Regularly throughout the NBA playoffs, we’ll be checking in with former Raptors head coach Butch Carter for an insider’s perspective on the X’s and O’s that lead to W’s and L’s. Today, Coach Carter breaks down LeBron’s 49-point night and points out some much needed adjustments for both the Thunder and Clippers heading into Tuesday’s Game 5.
LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra’s mindset was to end Game 4 in a blaze of glory. I give a lot of credit to those two because, regardless of the offence they’ve run this year, it’s been built off of everybody on the court being efficient. In last night’s game, LeBron—the best athlete in the league—was pissed off and yet his aim was still to be efficient.
The beauty of what he did was captured best in a play late in the game. He had the ball deep in the paint and kicked it out to Mario Chalmers, who shifted it to Chris Bosh for an open three in the corner. LeBron had it rolling and had every right to take the shot based purely on field goals made to that point, but he chose to trust a teammate to help him win the game. That’s a surefire formula for success.
From a game-plan standpoint, the Heat have a simple rule: LeBron must touch the ball and activate the offence before anyone does anything else. And what’s great about Miami in games like last night is that LeBron’s teammates know how to count! So not only are they allowing him to activate the ball movement, they also know darn well that he’s on a roll. I’ve seen many teams ice their own hot player because of selfish play. You won’t see that with this team.
At it’s core, Miami’s offence is essentially a read-and-react in which they give LeBron as many straight-line passing options out of the double-team as possible. With that in mind, the Heat are one of the better teams in the league in terms of ensuring their perimeter shooters have their feet set when they catch the ball, which generally leads to a higher field-goal percentage. After evaluating his roster three years ago, Spoelstra changed his approach and went from running set plays to more of an open-concept design on offence. That’s not to say he doesn’t run any set plays—he does—but they tend to be predicated on reading the defence and driving the gaps.
Of course, it’s also a challenge for any coach on the opposing sideline to draw up a strategy to stop—or, at least, slow down—LeBron James. For starters, I think you need to guard him with multiple people. It’s also important to recognize that the more involved he is at the start of a game, the more his energy builds.
As a coach, the hardest player I ever had to game plan for was Shaquille O’Neal. Interestingly, it wasn’t his size or positioning that posed the toughest problem. The issue was that it took a tremendous amount of discipline to know who you were going to leave open when you double-teamed O’Neal, and who you weren’t. I remember beating the Lakers with Shaquille in L.A. when I was coaching the Raptors, but we couldn’t repeat that outcome when they came to Toronto for a Sunday afternoon game, which can be rough for visiting west coast teams. That afternoon contest was the worst game Tracy McGrady ever played for me, because he kept coming off of Glen Rice—a dangerous shooter—to double Shaquille. It was difficult to come to terms with the notion that you could let Shaquille score or get him to the free throw line, as opposed to allowing open threes.
Getting back to last night, it was clear to me that Miami was reacting to what looked like the very real possibility of San Antonio sweeping Portland. The Blazers—to their credit—ended up picking up a win, but Miami is looking at the reality of a Finals rematch featuring the two most experienced teams in the league, and they want to close out their opponent so they can be rested.
OKC-LAC Game 5:
Looking at tonight’s late game, Scott Brooks has got to find some offensive blueprint for when Doc Rivers and the Clippers put a smaller player on Kevin Durant to stop his dribble-drive. When the Clippers go small against KD, like we saw in Game 4, it forces Durant to post-up and the Thunder wind up getting him the ball on the first side—the side of the court the ball comes to at the beginning of an offensive possession. But when you’re trying to take advantage in the low post, the best way is to attack from the second side, which is something we haven’t seen OKC try thus far.
From the first side the defence is better able to see everything that’s going on in front of them, which allows them to rotate more effectively. But when you work the ball around to the opposite post, it forces the defence to move and, hopefully, makes it harder for those rotations to come.
San Antonio is great at attacking from the second side. They start the ball on the right side and advance it to the free-throw line extended. Tony Parker screens away and then San Antonio reverses it back to him and Duncan runs all the way across the court to set the screen. The players have to pull it off, but it begins with the coaching staff. The problem in OKC is that they have a coach who only knows one way to win, and the Clippers are forcing them to find another way to get chances to score the basketball.
The Clippers need one of their stars to step up the way we saw LeBron do last night—and the way Tony Parker has for the Spurs. I think it has to be Chris Paul because Blake Griffin has been struggling with foul trouble. Doc plays bully basketball with Griffin, and I think he needs to loosen things up for him a bit so that Griffin can just focus on making baskets. Doc has helped Blake mature this season by helping him to understand that he has a bigger responsibility to the team, but again, it’s the same problem OKC is running into: posting up on the first side. When Griffin is forced to run into the Thunder trees he’s not getting the foul calls, particularly when it comes to the Oklahoma City starters. Kendrick Perkins is a great help rotation guy who is well suited to this series, and he’s making things more difficult for Blake.
Ultimately, though, I don’t think any of the teams in the west have a chance of getting past San Antonio, especially with Tony Parker on his game like he has been.
In the east, however, Indiana absolutely has a chance to get past Miami. You have to remember: If Dwyane Wade is injured, Miami’s chances of winning are significantly reduced. That’s why Miami is trying to make sure they’re rested.
For more insight and analysis on the NBA playoffs, follow Coach Carter on Twitter @TOButchCarter