The Portland Trail Blazers' flow offense is known for its flexibility and myriad options on every play. With 5:35 left in the third quarter in Wednesday night's win agains the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland ran a typical play out of the HORNS set (two big men at the elbows) that caught Kyrie Irving sleeping, resulting in Nicolas Batum throwing a lob to Damian Lillard at the rim for an alley-oop dunk. Let's take a look at how they did it.
Portland is in a HORNS set, with two wings out wide, Lillard at the top of the play with the ball and two posts standing at the elbows. Lillard starts the action by passing to Batum on the near side of the floor. Meanwhile, Wes Matthews (left baseline) starts to clear space by moving to the right side of the floor along the baseline.
After Lillard passes to Batum, he slowly runs to receive a screen from LaMarcus Aldridge at the elbow. On this play, Irving tries to fight over the screen instead of cut below it, likely due to the Blazers guard's initial slow pace. Irving was clearly anticipating a fade to the wing, but with Anderson Varejao playing Aldridge so tight, he should have gone under the screen instead of running high.
The lob and the dunk
With Irving fighting high and Varejao glued to Aldridge, there's no rim protection for Cleveland. Lillard notices the advantage and gives a quick burst directly to the hoop. He gathers himself for a lob and Batum throws a perfect pass right at the rim. It's an easy catch-and-slam situation.
Portland runs this basic sequence regularly. Many times it is used to start a screen down low with Matthews and Robin Lopez, or to get an entry pass to Aldridge in the high post.
In fact, Lillard told Blazersedge after the game that he wasn't the primary action on the play:
"That wasn't even the play. I was supposed to just run away to the corner, but usually the big man would be back in the paint, so [the lob] wouldn't even be there. I saw [Varejao] was kind of hugging the guy at the elbow. My man fell asleep [so] I kept going because I know Nico is always looking to make those passes."
That's how dangerous the Portland offense can be. The natural opportunities allowed by spacing and basic picks afford the Blazers open looks by reacting to the defense (or lack thereof). It was a great job by both Lillard and Batum to be in sync enough to recognize the opportunity without any prior communication.
-- Dane Carbaugh | @DaneCarbaugh