|Spurs - Superstar Team - Greg Popovich - Superstar Coach - Clutch Game Strategies.
||[Jun. 13th, 2007|03:30 am]
Here's an old insider piece from David Aldridge on June 9th-10th, 2004, about Game 2 of the 2004 NBA Finals. It pertains to what happened in the closing moments of Game 3 in this year's Finals.
I found this Aldridge piece by The Wayback Machine.
If you've never used archive.org's little gem, then you should. The internet is an hour-by-hour proposition . . . it changes faces constantly. This feature gives you a crazy look at how it was in a lot of places for an oh-so-brief moment.
Wednesday, June 9, 2004
Updated: June 10, 3:40 PM ET
'Pound for Pound' worth every penny
By David Aldridge
LOS ANGELES -- Here's where Pound for Pound has to earn his loot.
Rasheed Wallace calls Larry Brown "Pound for Pound." I thought it was in reference to "pound for pound, the best coach out there," although 'Sheed says it simply is a reflection of the man's initials, LB. As in, you know, pound.
See, I think Larry Brown is the greatest basketball coach currently walking this earth. There is no situation, no team, no time in which you wouldn't want him on your sidelines drawing up sets and trying to get your team to play the right way. ("Play the right way" is Brown's mantra, his shorthand for basketball played the Dean Smith Way. It should be on Brown's tombstone.) And for about 90 of the first 96 minutes of the Finals, P4P has been a step ahead of Phil Jackson. He's had his Pistons ready to play and he's adjusted brilliantly on the fly.
But there is no sugarcoating this: Brown made a mistake, it says here, in the waning seconds of Game 2. And as a result, he's going to have to do his greatest coaching job in the 48 hours his guys aren't on the floor, between Game 2 and Game 3.
With Detroit up three with 10.9 seconds left in regulation on Tuesday, Brown surely knew that the Lakers, after dawdling with the ball in the backcourt before calling timeout, had no choice but to hoist up a long-distance rock. And onto the court for L.A. walked Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Karl Malone ... and Shaquille O'Neal. O'Neal, of the one career 3-pointer in 20 attempts. O'Neal, the career 53.4 percent free-throw shooter.
But surely, the Diesel was on the floor simply to set a screen for Kobe or Fisher, or maybe even Walton, who'd hit a three earlier in the game and was playing out of his mind. And then, Malone inbounded the ball ... to O'Neal! If ever a player was on a floor with a neon sign around his neck flashing Foul Me! Foul Me! (and don't forget the $4.99 buffet from 4-6 p.m. in the Palmetto Lounge), it was Shaq.
But O'Neal was allowed to catch the ball and hand it off to Luke Walton, who got it to Kobe, who ... well, you know.
"We talked about" fouling O'Neal, Brown said. "But I didn't think they were going to throw it to him. ... We talked about if they threw it inside, yeah, Shaq gets it, put him on the line. But I don't want to take a chance like that."
LB. You could probably assume in that situation that if Shaq catches the ball outside the 3-point line -- Shaq, the career 5-percent 3-point shooter -- he's not going to turn around and fire. He's looking to pass. Probably to Bryant. Almost certainly to Bryant. Who else but Bryant?
Said Ben Wallace: "I thought about it ... but that's a shot we have to live with."
Of course, Wallace should have fouled him. But players, in this situation, are allergic to the idea of making contact. Their instinct is to stay away; no one wants to give a team three free ones that could tie the game. This is where a coach has to come in and overpower their uncertainty. He has to say, "This is the right thing to do. Foul Shaq if he touches the ball at all."
My colleague Fred Carter convinced me of the rightness of this strategy. If, up three, you foul the opponent and put them on the line, even if they make both free throws, you're still ahead by a point -- and you have the basketball. In this situation, the Lakers would have to give a quick foul and put the Pistons on the line -- and Detroit has excellent free-throw shooters in Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Lindsey Hunter. 'Sheed has knocked them down at better than 76 percent in the postseason, too. You make your two free throws, they get the ball -- and you foul them again. As long as you make your free throws -- and in 10 seconds, there wouldn't have been but so many -- you win. But under no circumstances do you let a team down three get off a 3-pointer.
