Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Why Most NBA Coaches are Wimps

Last night I took in most of the Celtics game versus the Washington Wizards. It was a pretty well played game with a lot to like from both sides. For the Celtics Ryan Gomes put up a monster first half and a game overall and continues to impress as a second round rookie. Wally World abused Washington's small lineup by continually posting up and scoring over Antonio Daniels, and Big Al looked great going against Jamison on the low block (until he began wincing after a dunk that is). For the Wizards they had to be pleased to see their new big three of Arenas, Jamison, and Butler clicking very well and to see Antonio Daniels attacking the rim. The game went to overtime where the two superstars Arenas and Pierce took over.

With under a minute remaining the Celtics drew up a nice play that had Oriene Green taking the inbounds pass while both Wally and Pierce came off screens from down on the block for what would be open jump shots. Pierce got wide open had a great look at a three which he shot perfectly. The Celtics now lead by one.

Washington attempts to inbound the ball at half-court and is clearly only going to Areanas. They can't get it in within five seconds and are forced to use their last timeout. Notable on the play is that Pierce jumped out and overplayed Arenas, denying him the ball, but the subsequent rotations left Jamison open by the hoop for what would be an open score. But clearly the play was only to go to Arenas. No other option on the play. Washington then puts the ball into Arenas' hands and he dribbles his way to a short jumper that he cashes to give the Wizards a one point lead with 14 seconds remaining. The Wizards fans go crazy and things seem good for their chances to win. Just play solid defense and they'll escape with another close win over the Celtics.

Doc Rivers decides during the timeout to just give the ball to his superstar, much like Washington did on their previous possesion. Pierce gets the ball at the top of the three point arc, holds it and then prepares to dribble his way to a last second shot. Washington wisely doubles Pierce and forces him to dribble furiously to get off his shot. Pierce finds a sliver of daylight and as he's fading back and listing to his left, he releases an incredibly difficult shot just before time expires. It hits nothing but net. The Cetlics win. Pierce begins the typical chest pounding and at Tony Allen's insistance pops his Jersey. Nevermind that these are two of the lesser teams in the Eastern Conference and that the Celtics aren't even in playoff contention. Everyone on the Boston side of things is happy. Rivers is out on the court beaming at his superstar and pumping his fist. Just like Doc planned it, right? (See the play here:

Not exactly. I don't think Doc imagined the shot Pierce took would be that difficult, but he should have. And Eddie Jordan probably should have envisioned that the Celtics would do everything they could to deny Arenas the ball on their last possesion. And this drives me crazy. Coaches tense up and draw in the reins in the closing seconds of close games. I think this gives them an automatic excuse if their team loses the game. For example, if Pierces shot misses Doc can say they got the ball into their best player and hoped that he could create by either drawing a double team or hitting a tough shot and what more can you ask for? The coach is blameless. On the play where Pierce took an open shot off a screen there's a lot that can go wrong. First your giving the ball to a rookie point guard. Second, what if Pierce doesn't get a proper screen? What if the passer gives Pierce a bad pass? That's a risky play in the NBA coaches world. He could take the fall for the loss if something goes wrong with the play. The same thing for Eddie Jordan. Had he drawn up other options besides Arenas in their last possession perhaps Jamison would have been spoted underneath for the much easier wide open shot. Eddie Jordan runs a fairly nice variant of the Princeton offense and to see his team reduced to standing and watching Arenas pound the ball at the end of games is shame. The same for the Celtics. Pierce is almost a perfect jump shooter when open. And after coming off a screen, the defender is at a disadvantage. He's running at Pierce and is susceptible to a quick up fake. Pierce can then either take the open shot, fake his man and drive towards the hoop for a closer shot, or fake drive and kick to another open defender after the defense overcompensates. Instead after a timeout you give the defense the advantage by just giving Pierce the ball. They can send their double, set things up and know how they're going to rotate. Only a tremendous play is going to beat them. And guys like Pierce can deliver those plays. Just not all the time.

Watch almost any NBA play and you'll see the same thing. Isolation play for the superstar at the end of the game. Only Detroit and San Antonio come to mind as teams that don't follow this strategy. And it's a shame. Excellent players are almost unstoppable when open. If only the coaches weren't afraid to take a little heat, the average NBA fan would be treated to exciting ends to games on a regular basis. Instead we're left with the false drama of isolation plays that don't often work.