The NBA Gundy Trap. How It Has Affected The Celtics, Road Games, and The Entire Playoffs

I’ve watch pretty much half the games being televised for the NBA playoffs ( the 1st round was quick wasn’t it!), and going through the Celtics games, I’ve noticed that almost on half the runs down the court the opposing defenders will double-team the guard or player with the ball coming off the screen and or pick & roll.

They will run insanely at the guard/ball holder and push him really far away from the hoop. He will be forced to pass it and the defense hopes enough chaos would bring a deflection or turnover. BUT THINK ABOUT IT: Have you seen this play used as much before as you have currently seen in these playoffs?

I have watched thousands upon thousands of games, and I am bewildered how much this play is being used, and how EFFECTIVE this play is becoming. I probably saw this defensive play maybe 50-60 times this season out of 40+ games ( 1:1 ratio, 1:.88 if you’re a complete asshole). Now, I can’t take a bite out of my 5 dollar footlong without seeing this chaos trap occur on Rondo or Pierce or Allen every time down the court. This trap has become so specific and so utilized, that i decided to give it a name: The Gundy Trap. Jeff Van Gundy is a great guy; he didn’t invent this, but he loves defense and maybe he can call it by his name during his colorful commentary so what the hay!

This Gundy Trap is one of the main weapons teams are using to disrupt the Celtics half-court control. It has made Ray Allen a non-factor ( he can’t pop it behind the screener anymore cause they got two fuckers storming after him). It has made Rondo an ILL factor ( because he gets out of this, gets fouled, or makes the right decision; Dangerous if he passes it out of a double-team and into a 4 on 3 situation.)

The constant double-team trap against the Celtics has overall dampened their ability to make their perimeter offense work around their good shooters ( Pierce & Allen ) for mostly the entire playoffs. You have noticed how many more passes Pierce has made beyond the 3 point line ( That pass in Game 1 across the court was amazing!)? You have noticed how many more times Rondo is slashing to the basket or plain wide-open for a jump shot? You have noticed that most of Allen’s points are on layups and shots slashing toward the basket? Jesus Shuttlesworth? Going to the hoop? More than popping the jumper? Yes, my friend, this is all happening.

And it is very important. This team, and especially Rondo, have been able to develop different players in the mix and have been able to create different shots. They have also been able to utilize Rondo’s court intelligence more to mitigate the stifling perimeter half-court trap.

The Celtics are winning. They are beating the trap. So what is your point?

Hey voice in my head, don’t be such an asshole! The trap, mind you, has held Ray Allen to a pretty useless slasher role ( since that role has already been filled by Rondo & Pierce, these guys are better passers than Allen, and you don’t need three fucking people charging to the hoop). It has forced Garnett to push himself closer to the perimeter to receive the pass and shorten the passing lanes to prevent a deflection or stolen pass, and has forced him to take shots a little further than he would like. The guy can hit it from 18-22ft, but he has been consistently on the longer end of that range since the playoffs begun.

Kevin Garnett Shooting

He needs to take this shot more often than not if they keep employing the Gundy trap

My point is that the “trap” has totally changed around the workings of the offense. They still have an amazing passing game, and are forced to utilize it more with the trap in play. But now they have less time to use the post-up as a 2nd option for a failed screen, they have more chances to screw up a play because they have to put the ball through the passing lanes more often, and during their lapses ( which have come on the heels of rowdy fans in Cleveland & Atlanta ), these impediments are much more apparent.

Much more apparent not because this type of defense kills them on certain occasions. If anything, if you make the right pass, the trap fails. But how many teams play flawlessly on the road? How many times will you make the bad pass? And most of all, for a team that has played pretty much all year being able to utilize the big three in a decent offensive flow, how can you expect them to suddenly adjust to this new defensive scheme so quickly? Not only has this half-court trapped force the Celtics hand to pass better, but it has forced them to re-vamp their ENTIRE OFFENSIVE SCHEME for the playoffs. Guys have stepped up ( Posey, Perkins, House recently, Rondo shooting more ) and others have changed their game ( Ray Allen passing more, Garnett taking more 20-foot shots, Cassell not playing) in order to mollify the stress placed by the Gundy trap’s ability to stir chaos.

And I would say that this scheme has only been consistent with creating havoc for the Celtics. But the Celtics have used it as well. They have used it against Lebron James, they have pushed out Delonte West with two defenders, and they were GOOD at stifling their offense on most occasions. When they were burned, it usually was a pass to West or Gibson away from the double-team, or a play that ended with Ilgauskas shooting the ( hey, look at this!) 18-22 foot jumper. The shot is a symptom of the effect the defense produces, and teams not privy to setting up an offense as such will suffer.

