ISO gone wrong

Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Deron Williams
Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Deron Williams

Even as the Brooklyn Nets watched Chicago Bulls guard Nate Robinson enter super-saiyan mode to erase a 14-point Brooklyn lead with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s triple overtime thriller, they somehow had a chance to win the game on the final possession of regulation. With the game tied at 111, the ball was put in the hands of Deron Williams to try and tie the series at two. Here’s how it unfolded:

What we see is a straight isolation for Williams to try and take the absolute last shot of the game. Though the Nets have run similar isolation-type plays near the end of games many times before, I had some issues with this one in particular.

As Devin put it:

Maybe that smart set is, I don’t know, running anything at the end of regulation, instead of clearing out for Deron Williams to take on Chicago’s vaunted defense one-on-five.

(Important note: Devin also diagramed the play to perfection here.)

Here lies the first issue. The “play” was uncreative and predictable. Often times, teams will run isolations for one of their best players in these type of situations, but usually, they involve something more; a screen in order to get a favorable switch or create a driving lane or a cut to receive the ball. (Incidentally, the Nets did just this to get Joe Johnson a great look at the end of the first overtime.) This isolation had none of that. It was “Deron Williams, hold the ball and do your jumpy, dancing, crossover thing to try and shake off Kirk Hinrich and win us the game.” Not only is this a tough thing to ask of Williams, but it becomes especially difficult considering that the man who was guarding him was successfully able to shut him down in Game 3, as well as the early stages of Game 4.

The second issue I have with this possession was that it was Williams — not Joe Johnson — taking this shot. We’ve all seen what Joe has done this season in the clutch and even with his recent heel injury, he was still able to show why it should be him taking the last shot of any game. In the final 30 seconds of a game this season where the Nets were either ahead or behind by 3 points or less, Joe Johnson was 8-9 shooting the ball. Deron Williams? 1-9.

The third and final issue was the fact that Gerald Wallace was on the floor during the crucial possession. Yes, I know, Wallace was 5-9 from the field and 2-4 from downtown in Saturday’s loss, but that doesn’t mean that he automatically becomes an offensive threat that the Bulls must respect. Wallace — a 13.5% 3PT shooter since the All-Star break — is near useless in this situation.

If the Nets were running a complete clear-out for Williams, it’s prudent that the lane be as clear as possible in order to give Williams as much space to work with. By having Wallace sit near the baseline — halfway between the hoop and the three-point line — it allows Taj Gibson to occupy the paint and eventually block off Williams’ drive and contest his shot. Perhaps if a shooter — Keith Bogans, Jerry Stackhouse, Mirza Teletovic, even MarShon Brooks — replaced Wallace, and instead of hanging out near the paint, set up behind the arc like Joe Johnson and C.J. Watson did, it would’ve pulled their defender outside of the lane, allowing Williams to get to the basket more easily.

The play was one of many throughout the devastating defeat that the Nets were unable to convert. Likely, if Williams had hit the shot, I’d sit here today and reminisce about how great a shot it was, and how clutch Williams is in the postseason. But I’m not. Instead I’m sitting here wondering whether the Nets can become just the ninth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in in a playoff series.