I watched the second half of the game between the Blazers and Nuggets tonight. It was a great game that went into OT where Iverson would hit the game winning shot. During the 4th quarter I took some clips of the Nuggets matchup zone that they used to defend Portland.

What really surprised me, was that given the Blazers ability to shoot the 3-pointer (2nd in the league), I was surprised to see them use a sort of packed-in matchup zone. But that is exactly what George Karl used. The Blazers get a lot of 3-point baskets when teams double down to stop Brandon Roy. What the Nuggets chose to do instead was to go 1v1 on BRoy and keep everything in front of them. They used a switching packed-in matchup zone and close out on all shooters. It was very effective and in the 4th quarter, the Blazers only hit 1 x 3-pointer and missed a bunch of jumpers. Here are a couple of sequences from the 4th quarter,

I've recently become very enamored with defenses that are pack-like. I like the philosophy of forcing teams to execute a patient half-court offense against your defense. A lot of teams I see are undisciplined, and extremely impatient, they will take the first shot they can rather than run through a few iterations of an offense to get a better shot.

Packed-in Switching Matchup Zone:

Keep everything in front of you. Keep a lot of pressure on the ball 1v1. Go underneath on all screens.

There is a screen here by O5. X5 stays underneath. O3 doesn't use the screen.

O5 pops out looking for the 3-pointer. X4 closes out from the middle. X1 drops down to rotate to O4.

O1 is open on the wing and that is where the pass goes. X1 goes to closeout, X5 slides over the cover O4. O4 decides to go all the way to the corner, X5 follows. O1 passes to O4 in the corner.

O4 passes back to O1 on the wing. X1 closes out to prevent the 3-pointer forcing O1 to dribble in and take a contested 20 footer and misses.


I've always been a big pressure defense guy and I still am. But I'm beginning to also subscribe to the theory of slowing the pace of the game and forcing teams to execute their half-court offense. I think you can use athleticism to out-run and out-gun weaker teams, but against athletically superior teams, you need to take that element of explosiveness out of the equation. See if they can play patient team basketball.

The definitive guide to packline defensive principles is Dick Bennett's DVD on the packline defense. As always, be sure to check out the X's and O's of Basketball Forum to discuss this and more of your favorite basketball topics.