By Fawzan Amer
Coaches can control only so much. Still, coaching adjustments greatly influence a team’s success or demise. In the game of basketball through the course of 48 minutes there are multiple adjustments occurring in a blink of an eye - a chess match between two head coaches throughout the course of every game. That’s particularly true in the playoffs where the intensity ramps up tenfold, when teams can focus on one opponent and have multiple days off to watch film, and practice negating frequently used actions. With the inaugural In-Season Tournament at hand, third-year Head Coach Jamahl Mosley faced a Chicago team on the road twice in three nights, sweeping the Billy Donovan led Bulls in the Windy City. The former Dallas Mavericks defensive coordinator was given a trial run of a playoff atmosphere, allowing him to showcase a taste of what his game-to-game postseason adjustments would entail.
Jamahl Mosley Blankets Chicago's Frequent Action for Nikola Vucevic
In Game 1 coming off a back-to-back, following a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in their first In-Season Tournament game, Orlando surrendered ten first half points to former Magic center Nikola Vucevic. Coming out of halftime Jamahl Mosley made an effort to mitigate the damage the nearly seven-footed Montenegrin was causing by switching Jonathan Isaac onto him. After nearly an entire third quarter of having not run a set play call for his twenty million dollar big man, Chicago Bulls Head Coach Billy Donovan decided to run a common action called "Chicago Cross 5 Post Entry". Similar to Rip actions, Vucevic goes under the screen but instead of catching underneath the basket, he pops out to make it an easier pass while recovering the ball with a couple different attacking options. In the alignment Demar Derozan sets the initial screen followed by a cross-screen from Zach Lavine freeing Nikola for an uncontested jumper.
Billy Donovan calls for "Chicago Cross 5 Post Entry" to get his big man out of a dry-spell for easy buckets in the post or the low block. This next example against the Jazz in Utah, Kelly Olynk fights through the screen and is able to meet Vucevic at the point of the catch, but with no help from the remaining four Jazz defenders at the dunker spot, it allows an automatic layup off a spin move.
In this next example against the Milwaukee Bucks, Derozan and Lavine get good contact on their screens so both defenders, Jevon Carter and former MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, are caught face guarding Nikola Vucevic on defensive miscommunication. Instead of forcing his double teamed center, Ayo Dosunmo finds an open Zach Lavine for an easy basket in the restricted area.
Against Orlando on Wednesday night, the Bulls were in a different alignment for this play with Ayo Dosunmo as the initial screener and Jevon Carter as the cross screener. However, despite the different tactical alignment, Jamahl Mosley's defense sniffs outs the set and blankets the play entirely causing a frustration foul by Vucevic. Jonathan Isaac meets Vucevic at the catch followed by an on-ball blitz from veteran guard Gary Harris on two separate occasions to force a long-range attempt late into the shot clock.
Billy Donovan Counters by Allowing Nikola Vucevic to Operate at Elbow
Staying in game one on Wednesday night in the closing stretch of the fourth quarter with the game hanging in the balance, Billy Donovan countered by reverting to a play the Bulls haven't run often this season, besting Jamahl Mosley's defense on two separate occasions called "Pistol 5 ATO". Instead of screening for Nikola Vucevic, this play places him on the free-throw line extended in between the three point line as he acts as the "hub" with multiple attacking options. Ayo initially looks to throw it ahead to Vucevic and then go into multiple reads.
1st Read: Look for a hand off back to Ayo Dosunmo -- (The Magic blanketed this option Wednesday night due to picking up on it from the Bulls running it last season)
2nd Read: Lavine sets a screen followed by a down screen from Alex Caruso for a three point attempt after a PnR that got Goga Bitadze switched onto him.
3rd Read: Nikola Vucevic keeps with multiple help defenders occupied and the former fifth overall pick Jalen Suggs denies Zach Lavine's three point attempt off the screen.
Unfortunately Mosley's tenacious defense surrendered multiple points to Billy Donovan's Elbow Pistol counter, which in part allowed Zach Lavine to get red hot from downtown as he helped claw the Bulls back from a near twenty point deficit to tie the game with seconds to spare.
Orlando ultimately walked off with a win but that didn't stop the 45-year old Wisconsin native from going back to his hotel room and mixing ingredients together to whip up an alternate scheme and coverage to haunt the in-game adjustment he failed to have an answer for. And so come game two on Friday night with higher stakes at hand, Mosley didn't have to wait long. The Bulls waited just shy of two minutes into action to enter a pass to Nikola Vucevic at the elbow and the Magic saw it coming a mile away as Jonathan Isaac leaped back to pocket-snatch and run off.
Jamahl Mosley Offensive Attack
Jamahl Mosley’s defense in the first half of both games against the Billy Donovan led Chicago Bulls — (48 minutes) allowed a mere 66 points on an abysmal 28.2 field goal percentage including forcing 25 turnovers. Mosley came down the chimney stealing the Bulls' Christmas gifts ruining every offensive set even attempted. The defensive mastermind felt so in-control he reached deep in his pocket for what would be the final deathblow in this coaching battle. Orlando rolled a play they hadn't run at all this season called "Horns Back-Door" with an additional wrinkle to it.
In the Horns alignment it's typically two bigs placed on either side of the elbows, however Mosley's wrinkle had a guard (Cole Anthony) opposite a big (Moritz Wagner). After an entry elbow pass to his brother, Franz Wagner clears out to the corner.
The initial read on the play are as follows;
1st Read: Hit Franz Wagner in stride for a rim-run
2nd Read: Hit Franz Wagner in stride -- defender sinks to help leading to a kick to Jonathan Isaac in the corner
Unfortunately, Moritz Wagner doesn't have the pass to his brother Franz due to Chicago doing a splendid job of taking it away which leads to "Get Action" with Cole Anthony. Once the action is run both defenders (Nikola Vucevic and Coby White) show on-ball opening up a passing lane back to Moritz Wagner at the charity stripe. The pass back to Mo forces Franz's man (Patrick Williams) to stay in order to deny the seven footed German an easy paint touch opening gateways to new-found possibilities. With no Bulls defender positioned in the dunkers spot the third year Michigan guard recognizes a back-door opening for a wide open dunk off slick bounce pass.
On the following offensive possession Jamahl Mosley calls for the same play to be run. This time the Chicago Bulls pickup on Franz Wagner's backdoor cut opening the floodgates for Jonathan Isaac to connect on his second triple of the night.
Making adjustments is like a form of art and is derived from experience. The average follower won’t pick up on in-game adjustments due to their subtleties in the broader picture of the outcome. As third-year head coach Jamahl Mosley navigated the gauntlet and the playoff vibes of playing the same opponent twice in three nights, it provided a sample of what's to come in a potential postseason run - taking calculated gambles and keenly altering his team’s tactics on the fly, he portrayed a product of tapping into years of scenarios he’s already come across sitting behind multiple coaches as he showcased his ability to hang when push comes to shove.
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