Did this force the Cavs to play an offense that was inconsistent to their offensive design during the regular season? I am not sure since I don’t watch the Cavs, but you can tell that this scheme is being used frequently against the screens and pick & rolls regardless of the teams. And since this exerts even more pressure on an offense not use to the double-team off the screen, it probably makes sense how teams like the Celtics are having even more trouble adjusting on the road.

What about Chris Paul? Yea, he got Gundy trap too, and got through it on most occasions. His game is insanely versatile; I can’t content that the scheme hurt him ( look at his stats!). Manu Ginobili in game 7 couple of days back got the trap on the top of the key before there was a screen attempt. He was mauled on the floor ( he deserved it for his silly flopping ) The Lakers put some heat on Deron WIlliams with the double-team trap, and it showed when he had trouble getting in sync with Kirilenko & Korver ( who still had great games by the way).

This prevalance of the half-court trap against the screen/pick & roll is way more so currently than in the regular season, and is contributing to a change in the dynamics of offenses for the teams in these series. It has permeated throughout each round, and has resulted in some form of positive/negative chaos that is meant to occur with the scheme. Notice how many more offensive fouls/ charges / loose balls / deflections / collisions / blocking fouls that have resulted in the trap congestion towards the mid-court and not towards the key.

Is the Gundy trap becoming more of a norm to offset the advantage of the pick & roll? Is this going to make defenses stronger through the ability to cause mayhem, or weaker due to fatigue of transition defense and crafty point guards like Paul & Rondo? If every team ends up utilizing the Gundy trap to the frequency and degree a team would use the doubling-down defense ( where you double-team the guy with the ball in the post), who would be the benificiary of calling this play? Has this added more pressure for some teams on the road?

Others clearly think the arenas are getting noisier, and that the spectacles are causing impediments to the game ( See example 1, example 2, & numero tres!). Wouldn’t be also prudent to suggest that this affects road play because: A) It is hard to overcome pressure of winning away at home, and simultaneously be bedazzled with screaming fans during an opponent’s run, AND be confused and forced to play a different game because of a newer defensive play-call against your offense? And B) The aggressiveness of the play leads to a lot of contact against the offense, and more often than not ( let’s be real guys ), that the home team will have an advantage of getting the officials’ calls ( or no calls ) in these situations. Whether it be fouls or deflections, you will most likely hear a referee’s whistle followed by cheers from the howling faithful, and less likely from the road team’s bench.

Most people will think that this defensive scheme is trivial in comparison to the multitude of schemes and options players have when they are on the floor. I beg to differ on that point; certain schemes in sports have become relative to crafting a winning contest. Some teams have the players, talent, and/or endurance to execute the plays better than others, but sometimes the plays become so necessary and so ingrained into a sports system that it can mean inefficiency, failure, and even alienation ( Not sure if Jerry Glanville’s getting an NFL job anytime soon with the Run & Shoot) to NOT use certain sport designs.

The set-up closer design 3-4 defense with Linebacker lining up

Developed sports schemes: 3-4 defense, and the set-up man/closer design

The set-up man/closer scheme: Beginning as a tactic to give starters rest, and to create a reliable back-up system to finish out a game without losing. Few teams used the tactic during its infancy, and now to not use it will elicit a bloody murder response from the media, fans, and basbeall players alike ( closer by committee, anyone?). The 3-4 defense in football, although used by probably less than 30% of football teams, had its glory days being utilized in the 80’s, and has waned ever since. Teams that tend to use it ( Patriots, Eagles, Steelers, Chargers ) tend to do well and perform well in the postseason ( or at least make the postseason).

The Gundy trap has been around, but in this playoffs, it is used almost as much against screens & picks as the man-to-man option. And if this ratio fits, and teams become more bewlidered by it, we are going to have to start seeing adjustments against this play. If there is no adjustment, we could have a scary evolution of every coach in the NBA calling this play many times next year, and there could be a chance that this play could force teams to run even more conservative offenses.

Is this a bad thing? I doubt that it will keep up, but they said the same thing abotu Hockey’s Neutral Zone trap, and last time I checked, they needed a strike to change around the rules. The Neutral Zone trap was so good that every team used it ( especially the Devils & Red Wings…hmmm…).Let’s hope the Gundy trap isn’t as useful.

2003 Champs New Jersey Devils


2 thoughts on “The NBA Gundy Trap. How It Has Affected The Celtics, Road Games, and The Entire Playoffs

  1. I just stumbled on this blog entry as I was searching for analysis of the Celtics offense on Google. I have to say, you are a fabulous writer, and your analysis goes deeper than 90% of sportswriters I read in the newspapers. My question is, who are you? Professional writer with this blog on the side, or a true undiscovered talent?

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