Brown doesn't think much of Hack-a-Shaq as a strategy. But in this case, it wouldn't have been strategy. It would have been game management.
(By the way, let me take a minute here to address the words of another LB, Larry Bird. Bird was asked in an interview for an upcoming program if the league needed more white stars. He answered yes, because it would be good for the NBA's fan base, which is comprised mostly of white Americans. I know some of my friends will say that there is something wrong or racially problematic with what Bird said, to which I reply: shutupshutupshutupshutup. First, Bird didn't bring the subject up; he answered a question. Second, to deny that white people would like to see white athletes prosper is stupid. Black people like to see blacks succeed; Latinos like to see Latinos succeed; Asians like to see Asians succeed. [That's "Asians," not "Orientals," Bill Parcells.] You would hope that we all would like to see each other succeed, but that's another question, isn't it? Third, Bird has never, to my knowledge, exploited his race for his own personal gain. Throughout the '80s, when hosannas were being written about him and fans lionized him, it would have been easy for Bird to subtly put himself out there as some Great White Hope, and to make a killing doing it. But he didn't. He played the game and frequently gave the credit not to himself, but to black teammates like Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish. No one has made less of the fact that Bird is white than Bird.)
But let's get back to Brown. Believe me, I'm not the only one wondering why the order to foul wasn't given, and I'm not talking about hack sportswriters and hairdo TV folk. There was some distinct grumbling about the decision in the Detroit locker area after Game 2. To give the Lakers a game -- and it was given to them, not taken by them, no matter what the Kobe Hagiographers in L.A. write -- is worse than getting blown out.
Here, though, is where the Pistons are fortunate. The same guy who goofed Tuesday is the absolute best guy in the world to make things right by Thursday.
Bill Davidson is paying Brown $5 million a year for moments exactly like this. It was Brown that cajoled, threatened, yelled and praised Danny Manning into the performance of his life in the 1988 NCAA championship game -- a feat that brought the Jayhawks the national championship. It was Brown who got the Clippers to the playoffs. It was Brown who helped shape Allen Iverson into the NBA's Most Valuable Player. And in these Finals, it's been Brown who's instilled in these Pistons a no-fear mindset.
He's stripped the Lakers of their supposed invincibility and swagger, exposed them to his players for what they are: a talented, tough, but somewhat flawed team. Brown told the Pistons they could get any shot they wanted against the Lakers in Game 1, and didn't care who knew it. Brown already has his guys convinced that the Lakers have no clothes. Now, he has to re-inflate their belief in themselves to get the job done at home.
In 48 hours.
It won't take videotape, or some rah-rah speech. It'll just take Brown doing what he does better than anyone in the world.
"You think we're gonna lay down?," 'Sheed asked defiantly in the locker room on Tuesday.
Not with P4P in the house.
David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
Game 2 of the 2004 Finals applies to Greg Popovich, Spurs head coach, and Game 3 of the 2007 Finals.
Greg Popovich failed to make mistakes in the final moments of Game 3 that both Phil Jackson and Larry Brown have made.
If your team is under a slim deficit of somewhere between 1 to 3 points, it's customary to foul the other team's ball-carrier on purpose. The intention of the foul is to send that guy to the line to get the ball back in your team's hands as soon as possible. It's a ball control move.
This strategy has been applied at least as far back as a handful of minutes to go in a game. Shaq and Ben Wallace made appearances this year in the playoffs, and if I remember correctly, fouls were intentionally applied to these guys with anywhere around 4 minutes to go with a larger deficit than 3 points.
Closing moments of regulation in Game 2 of the 2004 Finals . . .
10.9 seconds to go. Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Karl Malone, and Shaq were on the floor. Lakers possession, down by 3 points. Karl Malone to pass from the sideline.
Here's the play in question, on YouTube.
