NBA finals, Lakers Celtics: The Doc, the Master, and when to say enough

jackson.jpgIf coaching basketball, is, as they say, a chess game, then why is so much of it predicated upon dramatic shifts in approach? Yes, you have your pieces, and yes, you’re maneuvering for advantage, to neutralize your opponent’s pieces and move in for the checkmate (having more points than the other team), but in chess, the sides are equal. Each team begins with the same number of pieces, and each piece has a corresponding alternate on the other side.

This is not how it is in basketball, or any other sport.

Doc Rivers’ knight in this case, Paul Pierce, is considerably better than the Lakers’ bishop, Ron Artest. And Phil Jackson begins this game with his bishop, Kobe Bryant, at a supreme advantage over Doc Rivers. But even more explicitly, in a well matched chess game, your objective is to spring the same strategy. It’s nearly impossible to commit resources to one approach, have it met with disaster, then manage a victory through improvisation and guile. It can be done, but the game isn’t particularly built on adjustment and often when one piece falls, the rest follow.

But it is just that, adjustments and improvisation, that are going to be a central component in the Finals’ coaching matchup. And in a strongly bizarre twist, and for the second time, Doc Rivers may actually have the advantage in this area.

In 2008, we expected a dominant performance from Jackson. After all, he had nine rings at that point and Doc Rivers was a season away from the hotseat, often derided even during that championship season for his inability to formulate a rotation. It looked like it would be a complete wipeout for Rivers against the man with the rings. Turns out, Rivers coached rings around Jackson, consistently having his teams more ready and able to tweak things.

Part of that has to do with the intrinsic nature of both coaches. Jackson is renowned for his resistance to adjusting to his opponent. His philosophy is to force your opponent to adapt to you. In a similar vein, he often resists timeouts during big runs by his opponents, opting to let his team “play through it.”

Take his frontcourt. If Kevin Garnett begins to give Pau Gasol trouble, Jackson won’t be changing his approach; he’ll trust Gasol to come through. This may reflect the coach’s response to all the talk of Rondo. There will be wrinkles, sure. Tiny reflections of things they think of. But you have to force the Lakers pretty far with the edge of your sword to provoke a parry from Jackson.

But this Celtics team has enough versatility and advantages that Jackson needs to adjust that approach. If Rondo is consistently detonating whatever approach the Lakers take on him, Jackson needs to be willing to make those changes, quickly. And if the conventional approaches aren’t working, he needs to be willing to try things before untested. If that means Shannon Brown in for spot duty, go with it. If that means a move away from the overload defense, so be it. Similarly, if a player is having success on the offensive end, sticking with the plan may not be in order, especially if the Oklahoma City Kobe shows up.

Rivers on the other hand, probably has what he needs. The Big 3 and Rondo means that he doesn’t need to juggle much in the way of managing minutes. And any adjustments from there on out are fluid, unlikely to disrupt much. The Celtics’ defense is dependent upon its players knowing when to help one another, and executing the fundamentals. If their talent can stand up to LA’s, Rivers will be in a position to combat whatever wrinkles the Lakers throw at them.

Perhaps this is the series where Jackson comes out on top, however. Maybe he makes one significant adjustment (Bryant on Rondo, perhaps) and comes out on top. But whereas two years ago, this looked like a wild coaching mismatch, suddenly, it appears much closer, due to Jackson’s insistence on playing chess while Rivers mans an XBox.

Thabo Sefolosha throws down reverse dunk in transition (video)

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Was Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha making the smart play to beat the defender or just showing off?

Either way, I’m glad he did it.

Lauren Holtkamp ends Clippers-Trail Blazers with strange foul call (video)

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 03:  Referee  Lauren Holtkamp looks on during a game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on February 3, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Lauren Holtkamp once again created controversy with Chris Paul on the floor.

But, this time, Paul wasn’t the aggrieved party.

