While LeBron James is two wins away from dashing away a lot of exemplums regarding his legacy in the NBA, no one has improved their image during the course of these playoffs like Chris Bosh has.
In the past, people have made fun of anything about Chris Bosh – from softness to cross dressing like RuPaul to his genitalia to… oh yeah, they don’t think he’s a very good basketball player either. He’s been called half a man when referring to the Miami Big 3 Two and a Half Men. He’s been the most overrated player in the NBA and nothing deserving of his contract.
It’s often been the ammunition coming out of the quills full of desperation for discounting what Miami is capable of doing, what kind of a team they are, and the reasons they’ll never win a title. When in reality, Chris Bosh has been arguably the best safety valve in recent memory. Last year, there were times in which he looked lost and didn’t fit in. There were also times in which his scoring and spacing provided the perfect balance to Miami’s attack. Continue reading “Meet Chris Bosh: your traditional big man” »
One of the knocks on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s attack this season has been they’re a jump-shooting team. At a certain point, it’s expected that if you live by the jumper then you’re going to die by the jumper when those shots stop falling. However, when you look at how the Thunder actually spread around their shots on the floor, it looks like they’re just an intelligent scoring team.
Throughout the regular season, OKC maximized the value of their shots extremely well. If you’re ranking the quality of shot you can get in an NBA game, I’d put shots at the rim first, 3-pointers second, midtown (anything from the restricted area to 16 feet) shots third and long 2-pointers fourth. Continue reading “Thunder rolling at the rim” »
In past finals, we’ve seen how the matchup between two systems or philosophies — think Dallas’ spread, 3-point heavy attack pitted against Miami’s frantically rotating defense — is almost as important as the matchups between individual talents. However, in the 2012 Finals, the talent is so transcendent that the “offensive systems” are really just simple actions to get great players in position to attack one-on-one.
During the regular season, the Thunder were dead last in terms of the percentage of made buckets that came from assists and the Heat were a the bottom six team in that regard. Both teams use screens to create isolations and run pick-and-rolls designed to get the ball handler to the rim, rather than just into playmaking position (like, say, Boston’s Rondo-heavy offense).
The point here is that how individual matchups play out is going to be crucial, and none more so than between Kevin Durant and LeBron James, the two best players in the NBA. It’s exceedingly likely that one of these two guys is going to be the Finals MVP. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be directly matched up, especially considering how both Scott Brooks and Erik Spoelstra prefer to use defensive specialists, and that both coaches found success with switch-heavy defenses in the conference finals.
With that in mind, we’ll preview the most prevalent matchups each superstar will face, starting with the defensive specialists.
LeBron James versus Thabo Sefolosha
As the Thunder’s de facto stopper, the Swiss wing will spend significant time checking Miami’s driving force. Sefolosha has shown the ability to change a game defensively, most notably in Game 3 against the Spurs. But slowing the quick but diminutive Tony Parker is hardly the same task as the one awaiting him in the Finals.
LeBron James and his lack of fouling has (again) become a talking point, mostly thanks to a much-bemoaned Dwyane Wade no call on Rajon Rondo (Well that, and Miami’s 47 free throws to Boston’s 29 FTs). This is quite similar to how LeBron gets blamed for not taking a buzzer beater that Wade misses. If Dwyane catches a cold, LeBron gets the flu–while also getting ridiculed for starting the bubonic plague of AAU-me-first-passivity-shrinkingism.
The “He doesn’t get called for fouls! superstar non call!” trope has resonance because it riles up those who feel that LeBron James was presumptuously marketed to them, that his is a false reign, propped up by NBA puppet masters. This is a deranged, paranoid way to think. So of course, it’s quite a popular sentiment.
I’ve read a bit about how James only had three (Three!) fouls in the Indiana series. The charge is spat as though it’s a self evident uncovering of malfeasance, as though the mere existence of this data is something on the level of basketball’s Pentagon Papers.
Show me some visual evidence and then we can discuss whether David Stern’s pointing the real JFK murder weapon at his refs and demanding they follow Maverick Carter’s orders. Show me something compelling, because LeBron James averages a mere 1.5 fouls in the regular season. Against Indiana, he averaged .5 fouls in the small sample size of six games. One foul fewer per game isn’t exactly a dramatic shift from what you’ll see on League Pass in January.
Six games against the Pacers would have projected to yield James roughly nine fouls. That he notched only three isn’t exactly setting my hair ablaze, considering the paucity of minutes. Remember, LBJ had a combined nine fouls over just two consecutive playoff games versus the Knicks.