Pay absolutely no attention to the yammering about Rip Hamilton making the biggest mistake on that play. Rip knew Kobe was a 3-ball shooter with clutch ability, and Rip guarded Kobe well on that play. It's a tough shot, clearly contested, that Kobe took with no fear, simply because Rip Hamilton is not much of a shot blocker, and both Kobe and Rip knew that if Rip fouled Kobe, it was a better than usual chance for Kobe to either miss but make all 3 free throws . . . or, Kobe makes the shot, and he gets an extra foul shot to win the game.
Biggest mistakes on that play were committed by Phil Jackson and Larry Brown.
Karl Malone inbounding to Shaq . . . Phil Jackson's mistake. Detroit could have fouled Shaq and counted on Shaq missing free throws. Shaq was only hitting 42 percent from the foul line at the time.
Ben Wallace choosing to not foul Shaq . . . his mistake, but Larry probably over-emphasized the perimeter foul warning to his players, and as Larry Brown said from Aldridge's article, he didn't expect Shaq to saunter out to collect Malone's inbound.
It's Ben Wallace for the mistake . . . and Larry Brown for lack of complete planning.
Shaq does not have the ability to hit a 3 and get a game-winning foul shot. Fisher or Kobe can, and Karl and Walton are worst case scenarios for the shot.
Instead of stressing just the perimeter foul warning, Larry should have added that Karl Malone or Shaq should be fouled if they touch the ball. Karl Malone was only hitting 63 percent on his free throws during that playoffs.
This applies to Game 3, '07 Finals, how?
We begin . . . when Pavlovic had just hit a 3-ball, 48 seconds to go, to make the score 72-70, San Antonio.
On the court for Cleveland . . . Eric Snow, Daniel Gibson, LeBron James, Aleksandar Pavlovic, and Anderson Varejao. For San Antonio, it was Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, and Tim Duncan.
From that next San Antonio possession, Spurs chose to eat clock and pass around the ball. Spurs settled with Tony Parker . . . Tony's layup attempt gets blocked by Varejao. Cavs ball, 25 seconds remain, still 72-70, but a mistake maybe was made by Cleveland after the Varejao rebound off the block.
Perhaps the Cavs should have called time-out when they got it to half-court. Cavs had at least a full time-out and a 20-second time-out to use, from what I can tell from the play-by-play.
The Cavaliers on the court ended up continuing play with no time-out called.
It's funny to me that a vet like Eric Snow or a leader like LeBron James both could have remembered to take a time-out, much like the Cavaliers were doing in similar situations with Detroit in the final seconds. During those games, Cavs would call for time-out, make subs, and talk over a play. Had either of these guys remembered, there would probably have been 20 seconds left in the game, and 19 seconds on the shot clock. Down two points . . . plenty of time to either tie or go for the win.
Eric Snow is completely useless on offense outside of ball-handling and passing. The Cavs could have used either Damon Jones for Snow to have an extra 3-ball shooter, like Phil Jackson had with Fisher, Kobe, and Walton along the perimeter, giving the Cavs four shooters plus Varejao for rebounding.
Or, Brown could have subbed Snow for Donyell Marshall for the same effect plus have an extra big man in the game.
Brown could have really used Zydrunas subbing in for Varejao at that point, for purpose of rebounding and an overall better shooter up front.
Unfortunately, the Cavs took that Varejao rebound, pushed it up court . . . LeBron tried to push it toward the paint with 17 seconds to go, only to run into Bowen and Tim Duncan . . . so he dished it to Varejao, who was behind him . . . and Varejao drove the lane to LeBron's left. LeBron scooted back beyond the 3-arc, now un-guarded, and LeBron was probably expecting Varejao to kick it back to him, but instead, Varejao chose to drive the ball . . . Varejao runs into Tim Duncan, one-on-one near the basket, for a missed layup. Duncan rebounds, and immediately passes to Ginobili, who is fouled intentionally by Pavlovic with 10 seconds to go.
There is a question I have . . . was Mike Brown jumping around and livid on the sidelines at this point? If so, was it due to the poor result of the play following Varejao's rebound . . . or was it because Brown wanted a time-out, but the players and the referees did not take notice?
