken out of the play and away from helping on Ray.


 LAL Sag Option 8 KG Pick and Pop – As Rondo seems to be setting up in isolation on the left wing, Pierce and Ray cut through on the opposite side drawing their defenders with them.  Odom is thinking that one of the two are getting the pass, so he tries to hedge down to help.  As he does this, KG pops out on the opposite side and Perk screens Odom who is trying to recover.  KG drills his jumper.


 LAL Sag Option 9 Ray 3 – With Kobe sagging as Rondo brings it straight up the middle, it looks like they're running a basic "Floppy" set for Ray.  As Ray curls around, instead of going all the way, he pops back out ot the baseline for a three, as Blake reads the play wrong.


LAL Sag Option 10 2 Ray Floppy Plays – This is a basic Floppy play for Ray.  Ray cuts along the baseline and Pierce sets the screen for him.  After Rondo makes the pass, he backs up and further away, drawing Kobe away far enough so he can't help to bother Ray's jumper.

The second play is the same thing, only they run it twice when it fails initially.


LAL Sag Option 11 Ray Floppy KG Pop Out – Another Floppy play, but it gets snuffed out a couple of times as Ray runs a marathon in less than 24 seconds.  Instead, Rondo opts for a KG pop-out jumper as Gasol is paying close attention to Ray.


LAL Sag Option 12 Pirece Jumper – This is essentially the same play as Option 1, except this time Pierce gets more to the middle as opposed to the wing for the jumper.


LAL Sag Option 13 Pierce Back Door Part 2 - This is similar to Option 6, except it's run in more of a settled, half court set rather than in transition.  Kobe is giving Rondo all sorts of room and as KG screens him, he reads the play wrong attempting to hedge out on KG presumably for a jumper.  Instead Pierce tricks the snoozing Artest and sneaks in for two.


LAL Sag  Option 14 KG Baseline Jumper – Rondo takes it straight up the middle with Kobe sagging deep again.  As he moves towards the basket, he also goes under Pierce's screen, and Rondo could attempt to take it to the LA bigs, but instead has KG pop out to the baseline for a clean jumper since Pau was covering for Kobe, looking to stop Rondo at the rim.


LAL Sag Option Rondo Fail - In this example, we can see a play that frustrates Rondo fans.  As he attempts to defeat the defense, he makes a bad kick-back pass that gets picked off by Blake who takes it for two.


Those were several options the Celtics use to defeat the "sag" defense against LA.  Here are several options how they defeated the same defense against the Knicks.

NY G3 Sag Option 1 Arc – Toney Douglas is giving Rondo all sorts of room at the top of the 3-point arc. As he does this, Rondo passes to KG in the post.  Douglas helps on KG, and Rondo cuts to the basket and receives the pass back from KG.  As Douglas then retreats to a slashing Rondo, Amare also steps up to meet him at the rim.  This allows JO (Amare's man) to pop out to the baseline for a quick jumper.


NY G3 Sag Option 2 Rondo Attack – This starts out as a Floppy for Jeff Green, but it gets snuffed out.  As the play resets, Jared Jeffries sags off of Rondo who then passes it into Big Baby in the post.  Jeffries drops down to help on Davis and Rondo cuts to the middle and attacks the rim this time.  He misses the lay-up but you can see in the first two plays how NY will choose to have the "sagger" drop down and help in the post, whereas LA doesn't.


NY G3 Sag Option 3 Pierce Jumper – Much like the Pierce jumpers against LA, except Ray is also moving on the opposite side, giving two options.


NY G3 Sag Option 4 Floater –  As the dual Floppy gets defended, Rondo passes in to KG who is on the right block.  With the drop-down-to-help defense again, Rondo slashes to the middle, receiving the KG pass and this time getting the floater to drop.


NY G4 Sag Option 5 Pierce and JO Screen and Roll – Similar to the Pierce jumper option, except this time as he gets covered, JO rolls to the hoop on a nice pass from Pierce.  He fails to score here, but this play can easily be successfully run.


NY G4 Sag Option 6 Pierce Drive – New York stops Boston's transition and Rondo resets on the left wing.  He passes it to Pierce on the right wing who immediately attacks the basket, getting a good path to the lane thanks to a nice Ray screen.


NY G4 Sag Option 7 Rondo Jumper – This time Rondo just decides to take the straight up jumper and drill it.


NY G4 Sag Option 8 Post Up – Rondo decides to take it himself again, only this time using all the space that is given to him by backing Douglas down into the post and scoring.


NY G4 Sag Option 9 Give and Go Green – In what begins as a simple pick-and-pop with Jeff Green, instead Green decides to go to the basket and scores.


NY G4 Sag Option 10 Post Up – This time Rondo sets up in the high post, easily getting there due to the sagging.  Instead of backing his man down, he fires a pass to the back-cutting Ray, who scores a wide-open lay-up thanks in large part to Pierce's screen on Melo.


NY G4 Sag Option 11 High Post Up – The exact same setup as Option 10, except this time Pierce fakes the screen and instead hedges back around the middle, receiving the pass from Rondo for the easy lay-up.


So there are many ways Doc Rivers has developed to defeat the "sagging" defense.  Obviously a lot of it is dependant on Rondo's great teammates, but it can be beaten.  It's also worth noting the stark difference between how LA (doesn't drop down to help) and NY (does drop down to help) decide to defend.  Either way, Rondo and the Celtics have several options to beat it.

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  • Listen, there are a million ways that the Cs can improve their offense, and offset the particular weakness of each player, while making the most of their strengths, without going crazy for stupid trades, but the most important are just SOOO DAMN OBVIOUS. They need to hit the offensive glass a little bit more and they need to push the pace a little bit more. They don’t have to go crazy. Just a little more.
    This Blame It All On Rondo business is pretty much crap. It’s propaganda.