The Miami Heat closed out Indiana with their most brutally frank offensive gameplan of the postseason. For all the talk about how Miami needs to develop proper ball and player movement — when isn’t there too much standing around and holding of the ball — Game 6 showed us that sometimes, keeping it simple is the right solution.
Erik Spoelstra ran virtually every single Game 6 possession through James or Wade. There were none of those curious Mario Chalmers possessions or wild shots from Norris Cole. One got the sense that if Spoelstra could have scripted the game to give Wade or James every shot — and why not? — that’s what he would have done.
But that isn’t to say Spoelstra just handed the keys to the offense to James and Wade and backed away. Rather, the efficiency of their performance was made possible by his work under the hood, tinkering with spacing and teaching the Heat’s big men how to become the most relentless and effective ball screen corps in the NBA. And as dominant (of the ball and of the game) as the Heat stars were, they did so in perfectly prescribed positions on the court — Wade in isolations on the left side of the court, James in the midpost from either side, and both in a constant barrage of pick-and-rolls.
When the play called for Wade or James to receive the ball in the post, the Heat used simple but effective actions to help them establish position. For James, this usually meant a cross screen from Mario Chalmers. Switching a point guard on a player who routinely outmuscles power forwards is not an option, so Chalmers could peel away James’ defender, allowing James to set up shop with a defender on his back.
Slow down, post up
Indiana’s inability to punish the Heat inside in Game 1 wasn’t so much about posts being fronted and not getting the ball inside, but not allowing things to develop enough to see if the read was even available.
Tonight, the Pacers’ biggest adjustment must simply be to have more patience. Too many times, Indiana’s ball handlers rushed their actions and forced themselves into bad spots. On the fronting issue in particular, the player making the entry pass needs to slow down, use pass or shot fakes to make the defense commit to either helping on the big or staying on the shooter, and then make the corresponding read.
Once the Pacers show some poise, then the tactical adjustments can be made. The first being that head coach Frank Vogel needs to eliminate any post ups on the block for players not named Roy Hibbert. David West is much better facing the basket and none of the Pacer wings have shown enough post dominance to warrant touches other than in extreme situations (like Granger with one foot in the paint and Mario Chalmers switched onto him).
Vogel also needs to switch how he is getting Hibbert his post looks. Miami’s fronting scheme is most effective in two situations: when the Pacers run a cross screen into a post up or when they simply look for him in transition. In both of these situations, weakside helpers can easily position themselves to deny the lob pass over the top. The easiest way to get Hibbert great positioning is for him to set a ball screen then dive to the weakside block.
Because Miami traps/hedges so aggressively, their big men will be pulled higher onto the perimeter and thus have a longer path to recovery IF the Indiana
Some adjustments we might see for tonight’s games.
Miami Heat (2-0) vs. New York Knicks (0-2)
Coming into the series, how Mike Woodson managed his rotations was an important issue for the Knick. Who he played, where he played them and when they played were going to be a key to New York’s success. In Game 1 the rotations were questionable but Woodson’s use of his personnel improved in Game 2. Now, thanks to Amar’e Stoudamire’s post game tussle with a fire extinguisher, they will need work once again.
The best fix is to slide Carmelo Anthony to the four and insert Steve Novak into the starting lineup on the wing. The Knicks offense could receive a boost early on with the additional space the sharpshooting Novak can provide for Melo. On defense, there will have to be some creative cross-matching with Tyson Chandler marking Chris Bosh, Melo shadowing LeBron James and Novak moving to the limited Udonis Haslem (This of course becomes infinitely easier if Bosh is gone for Game 3).
That lineup makes much more sense than does inserting JR Smith into the starting lineup where he’d be forced to guard Dwyane Wade. And in case you’re struggling to remember who that Wade guys is, he was the guy that absolutely demolished Smith in the low post all Monday night. That dominance forced Woodson to double on every Wade catch, a strategy that virtually always led to open looks for Miami.
Fields on the other hand, acquitted himself well against Wade down low (yet oddly received double-team help near the end of the game. Perhaps Woodson confused his and Smith’s jersey numbers). He needs to see his minutes mirror those of the Heat’s star shooting guard in order give the Knicks a chance to commit only one
It’s the event of the spring and summer. A colorful backdrop burnishes the primal battle for survival on our television sets. Bodies move with a grace so commanding as to appear intrinsic, god-given. It’s stirring, it’s inspiring, it’s competition at its best. I’m talking about Discovery Channel’s Frozen Planet, of course. It’s running concurrent with these NBA playoffs, and I suggest you check it out between games. The Planet Earth sequel is narrated by Jack Donaghy, if that sweetens the deal for ya.
