Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NBA Update: Don't Tug on LeBron's Cape

OK, so the Bulls and the Heat were tied at 85-all last night in Miami with 8 seconds to go. The Heat were up 2 games to 1, but LeBron had just committed a silly charging foul to give Chicago the last shot. If the Bulls could score, they would tie the series and regain home court advantage. It is not hyperbole to state that Chicago's whole season was on the line.

So what did they do? Did they run a clever play? No. Did they look for the open man? No. Instead, and after calling time out, they simply created an open floor to give Derrick Rose the chance to go one-on-one with LeBron. Now, here's the problem. Rose is 6' 3". LeBron is 6' 8". It's not easy for a 6' 3" guy to shoot over a 6' 8" guy. A 6' 3" guy can often drive past a 6' 8" guy -- but not if the 6' 8" guy is LeBron.

So the game ended with Derrick Rose trying a step-back jumper against a guy five inches taller than he is. It looked like the sort of shot you would take in a game of HORSE, and it failed. In OT, the LeBrons cranked up the defense, and outscored Chicago 16-8. Final Score: Heat 101, Bulls 93. Game over. Probably series over.

Remarkably, the Celtics did the exact same thing at the end of Game 4 in their series with the Heat. The Heat led that series 2-1, the score was tied at 86, LeBron made a turnover, and Boston got the last shot. The Celtics cleared the floor for Paul Pierce -- who settled for the same silly step-back jumper. It missed, the Heat won the overtime 12-4, the game 98-90, and the series 4-1. So long, thanks for playing.

If this is the sort of coaching Phil Jackson was up against, it's no wonder he won so many titles.

Anyway, the Heat just need one more victory to move onto the finals, where they will likely meet Dallas. The Mavs won both games in OKC, and lead the Thunder 3-1, so that series is pretty much over as well.


  1. The only comment I'll make about the Bulls last shot attempt was that the commentators talked about the fact that behind LeBron the way had been cleared for Rose so that he could make a move to the basket. They felt that Rose just blew the play by not going to the basket. In that sense there was a design to the play, but obviously Rose felt he couldn't get past LeBron.

  2. Well, he couldn't get past LeBron. In fact, they tried the exact same play about 30 seconds before this one, and he ended up having to take the same silly shot.

    This was the fourth game in a row these two teams have played against each other. I have probably watched seven of the 16 quarters that have been played, and I certainly knew that Rose wasn't getting past LeBron. So the Chicago coaches -- and Rose himself -- should have known it as well.

  3. That's the NBA for you. Too often for my taste, it's like some territory battle between two fiefdoms. Either a team's star is acting like a tempermental/alpha-male feudal lord (Scottie Pippen when he wouldn't go back in that one game when Phil Jackson didn't design the play for him to take the last shot) or the team is trying to put him into test situations to see if he would thrive in that role (maybe the Hawks and Dominique Wilkins?). I don't know what was going on here with Derrick Rose or the Bulls, but I promise you that every coach on Chicago's sidelines, Miami's and in front of a TV watching it could sit down and design something up where the ball would've eventually gotten into the hands of the player on her or his team who might be only the third or fifth most talented one-on-one scorer on his side--but would be able to best exploit the particular defensive matchup that player would face coming out of the timeout. In the NBA, that's all complicated and often nullified by the star culture. And a good number of folks love that aspect of the sport; now I'm certainly not above enjoying a good soap opera, but it's not what I'm looking for in a basketball game.

    Two things:

    -- I wonder how often in NBA games teams come out of a timeout and get set up for some last-seconds play, only for one of the coaches to immediately call for another timeout because he doesn't like the scenario of matchups that are developing. I'll bet hardly ever. Because what's the point? It's the NBA; you've got to give the ball to your star player, anyway, to see if he can conquer the other team's star player. That sort of thing happens all of the time in high-school and college basketball because coaches are less bound by the Middle Ages culture.

    -- The NBA doesn't allow zone defenses. I can't believe there's not more outrage about this.

  4. Well, I should say, the NBA doesn't allow zone defenses except when it does allow zone defenses (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I mean, in most cases, the NBA doesn't allow zone defenses. That is to say, zone defenses are frequently illegal. To be clear: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

  5. If this were the start of a conversation to scope out a business plan that would dissect the recent history of basketball and propose where it should be going, here are some other things I would like to discuss:

    -- John Havlicek and Bill Russell;
    -- Dean Smith, George Karl and Michael Jordan;
    -- King Kelly;
    -- Red Auerbach and Abe Pollin;
    -- Larry Bird and Reggie Miller;
    -- Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, James Worthy, Norm Nixon, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper;
    -- Jerry Sloan, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and whatever the guy's name was whom Sloan assigned to guard Jordan on that series-winning shot;
    -- Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr;
    -- Allen Iverson, John Thompson, Patrick Ewing, Bill Russell, Sleepy Floyd, Red Auerbach, Larry Brown, David Thompson and Dean Smith;
    -- Bobby Knight, Isaiah Thomas, Vinnie Johnson, Bill Laimbeer and Digger Phelps, and
    -- Robert Mayall, Joe B. Hall and Darius Miller.

  6. Also:

    -- Greg Kelser, Jud Heathcoate, Magic Johnson and Tom Izzo;
    -- Kevin Grevey, Wes Unseld, Adolph Rupp and Bernie Bickerstaff;
    -- Paul Sanderford, Cristy McKinney, Steve Small and Mary Taylor;
    -- Geno Auriemma and Pat Summit, and
    -- Jack Ramsey, Bill Walton and Elgin Baylor.

  7. John Starks, Pat Riley, Magic Johnson and Adolph Rupp.

  8. Phil Jackson, Red Holzman, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Bill Bradley, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant.

  9. Bobby Knight, Tom Crews, Arad McCutcheon and Jerry Sloan;
    Garfield Heard, John MacLeod, Paul Westphal, Red Auerbach, JoJo White and Dave Cowens;
    K.C. Jones, Rick Barry, Red Auerbach, Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Dennis Johnson, Larry Bird and the American Basketball League, and
    Lenny Wilkins and Cliff Hagan.

  10. I agree with you, but I would note that the two coaches who are the least influenced by this macho nonsense -- Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich -- have won 15 NBA titles since 1991. To me, this fact shows even more strongly that team basketball is the way to go.

  11. And I'm very excited to see all these comments; I've been hoping to provoke more NBA discussion.

  12. Great point about Greg Popovich. I would say that Phil Jackson, though, co-exists with the macho stuff and that Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant co-existed with Phil Jackson.

  13. I think you're being too harsh on Phil, Kobe, and Jordan. I can certainly remember Steve Kerr, John Paxson, and Robert Horry hitting some big shots at the end of big games. And I don't remember seeing Phil's good teams look as clueless at the end of a game as the Bulls did the other night.

    But on the whole, I agree with you that the NBA's culture is not conducive to smart play at the end of the game.