Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
It happens about 50 times a year (probably more). It’s the same situation time and again. It happens in the NBA, in all levels of college and even in high school. Here’s the situation: Your team is up by three, very late in the game (in our example to come, 3.2 seconds). The other team has the ball, taking it out on the side, needing a three to tie. Somehow, inexplicably, the other team’s star shooter shakes loose, runs behind the three-point line, gets a pass and buries a three to force overtime. How could this happen?
IT HAPPENED LAST FRIDAY
The most recent example was last Friday, Nets-Raptors. While it’s one of the great regular season games you will ever see (Vince Carter hits a three with 0.8 left in regulation to tie and throws down a backwards dunk with 2.1 seconds left in OT to win the game), we’ll focus on the end of regulation where Toronto allowed the Nets a chance to win a game in OT that they (the Raptors) should have won in regulation.
The Raptors are up 111-108, 3.2 seconds left, the Nets taking the ball out on the side just past half-court in their offensive zone. Big Net center Brook Lopez is at the foul line being guarded by Chris Bosh. Net superstar Vince Carter is below Lopez, just inside the foul line and he is being guarded by Toronto’s Anthony Parker. Lopez sets a pick on Parker as Carter pops out to the top of the key and then past the three-point line, gets the inbounds pass, Parker gets there a step late and Carter buries a three. What’s incredibly wrong (stupid?) with this picture?
WHAT SHOULD THEY DO IN THIS SITUATION?
When you’re up three very late in the game (and certainly with 3.2 seconds left), your goal defensively has to be no three-point shot or, at least, an incredibly difficult three-point shot. So why would someone guarding Vince Carter guard him below the foul line and stand between Carter and the basket? While we are all taught to play between our man and the basket, the reality is that, in this situation (up three very late in the game), you should stand between your man and THE THREE-POINT LINE!! Counter-intuitive, you say? Absolutely.
But think it through to the end. If Parker isn’t below the foul line (remember if Carter gets the ball near the basket and scores a two, you thank him cause your team wins), he can’t get picked by Lopez. In fact, in that situation, both Parker AND Chris Bosh should just run out with Carter past the three-point line. If the inbounds pass goes into Brook Lopez 15 feet from the basket, the game’s over.
Again, in this situation, if you can get the other side to get the ball inside the three-point line, you only need to defend the line (and the opponents behind the line), not the guy with the ball. If he loses his mind and goes in and dunks, you thank him because you win by one.
Counter-intuitve, yes, but not difficult to understand. So when Parker gets picked by Lopez, you shake your head. When Bosh doesn’t run out as soon as the pick is set (remember if Carter can even catch the ball and touch-passes it to Lopez at the foul line, the game is over), you shake your head. Instead, Parker gets picked, Bosh doesn’t move to the shooter, Parker gets there late and, as Carter shoots, Bosh BOXES OUT Lopez, a waste of time. All players on the team, when a shot like Carter’s goes up, should, once again, defend the three-point line and the guys standing behind it. If someone on the other team gets the rebound and lays it in, you win by one. If the rebound is a very long one, time will probably run out. But if it doesn’t, you’ve got your guys boxing out their guys AT THE THREE-POINT LINE. Get it? Everything else is irrelevant, especially the rebound put-back.
Why is this so difficult to understand? The NBA (or college or even high school) coach who figures this out first will be considered a “genius” who discovered something that changed the game. But this has been going on for 20 years or so and, it appears, nobody can see the obvious: Defend the three-point line, NOT the basket.
WHY NOT (AT LEAST) FOUL?
Many people who don’t even understand the above always raise the why-don’t-you-put-him-on-the-line-for-two theory since you’re up three. It seems the reasons that many coaches don’t (although some do) are: 1) you never, as a coach, want to stop the clock late in the game when you’re winning and 2) (more importantly, I believe) is the fact that some coaches fear (rightly or wrongly) that, if they foul, the shooter makes the first, misses the second on purpose and then (at least in theory) can make a two to tie or even a three to win (assuming the offense can get the rebound, a big assumption). I think the key there is the fact that it’s the only way (short of fouling the opposition as he takes a three) you, as coach, can LOSE the game when you’re up three. Then, of course, you’d be slaughtered in the media for turning a win into a loss. And, if your job was on the line to begin with, it’s a very short step to getting fired.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to talk with a few NBA coaches about this (especially one of my former coaches at Power Memorial, Brendan Malone, now Stan Van Gundy’s assistant at Orlando). Coach Malone, when he was a Pacers assistant, told me it’s an interesting idea but that most NBA teams choose to foul. In fact, Don Chaney, then coach of the Knicks (remember now, he was a great defender as a player), who thought that his team should play great defense, started having the Knicks foul on purpose after they lost multiple three-point leads late in games by getting picked at the foul line. It actually helped the Knicks win a few games at the time.
But here’s hoping that someone, somewhere will teach an athletic team to defend the three-point line up three very late in the game. That will change the way the game is played in the 21st Century.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.