With the Clippers up 113-106 on the Trail Blazers, J.J. Redick held the ball to run out the final few seconds. But before the game ended, Holtkamp called a foul on Shabazz Napier.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

Napier did touch Redick’s side with his left hand just before the whistle. So, this isn’t completely inexplicable. But juxtapose this call with all the times a player is hacking away to intentionally foul and a whistle takes a while.

In case you’re wondering, the teams had already cleared the over, and the Clippers were already up on the 2.5-point spread.

John Wall has words for Kent Bazemore after flagrant foul (VIDEO)


There is history here: In Atlanta on May 3, 2015, John Wall took a hard fall after a foul by then Hawks point guard Jeff Teague, breaking Wall’s hand and effectively ending his playoffs (he did return three games later but the Wizards were all but done by then).

Thursday night after a Dennis Schroder turnover, the Hawks Kent Bazemore chased Wall down on a breakaway layup, but rather than make a play on the ball tried to stop and in the process undercut Wall, sending the guard hard to the floor. Wall bounced back up jawing at Bazemore, and quickly officials and teammates stepped between them.

Bazemore rightfully was given a flagrant I foul for that play — once in the air Wall was helpless, and Bazemore took his legs out from under him. Bazemore said it wasn’t intentional and that the two North Carolinians hugged and made up later.

The Hawks were down six at the time of this play but pulled away in the fourth for the win.

Three things we learned Thursday: Dwight Howard can go home again

Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) makes his way through the crowd as he leaves the court following a win over the Washington Wizards in an NBA basketball game Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
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The NBA is back, as is PBT with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. This is what you missed while checking out the Pokemon statue in New Orleans.

1) Dwight Howard can go home again (at least for one game).
What has everyone been asking of Dwight Howard for years and years? Simply play hard defense, crash the boards, and let the offense come to you. Maybe Howard needed to go home for those lessons to sink in. Playing his first game for his hometown Hawks, Howard was a beast on the boards, particularly in the first half. He had seven boards in the first six minutes, and by half he had corralled 15 boards and scored nine points. He finished the night with 19 rebounds and 11 points, which included some highlight dunks.

Howard also played good defense, and the Hawks got the win at home over the Wizards. We’ll see if this Howard keeps showing up night after night, but it was a promising start.

While Howard was good, make no mistake Paul Millsap is still the Hawks best player. He finished the game with 28 points, seven rebounds, six assists and was a plus 22. He took over in the second half and was part of the reason the Hawks pulled away with a 23-5 run in the fourth.

2) What spacing problems? Bulls shoot 44 percent from three in win over Celtics. Boston’s defensive game plan was the one every team is going to employ against Chicago: With Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler on the floor, just go under all the picks and dare for the Bulls to win with jumpers. Because we all know the Bulls can’t shoot. Except Thursday night the Rondo/Wade/Butler trio hit 9-of-14 from thee, and as a team the Bulls shot 44 percent from deep. That included Wade knocking down the dagger three in a win over the Celtics.

Make no mistake, the Bulls still had shooting woes — they shot 37.3 percent inside the arc — they just got bailed out by the threes and 18 offensive rebounds. Chicago is not going to shoot from deep like this every game. Expect them to regress to the mean over the next few games. But it’s a hopeful sign for Bulls fans, this team was knocking down shots when it needed to for a night. Or, maybe it’s just the Bulls save their best games for TNT.

3) Blake Griffin is healthy and people seem to forget just how good he is. There was Reggie Miller on the TNT broadcast saying “Blake Griffin is back” as the Clippers’ forward scored 27 and pulled down 13 boards in a win in Portland. Some were expressing the same sentiment on Twitter. Their wrong. Griffin isn’t back, he’s healthy. And when he’s healthy he is an awesome force of nature who can score inside and out, crashes the boards, and is a deft passer. He’s as good as any power forward in the game when right. Remember, back in 2014 when Chris Paul had to miss extended time Griffin came in third in the MVP voting? That wasn’t a fluke.

Griffin and CP3 are healthy, and so long as they stay that way this Clippers team is one of the top four in the NBA and a real threat to at least make the conference finals. They just need to keep themselves together for 81 more games.