The NBA playoffs, as we all know, is about adapting to what the opponent does and countering with your own punch. In the Sixers’ back-and-forth victory over the Wizards in game 1 of their first round series, the Sixers changed their coverage of Bradley Beal when he started to find his offensive rhythm in the third quarter. That quarter, if you recall, is when the Sixers started taking control of a game in which they trailed for most of the first half. The subtle adjustment they made centered around denying Bradley Beal the middle of the floor in the pick-and-roll:
Sixers made a subtle adjustment to contain Beal late in the 3rd quarter of game 1. Thybulle pivots to cut off the space for Beal to use the ball screen, forcing him towards the baseline side. They funnel the ball right to Embiid, who isn't dropped back. This is known as ICE. pic.twitter.com/jFceMaRUj7— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) May 25, 2021
The clip above makes it difficult to see, but Matisse Thybulle sets up for Ice perfectly. He pivots to square his shoulders and hips fully up with Beal, thus giving himself balance to keep in front of the ball-handler. By pressuring him on the side the screen is coming from, Thybulle denies Beal the pick and forces him to attack Joel Embiid. This essentially funnels the ball-handler toward the rim protector. You’ll notice Embiid is not dropping back in pick-and-roll coverage, thus taking away the pull-up three.
Beal is reduced to a difficult finish in the teeth of Philly’s defense, a pull-up long two, or a pass. Any of those options are acceptable when dealing with a ball-handler as the opposition’s primary scorer. If your big man isn’t agile enough to recover if the handler turns on the jets, you shouldn’t be in Ice anyway. Fortunately, Embiid is quick enough on his feet to impact Beal’s drive even if he does accelerate to create space. In this instance, Ice coverage is successful. The lack of an angle to push the rim forces Beal to kick to Westbrook for a triple. You’ll live with that shot any time.
“I think they just happen to run plays that end up with sideline pick-and-rolls and allow us to get into an ice.”
On the morning of game 2, Thybulle touched upon the defensive strategy deployed to counter Beal’s attacks at the rim. “Honestly, that’s been something that we’ve done all season,” Thybulle said during his shootaround media availability. “I think they just happen to run plays that end up with sideline pick-and-rolls and allow us to get into an ice. But, I mean, for the majority of this series so far, we’ve just been trying to do what we do and just keep doing it better. And then if we have to make little adjustments for guys, we are. But, as far as icing going, that’s something that we’ve been doing and we’re just trying to dial it in even more.”
From the sounds of it, the Sixers will be happy to deploy Ice if the Wizards intend to keep running sideline pick-and-rolls. It’s now up to Washington to counter. If they don’t, you’re going to be inundated with this defensive scheme until the Sixers send them to Cancun for the summer.
Game 2 will tip off at 7 PM EST on Wednesday. You can catch the action on NBA TV and NBC Sports Philadelphia.