The nature series has captured my brain, everything in life seems analogous to wonderfully shot life in extremis. And I’m obsessed enough to find parallels to the 2012 NBA playoffs, my other TV preoccupation.
Just know the athlete-to-creature analogies aren’t demeaning to players because I’m anthropomorphizing these Frozen Planet animals to the fullest. It’s not that I’m so delusional as to think that complex human beings are on the base, instinctual level of animals; it’s that I’m so delusional as to indulge myself in the fantasy that a surly penguin just needs a good shrink. So here are the following FP-Playoffs parallels:
Criminal Penguins: Memphis Grizzlies
Oh, how I love the awful penguin in this clip. He waits till his neighbor leaves to find nest-building rocks, then calmly steals rocks from that neighbor’s nest.
Such an enterprising, amoral little bugger. The little sneak reminds me of the Grizzlies, they of the turnover-forcing defense. While it is easy to conceive of their approach as simple aggressive, pressure D, there is a sly deftness to this thievery. Way back when Monta Ellis was playing for the Warriors, I noticed how Memphis would jump passing lanes the second Monta left his feet. They were willing to cede a layup, just to capitalize on Ellis’ frequent blind passes. The strategy
When Dwyane Wade succumbed to injury and the Miami Heat reeled off an impressive winning streak, some speculated as to whether the Heat were better off without the dynamic shooting guard–at least on offense (lest I build up too flammable a straw man). During Wade’s absence, the Heat’s enviable redundancy at the wing positions was replaced by minutes for specialists like Mike Miller and Shane Battier and touches for Chris Bosh. Suddenly the Heat were turning the ball over less, making more three pointers and seemed to have a clearer plan in the half court. They smashed the Lakers, Spurs and 76ers.
Then, in his first game back, Wade took 10 of his 19 shots from within arms’ length of the rim, and six of his 7 assists led to layups or dunks.
But yesterday, as they did in five playoff games last season, the Bulls once again had Wade’s number. The Heat tried to manufacture scoring chances for Wade by repeatedly and unsuccessfully isolating him against Richard Hamilton from the left mid block. Chicago never brought help, and Wade never made them pay, missing every shot from the post. In fact, Wade only made one shot from the floor that wasn’t a transition dunk or layup–a fourth quarter floater that managed to die on the rim and fall in.
Chicago gives Wade fits because they cover driving angles so comprehensively that not even Wade, who seems to invent his own special geometry on some of his more creative drives, can find a seam. Sticking him in the post was a simple solution that resulted in some close attempts, Wade just blew his baseline spins over the rangy Hamilton.
More disconcerting for Miami than Wade’s inaccurate finishing was his general discomfort against Hamilton, who is a capable but not
Image by Anthony Bain
Stan Van Gundy’s coaching is one of the most faithful guides to NBA basketball. By taking note of the way his team plays, we can learn what principles work in today’s league. He is one of the coaches who can be said to have a system for on-court success, a philosophy of fundamental truths about playing winning basketball that flows beneath and nourishes Dwight Howard’s oaken presence and the unexpected blossoming of Ryan Anderson.
Anderson, just 23 and starting for the first time in his career, came to the Magic to be Rashard Lewis’s understudy and is making a name for himself reprising and expanding Lewis’s famous role—the stretch four marksmen. Van Gundy’s offense, like so many in the NBA, seeks to spread the floor around a rotating pick-and-roll attack designed to punish defenses for deploying extra defenders to address the primary pick-and-roll action. It fixes the defense on the torturer’s rack, pulling it apart until it eventually breaks and surrenders an open shot.
Of course, allocating extra bodies to slowdown ball screen attacks is far from a sin, it is the basic mission of the most sophisticated defenses in the league. The strong-side zone pressure philosophy best articulated in the strangling, expansive defenses of Tom Thibodeau were unleashed by rule changes that allow for defenders to guard spaces rather than players. While the rule changes allow defenses to better thwart isolation attacks, a secondary effect of zone-and-rotate defenses is that an offensive player will be left open, at least for a moment or two, while the defense rotates. The smart defenses rotate to open players by the level of threat they present—if your name is Reggie Evans, expect to be the last man covered.
There are all sorts of ways to defend the