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Final Thoughts on the Final Moments of Game 5 of The Finals

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on June 17, 2008

What Coulda Been

Can we go back to the last game, Game 5, for a moment? I have searched YouTube for a clip of the last 20 secs and didn’t come up with anything so you’ll have to check your own DVR or TiVo or come over to the NTL office to look at this, but did anyone notice what I saw after Eddie House hit that three-pointer from the left corner with less than 15 seconds remaining, cutting the deficit to three? I bet the Celtics coaching staff did. House hit the three and the Lakers then inbounded the ball against all-out pressure. Gasol, passing it in and guarded by KG, tossed it cross court where Kobe and Derek Fisher had moved. That was a mistake by those two; you always space out the defense. So, the ball is passed up and soft between them. Problem is: two guys cannot both catch the ball. It, natch, gets fumbled. Eddie House, alert, alive, wanting the ball, wanting another shot at a three, steps in and, diving, pokes it loose. Kobe then dives for the ball as it’s going toward the corner; KG’s coming over and in the play, taking away the baseline return pass to Gasol. Sam Cassell, and here’s my point, is drifting s-l-o-w-l-y over from the lane where he was taking away middle and never matched up with anyone. Okay, as Kobe’s is diving on the ball, Kobe, similarly alert and alive, is thinking about where he’s gonna throw it before he potentially slides out of bounds or gets hit with a travel call. There’s a passing lane from Kobe, who’s now on the floor, up the sideline, to Fisher. An obvious passing lane. You could have put up a neon flashing street sign with arrows: Passing Lane Here. What is defense supposed to do in almost every defensive situation? Get in the passing lane. And when you need the ball, and oh-do-you-need-the-ball when you are down three with 12 seconds to go in a game that could clinch your team the championship, you play in the passing lane (or cat-and-mouse your way in to the passing lane). Cassell had an opportunity to generate a “CASSELL STEALS THE BALL” moment, but he just stood there, spectating, not anticipating the way Bird did against the Pistons, the way, Havlicek did against the 76ers. As Kobe was on the floor, he was only going to be able to throw it one way and to just one possible player. Calcified, mummified, deer-in-the-headlightsified, Cassell did not make the move. Too bad, Johnny Most was ready. Onto Game 6.

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Doc Rivers, The Basketball Gods, and Getting Back on Defense”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 13, 2007

A week or so ago, Doc Rivers commented on the “winning by losing mantra seemingly embraced by many fans”. The losing, of course, leading to the wishful-thinking via the luck-of-the-draw landing of Greg Oden or some other savior of the franchise. He said, pointedly, “I think the basketball gods punish you” (scroll to bottom of linked page) if you try to lose, or don’t try to win. So, who are these basketball gods and how does he know them? Well, Doc Rivers played a lot of basketball in his life, thousands of hours on the playgrounds of Chicago, many more in schools, at Marquette and in the pros. He was very talented and hugely sought after coming out of Proviso East High School and left Marquette early for the pros. He played 13 years in the NBA, including an all-star year. In the pros, his talent alone could not always sustain him; he had to work very hard. Sometimes things went right, sometimes things went wrong. When things go wrong for no apparent reason, even after you feel as though you’ve done everything right, where do you to turn for answers? To the basketball gods.

Which is a kind of a joke. Because, in reality, nobody knows anything about no gods. But since basketball’s a sport, a game, it’s cool to talk about those gods, and even take them semi-seriously. Since the gods are, in reality, the imagined and, therefore, real manifestation of integrity (the honor that you give to proper effort) they must be respected at all times. Respecting the basketball gods means respecting effort and the inviolate principle of team play. That’s how Doc Rivers played and that’s how Doc Rivers coaches. That’s why, if able, you always give it your all in drills. That’s why you always make the extra pass. That’s why you always, always, always get back on defense to help your teammates. And that’s why you never intentionally don’t try your best, right up until the last moment, to win each game. And, finally, that’s why, if given the chance, Doc Rivers will turn the Celtics franchise around.

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“Defending the Post”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 12, 2007

Wooden and WaltonMy first year as an assistant at Harvard, we, of course, had pre-season staff meetings to discuss and outline how we would play and, therefore, how we would teach, all the aspects of individual and team offense and defense. Basically, we were laying the foundation for the season. When the topic of post defense came up, we talked about when and where and how we would defend the post. Pete Roby, then the top assistant and later the head coach at Harvard, told a story that answered our question and is instructive to all players who are defending down low. Pete said when he had been an assistant at Stanford, Bill Walton, who was enrolled as a student at Stanford Law, was serving as a “volunteer” on the hoops’ staff. There they engaged in a similar discussion. Should they primarily play behind? Should they 3/4 front and two-step across, get to the low side when the ball went below the dotted line? How about full fronting? Back and forth they went. Finally, someone noted that one of the greatest post players of all time was sitting in the room and, given that he played for John Wooden, the greatest technician, the master motivator, the most brilliant mind, the greatest college coach in history, that Walton just might be able to offer some insight. Well, Bill, how did Coach Wooden teach it? Bill: “he told us not to let our man catch the ball. Don’t let him get it.”.

