Don Nelson will enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as the coach who has won more games than anyone else in NBA history. He will go in as an innovator, a team builder, a guy who colored outside the lines and that worked for him.
One of the things Nelson liked to do was play small and fast — small ball. Run the other guys out of the gym with your athletes and tempo.
Look around the NBA right now and you see the Heat winning a title once they went small with Chris Bosh at center. You see Boston trying to challenge them by going small with Kevin Garnett at center. You see big men who are a little smaller and a lot more mobile being the guys teams covet.
Don Nelson was at the start of that. But he told CSNBayArea.com he got it from legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach when Nelson was a Celtics player (via TrueHoop).
”It all happened in the Celtic practices. What Auerbach would do when it got to midseason and practices were drudgery, was he would play big guys against the small guys and the smalls would always win. You put Bill Russell on the other team and everybody else big, and put the smalls on the other and it wasn’t a close game as long as it was a full-court game. Now half-court you couldn’t do that. But full-court, the smalls always won, so I’m sure that was the start of it.
“I could never understand why small players could never rebound and big players couldn’t dribble. They can. They just don’t do it. But in practice big guys can dribble and do a lot of things. Guys like Magic Johnson proved that – 6-8 point guard – that it could happen if they believe they can do it. So I always asked my small guys to be rebounders and my big guys to handle the ball and dribble and get into the open court and feel comfortable there.
“I think it all started from those practices. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we had John Havlicek on our side in small ball. But the big guys couldn’t get the ball up the court. It was always like 10-2 – small guys always won.”
The old basketball adage that “tall and good beats small and good” is being challenged. Which is good for us as fans — up tempo, slashing teams are a lot more fun to watch than plodding defensive ones.
And we have Nelson to thank for that. And Auerbach.
The 18-8 Utah Jazz will get better tonight. Soon that may be significantly better.
Center Mehmet Okur — out since rupturing his Achilles tendon in the first game of the playoffs last season — will suit up and come off the bench for the Jazz tonight, the team announced at shoot around this morning. Not a lot, just 5 or 10 minutes off the bench, but he will play.
Okur brings floor spacing, a deadly pick-and-pop game, and rebounding. He joins Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Andrei Kirilenko to make one of the better front lines in the league and one with a lot of versatility. Jerry Sloan likes versatility. Oh, the Jazz have that Deron Williams guy too, I hear he’s pretty good.
The Jazz are good without him, with Okur they move up a notch. Probably not “beat a healthy Lakers team in a seven game series” notch, but you can bet the Mavericks and Spurs would like to avoid them for as long as possible.
Things were bad for the Jazz. Deron Williams had been bothered for much of the season with injury, Carlos Boozer tweaked his oblique in the third to last game of the season. They drew an unfavorable matchup with the Denver Nuggets and wound up without the precious home court advantage.
And the hits just keep on coming.
Mehmet Okur, starting center for the Utah Jazz suffered a ruptured Achilles last night in Game One versus the Nuggets. Ross Siler of the Salt Lake City Tribune broke the story via Twitter, and confirmed that GM Kevin O’Connor lists his recovery time as three to six months. He also shared the sad story that Okur had tears in his eyes last night after the game after the injury.
The impact for the Jazz is huge. Okur is a starter, a three point threat and a versatile big for the Jazz. Without him, the Jazz will have to turn to the smaller Paul Millsap and the inexperienced Fessenko. Against Denver’s fleet of explosive bigs (Nene, Kenyon Martin, Birdman), that’s going to be a problem.
It’s personally crushing for Okur, as not only can he not be with his team in the playoffs, but he won’t be able to play in the world championships this summer for the native Turkey.
Injuries are never fair, and so often are the difference in the playoffs.