Coach: Adjustments Aplenty in Conference Finals
Single Sided Offense & Misdirection
The Miami Heat have discovered maybe the most effective means of slowing down and stalling the inconsistent Boston Celtics offense: keeping it on one side of the floor. In the first two series games, during extended runs, the Heat used their length and ball pressure out front, combined with athleticism and rotation ability on the backline, to force the Celtics to declare and then operate out of one half of the court.
A strategic maneuver to be sure, Miami’s commitment does not come without risks. And those risks are exactly what Boston must take advantage of in order to get its offense moving in the right direction and have any chance in this series.
The central risk to such a staunch undertaking of keeping the ball on one side is that it is extremely vulnerable when the ball is swung or skipped and the offense goes directly into quick attacks. However, moving the ball blindly without setting up the possession will not be terribly fruitful either, as Miami rotates too well. So how can Boston take advantage? Better primary execution and a heavy reliance on misdirection is the answer.
Over the last few years, folks have marveled at Boston’s execution in the halfcourt set. However, this execution falters when faced with Miami’s frenetic passing lane pressure and jump-switching. The normal precision of screening action loses its luster if the opposing team takes away options. However, Boston must continue this action on one side of the floor, if only to run simultaneous actions on the opposite side.
One of the their biggest problems in this series during offensive lulls has been to stay on one side of the floor, and if things are not working, to simply go to penetration from Rajon Rondo. And while this results in some good possessions (and huge production from Rondo), it is a gift to the Miami Heat defense, since it bails them out of working too hard for too long.
By mixing in a fair amount of misdirection plays, where action is happening on the strongside but the real goal of the sequence is to get the ball reversed into action on the weakside, Boston will keep Miami’s defense much more honest and have a chance at breaking down the Heat defense over time.
Simply running sets to get catches on the second or third side of the floor is not enough, however. Boston must get scores from these actions, which means quick decision making. A very simple attack principle the Celtics could employ with great success is to only catch and shoot great passes, and to quick-attack drive on any less-than-great passes.
This dynamic will do much more to stretch and distort Miami’s aggressive defense, and will lead to more situations like the end of Game 2, when Dwyane Wade gambled, and his missed deflection forced LeBron to miss an assignment on Ray Allen. Possessions like that must come at a much more regular clip for the Boston Celtics to have a chance against the HEAT.
Straight Up and Soft Switching
In the Coach’s Notebook last week, I suggested Oklahoma City employ a scheme that involved a pack-style defense. This strategy of packing the lane, avoiding over-extending their defense and forcing San Antonio into one-on-one situations, was on full display in OKC’s Thursday night win. Two additional elements the Thunder utilized to great effect were also extremely effective: straight up defense in the post and switching on screening action.
Over the last twenty years in the NBA, many teams have employed a defensive system that holds a strict principal of doubling down in the post. Whether it was a simple dig down on the strong side, an cross match from the weakside, or some other permutation, forcing the kickout is still considered mandatory by the vast majority of coaches.
Offenses have adapted, however – and now many post-centric offenses in the NBA utilize that area in order to set up cutting actions and other shots. In other words, the post is not a primary scoring area, but rather a place from which to initiate the offense.
San Antonio treats their post entries into Tim Duncan in this fashion. A pass into the post triggers weakside actions to spring drivers and shooters for shots. A predictable double team leads to a kickout and the Spurs proceed to carve up their opponent. The problem for the Spurs now, though? The double team is not coming. By playing Duncan straight up and forcing him into one-on-one scoring situations, OKC is bogging the high-octane San Antonio offense down and preventing them from their normal rhythm.
The other major tactic that the Thunder are utilizing is soft-switching a great deal of screens, especially when Kendrick Perkins is not on the floor. Soft switching means they are simply passing the offensive player over to each other on any kind of exchange or screen, as opposed to jump switching, which would involve a more aggressive style hell-bent on jumping the passing lanes (see: Miami HEAT switching style).
Soft switching forces individual offensive players to take control and engage the defense off the dribble. While San Antonio has skilled one-on-one players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, their overpowering strength comes from attacking hard closeouts. A soft switch style significantly lessens the quantity of hard closeouts, since defenders are not recovering after getting caught in screening actions.
The Spurs’ most likely adjustment will come via basic, fundamental basketball: a healthy dose of ball screen action and pinch post area shoulder rubs instead of straight post ups, and a lot of screener pin & roll action to punish any soft switches. One other answer might come in the form of the big, strong, brute who has stayed glued on the bench for San Antonio: DeJuan Blair. Blair is a punishing screener, and soft switching with him on the floor is very difficult for the OKC defense.
This is why, by the way, the NBA Playoffs reads more like a novel, with twists, turns, and plenty of suspense for the discerning basketball fan.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 10AM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @AnthonyLMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Macri is a consultant to the ASEAN Basketball League (the first regional pro sports league in southeast Asia), offering strategic analysis on basketball and business development, league operations, and marketing. Previously, Macri served as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe and as a coach at the IMG Basketball Academy and two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.