Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard scored 49 points on Sunday in the team’s 115-104 victory over the Miami Heat, who sport the league’s sixth-best defensive rating according to NBA.com. How did Lillard have such an offensive explosion against one of the best defensive teams in the league? By exploiting their biggest weakness—Hassan Whiteside’s shoddy pick-and-roll defense.
Whiteside is regarded as one of the NBA’s premier rim protectors, averaging 2.1 blocks per game—third in the league behind Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis. However, the Heat big man struggles when he ventures outside of the paint to defend the pick-and-roll. SB Nation’s Mike Prada explains:
The Heat make life difficult for teams if they know the pick-and-roll is coming. Their guards are tenacious at fighting through screens and hounding ball-handlers before they even get to Whiteside. That allows Whiteside to tower around the basket and the Heat’s other three players to stay on spot-up shooters.
Portland, however, kept the Heat off-balanced with decoy action to set up their pick-and-rolls. The Blazers used a third player to screen Whiteside and give Nurkic or Meyers Leonard a clean lane to screen for Lillard.
Prada goes on to describe how the Blazers—and Lillard, specifically—kept Whiteside guessing all night:
Portland also made sure to get the ball up quickly and screen for Lillard before the Heat got set. On this play, Nurkic faked like he would screen for Lillard to go middle, then turned and ushered Lillard left. This is known as “twisting” a ball screen. That confused Whiteside enough to yield the space needed for Lillard to attack and find Nurkic rolling to the rim again.”
The “twist” screen in action:
—video via SB Nation
Prada also illustrates how the Blazers scored or drew a foul on 20 of 26 possessions in which they employed the pick-and-roll against Whiteside, pointing out that on three of the possessions they didn’t score or draw a foul, another Heat defender bailed Whiteside out or the Blazers missed an open shot. A whopping 80 percent of Lillard’s offensive production came directly via the pick-and-roll against either Whiteside or his backup, Willie Reed.
While Whiteside struggled defensively in this game, it should be noted that he did still contribute 17 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, while taking home the Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Lillard took home the award for the Western Conference, averaging over 35 points per game in four contests last week.