Tim Duncan's career free throw mark is about 68 percent . . . in this playoff run, it's more like 66 percent. Tony Parker's current playoff free throw number is just under 70 percent. Bowen's career free throw rate is under 60 percent, and during this year's run, he's nailing only 50 percent. Barry is a pure perimeter-only player at this stage of his late career, gets very few fouls, but his career mark is 82 percent. The only better option out there is Manu Ginobili, who happens to be hitting about 85 percent of his foul shots.
Who did Tim Duncan find, again, after the rebound off Varejao's botched shot? Manu.
When Tim grabbed that Varejao miss, he gave the Cavs no time to foul him.
As for general strategy off a rebound in this intentional foul stage . . . Tim probably would never pass it to Bowen, and Tim's smart enough not to hold on to the ball unless everyone minus Bowen is smothered for coverage. Not only are these guys solid vets . . . their coach prepares them well enough during the season to make this decision almost a complete involuntary reflex.
Manu was cold from the floor this night . . . Cavs had taken him completely out of the game, and when Manu stepped to the line off that intentional foul, Manu had zero points for the game. Manu missed his first free throw . . . but he hit the second, leaving the game at 73-70, Spurs, with Cavs possession.
Now Mike Brown takes the full time-out, and he substitutes Eric Snow with Damon Jones . . . and Varejao with Zydrunas.
Pop subs Tony Parker with Robert Horry to give Spurs another clutch shooter.
10 seconds to go. Cavs ball, 73-70, Spurs.
Cavs waste no time. Ball gets to James, completing the layup, and the Spurs avoid fouling him on the drive. 73-72, Spurs, their possession with 6 seconds to go.
Who do the Spurs find on this next inbound? Manu. Pavlovic intentionally fouls him.
As a last resort, in any similar Spurs situation, more often than not, again, Pop limits his team's greatest weakness, foul shooting, by his players finding a pass to the guys with the best free throw percentage. Any similar situation, a worst case scenario finds a Barry, Horry, or Parker. Avoid the ball to Duncan or Bowen.
Manu hits his first free throw. Cavs replace Damon Jones with Varejao for an extra rebounder on the 2nd attempt, in case Manu misses. Manu hits his second free throw. Cavs call a short time-out.
Spurs and Cavs draw up their plays and make subs.
Spurs replace Horry with Parker. Cavs replace Varejao with Damon Jones.
After another short time-out by the Spurs . . .
75-72, Spurs, 5 seconds to go, Cavs ball.
This is the next batch of genius that Popovich employs . . .
Snow inbounds to James . . . Bruce Bowen clearly goes for an intentional foul on James beyond the arc. No foul was called.
James receives it, then jumps away from Bowen and hurls an attempt at a three-pointer. He misses the shot, clanks off rim, Zydrunas in place for the rebound, but the rebounders keep tipping at it as time runs out. Spurs win.
Why would Popovich call for the intentional foul?
LeBron's currently hitting 15.4 percent on his 3-ball attempts during the Finals. That's pretty low for a shot percentage beyond the arc. In this year's playoffs, LeBron's only 27.9 of his 3-ball attempts. Again, that's very low.
James is hitting 76.8 percent of his free throws. Chances are good that LeBron misses the perimeter attempt, and if the refs award him three foul shots, then chances are also slightly favorable that LeBron would miss one of them.
Would LeBron or his staff be savvy enough to order an intentional miss of the third free throw if he misses the first or second, in order to try and get another quick two points?
I bet Popovich would.
Pop played percentages . . . and the Spurs won.
Popovich is that great of a coach. The Spurs are that great of a team. They had to get through Denver, Phoenix, and Utah, all of which are clearly better teams than Cleveland. Cleveland really didn't have a major test in the playoffs until the Cavs faced Detroit . . . and that was far from a great test, considering the way Detroit was botching things in that series. I believe Detroit would have been staring today at a 3-0 defecit, also, had Detroit beat Cleveland.