Coach: Bosh’s Value, OKC’s Burst
In Bosh We Trust
While we should all remain in awe of LeBron James’ breathtaking performance on Thursday night, the Miami HEAT must move on. Saturday night’s Game 7 against the Boston Celtics should have all the energy of the entire NCAA Final Four rolled into one contest. All eyes will likely be on James, with some searching for any weaknesses or flaws and others ready to trumpet nearly every move.
However, all eyes should actually be on James’ tallest “big three” teammate, Chris Bosh, who can provide exactly what Miami needs in this decisive contest.
Bosh’s return from injury has been inconsistent. He has been a spark of energy and a sorely needed defensive presence at times, while at others, he has proven out-of-shape and a step or two behind certain plays. His ability to match up with Kevin Garnett, however, is the real key to Game 7.
My mentor, David Thorpe, took to Twitter to point out that KG’s paint scores were severely limited during Bosh’s time on the floor. In fact, Bosh’s presence at and around the rim has such a huge effect for Miami’s defensive approach that having him out there, even at less than full capacity, is decidedly positive.
Bosh’s length, athleticism, and timing make it difficult for the Celtics to establish their ability to score in the lane. This has a ripple effect throughout Boston’s attack, as not only do they have to settle more for jump shots and pull-ups, but they have to do so against an emboldened HEAT defense that plays with much more confidence knowing Bosh is protecting the back line.
Because of Bosh, Miami is much more willing and able to contest every catch with high and active hands, disrupting the vision of passing lanes and getting into the feet of the offensive player. Defense is not just about strategy or playing hard, but it is about trust in ones teammates built up over a long season of practice and games. When a critical piece like Bosh goes missing, the team’s confidence level ebbs and they simply can’t perform the same way.
Expect Bosh to be nearly back to normal for Game 7, and he may even start. If he is able to return to full function, Miami should be able to end Boston’s season.
OKC’s First Three Steps
With their ticket to the NBA Finals officially punched, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a chance to sit back and study their eventual opponent (whoever that might be). One thing the Thunder will want to continue, no matter who that foe ends up being, is race the ball between the circles on as many possessions as possible.
When discussing OKC’s explosiveness, many point to their youth, athleticism, and length. However, there are a few telltale signs that this group has been coached to be fast. One of the clearest is their first three steps.
For most teams, the fastbreak occurs when a teammate is ahead of the pack, or after a decision-maker receives the outlet, reads the floor, and accelerates into full speed. With the Thunder, however, reading the floor comes after the initial burst of raw speed and power. This shoot first, ask questions later approach is difficult for opponents to adjust to, as they are so accustomed to the typically patterned approach of most NBA offenses.
It all starts with Russell Westbrook, and his nearly unstoppable ability to rip a rebound, turn in the air and start pushing the ball in transition while other players are still returning to the ground. Westbrook is one of the three most devastating one-man-breaks in the league (the others are LeBron James and Derrick Rose), and his ability to get from point A to point B at such a rapid pace starts the Thunder attack.
However, the beauty for OKC is that it’s not just Westbrook running the floor. All of Westbrook’s teammates, whether they are rebounding or filling lanes, also take their first three steps seriously. This is an obvious teaching point that the Thunder must emphasize in every practice: to commit to pushing to maximum speed in their first three steps. This burst allows them to run past opponents (and any teammates who might not be moving as quickly), into the frontcourt where they assault the rim.
Regardless of their opponent in the NBA Finals, the Thunder would be wise to continue if not increase their commitment to the first three steps. Both Eastern Conference teams are so good in the halfcourt defensively that the quick attack might be the best way to put them on their heels. For the Thunder, not only is that powerful burst fun to watch, but it is their most effective team weapon.
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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 along with two nationally ranked high school programs. The Coach’s Notebook is a weekly feature on HOOPSWORLD.