Monday April 20th, 2009

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The pick-and-roll. It's the simplest play in basketball, and yet, when it's run effectively, it's virtually impossible to defend.

Think about it: One player comes up and sets the screen; the other dribbles off it. Not exactly a complex, Auerbachian-type maneuver. In the 1990s, Utah's John Stockton and Karl Malone perfected the play (to the tune of two NBA Finals appearances). Today, New Orleans' Chris Paul and Tyson Chandler are the acknowledged masters of it. But by the end of this postseason, Derrick Rose and ... well, any player who sets the screen for Chicago's rookie point guard may be poised to give Paul and Chandler a run for their money.

"The pick-and-roll, that was really their go-to play," said an NBA scout who watched the Bulls beat the defending champion Celtics 105-103 in overtime Saturday in Game 1 of the first-round series. Game 2 is Monday in Boston.

"They just kept running it and running it and Boston couldn't do anything to stop it," the scout added.

Of all the problems that plagued the Celtics -- a list that includes porous transition defense and an inability to make perimeter shots -- defending the pick-and-roll ranked at the top. Ordinarily, Boston rates among the best pick-and-roll defensive teams in the league. But ordinarily, the Celtics have reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett's long wingspan and genius basketball IQ in the lineup. Without Garnett, Boston's power-forward tandem of Glen Davis and Leon Powe was helpless to provide assistance for point guard Rajon Rondo on Rose, who finished with 36 points and 11 assists.

On Sunday, the Celtics weren't exactly forthcoming about their strategy to improve their shoddy defense. Coach Doc Rivers said Davis "could play better." Center Kendrick Perkins cited transition defense as a weak spot. And Rondo vowed to "not reach as much" when defending Rose in Game 2.

But NBA insiders say Boston's priority should be bottling up the Bulls' dynamic rookie.

"Here's the thing: The Celtics aren't great at stopping dribble penetration," an Eastern Conference assistant coach said. "Guys get in the lane against them all the time. But in the past, they have had Garnett and Perkins down low to cover up any mistakes. Without Garnett, Boston has to figure out a way to get the ball out of Rose's hands. They have to have hard 'shows' off the pick. They have to trap him. They have to make him give it up. When they do that, Ben Gordon is probably going to have chances to get off. But you have to live with that."

Most of Boston's other concerns are ancillary. Tyrus Thomas (16 points) knocked down several key jump shots in the fourth quarter and in overtime, but Boston can live with the uber-athletic forward firing away from 18 feet. Ray Allen (1-of-12 in Game 1) probably couldn't shoot that poorly again if he tried, and Boston will make more of an effort in Game 2 to increase ball movement and get its All-Star shooting guard more open looks.

But the key is containing Rose. If Davis and Powe submit another ho-hum performance, Rose will burn the Celtics again and the Bulls, who had the worst regular-season road record among playoff teams (13-28), could leave Boston with a back-breaking 2-0 series edge. But if Boston can mix up its coverages and limit the presumptive Rookie of the Year, it should have more than enough firepower to overwhelm Chicago and even the series.

"Checking Rose is the key," the scout said. "He made Rondo work awfully hard [on Saturday]. Davis and Powe have to do a better job or else Boston is in trouble."

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