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“Defensive Communication”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on November 7, 2006

When playing defense, it is important to communicate with your teammates. Talk. Say something, well, something helpful, not things like “does anyone have any Windex on them? These glass backboards are filthy!” Most often, communicate to the person who is guarding the basketball. Say, “Help left” if you are on the left side of your teammate guarding the ball. Say, “Help right” if you are the right side of your teammate and intending to stop them ball handler if he/she goes by the defender. This will aid your teammate who is guarding the ball in determining how to overplay the ball handler. It is dangerous (in a fun/game kind-of-way) and inadvisable to play a good ball handler straight-up. Dictate to the ball handler. Also, communicate the impending approach of a screen (and screener); “Screen left. Get over it. Get over it.” The get over it, get over it part is an example of repetition for emphasis. Shouting things loudly like “DON’T LET THEM SCORE!” is another recommended form of emphasis.

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“Defensive Intensity in a Pick-up Game”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on August 10, 2006

defensive-intensity.jpgYou want to get a workout playing basketball? You want to challenge yourself and make yourself better? You want to do the player you are matched up with a favor or at least find out if he or she is really a player? Then concentrate 100% of the time on the defensive end. How does that manifest itself? First, pick up the ball handler full court. Full court . . . the whole thing. Force the player to zig-zag the dribble up court or pass it off. Next, deny passes to your player everywhere in the half court (while having an eye towards “helping”, of course). Say to yourself that your player will never touch the ball. What a goal! When he or she does catch it (shame on you), contest the ball and do not let the ball handler get by your shoulders. MOVE YOUR FEET! Or, as Tommy Heinsohn says, “keep the ballhandler between your knees”. Oh yeah, make contact and box out – physically – on every shot. Hope upon hope that the person who is matched up with you takes the same approach: you will each end the game better players, you will have had a much better workout, done the “game” itself a service and, hopefully, won the respect of the other players on the court. Also, if it’s any kind of player at all you were matched up with, he or she will come shake your hand, smack your butt, say “good work” at game’s conclusion.

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“Closing Out”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on May 7, 2006

In our recent Tips on defense, especially defense when you’re guarding someone who does not have the ball, we’ve tried to impress upon players the need to not just guard the person you are guarding, to not give all your attention there, but to split your attention to the ball (ballhandler) and the threat of the ball going to the basket as well. This means that if your teammate is beaten off the dribble (ballhandler goes by him/her), that someone else on defense, the player closest by, must step in. (Do I all of a sudden sound like Hubie Brown? “You MUST roll off the screen and dive to the rim.”) The idea of leaving the person you’re matched up with is scary, I know. Because aren’t you, like, leaving them open? The short answer: yes. The better answer: not for long. Stop the ballhandler by beating them to the spot they want to drive through to go to the hoop (beat them to the spot with your feet), make the ballhandler pick up the dribble and then you recover. But in recovering, – okay here’s my Hubie-ism – you must recover under control. If you don’t recover under control – Close Out – the player you are recovering to shot fakes and goes by you. Then what good are you in helping anyway? Zero. Close out by taking short steps at the end of the recover, keeping your feet close to the ground, knees bent, feet ready to change direction, head up, back fairly straight and hand up to contest a shot (or shot fake). As Rick Majerus says, “low, slow and under control”. They’re going nowhere.

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“Help and Recover”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on April 2, 2006

You might have heard it at an AA meeting, you might have thrown the phrase about during your stint with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But, here when we say “Help and Recover” we are talking about defending the ball in a basketball game. The important stuff. Okay, the ball is on the right wing defended appropriately and ferociously by your teammate; you are defending someone at the top of the key. See the ball while seeing the opponent you are matched up with. (Vision) This means playing a step or two back from the passing lane (the imaginary line that the ball would take if it were thrown to the guy you are guarding). Next, position yourself close enough to the ball (while maintaining vision) that if your teammate is beat off the dribble to your side (possible, yes? because he or she is in the ballhandler’s face), you can stop the penetration of the ballhandler thereby forcing a pass. (Help) A pass to whom? Likely the person you left unguarded when you helped. What do you have to do? Recover to the person you are matched up with. (Recover) That means you need to be quick (alert, knees bent, full of desire). Close out ready to contest the shot, not bite on a shot fake, and take away the drive. No one said defense was easy.

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