Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas


It happens all the time.  A team, up three late in the game, just doesn’t know how to defend the three.  It happens 50 times a season, maybe more.  In Game 5 of the NBA Finals, it happened when, after Dwight Howard missed two free throws with about 10 seconds left with his Magic team up three, the Lakers came down the other way.


The ball winds up in Derek Fisher’s hands and, as he nears three-point shooting territory, his man, Jameer Nelson, inexplicably backs off into two-point territory as Fisher pulls up and drains a virtually open three to tie the game.  The Lakers, of course, would win in OT to, essentially, end the 2009 NBA Finals.


While this is only the latest example of something that happens all the time, it was so obvious and so game-changing that virtually everybody realizes what a mistake it was.  But still the analysis is weak and, at times, flawed.




ABC’s Jeff Van Gundy slaughtered Jameer Nelson for his stupid defense, essentially saying that Nelson was an idiot (“the IQ of some of these NBA players always astounds me, not knowing the time, score and situation”).   He didn’t understand what Nelson was thinking.


And Jeff Van Gundy is right – to a point.  But he never mentioned his brother Stan, the coach of the Magic.




The problem is that, since the beginning of basketball, defenders were always taught to protect the basket, to stay between your man and the basket, to not let him get by and get a free look at the goal.  Of course, for the first 80-90 years of basketball, that was quite true.  BUT THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW.




As often happens, when changes are made in the basic rules of the game, there are consequences that the rule makers, the coaches and the players just don’t anticipate, just can’t adjust to, just don’t understand. 


And even though the three-point shot came into play in the 1980s (in the NBA), teams still don’t grasp the defensive concept.


In the 21st Century, when it’s very late in the game and you’re up three (like the Magic were in Game 5), YOU HAVE TO DEFEND THE THREE-POINT LINE, NOT THE BASKET.  You’ll never see a better example than Game 5 on the Fisher three.




Well, it’s absolutely Nelson’s fault that he backed into two-point territory with his team up three in the final seconds of the game.  But what about the coach?  Here’s what Stan Van Gundy said after the game:  “In retrospect, we gave [Fisher] too much space to shoot the ball.  We played like we were trying to protect a layup.  We just didn’t play Derek Fisher.”


In retrospect?  Hold it now, the coach’s job is to anticipate these things, to coach these things in practice throughout the season, to tell a team during any break in the second half of the fourth quarter about three-point defense.  In retrospect?  Stan Van Gundy, if he hadn’t told his team late in the fourth quarter if your up three late, defend the three, then he wasn’t doing his job (and this writer thinks that Stan Van Gundy is an excellent NBA coach, see Kallas Remarks, 4/30/08).  And even as the Lakers are bringing the ball up the court in the final 10 seconds of regulation down three, Stan Van Gundy, at a minimum, should have been screaming at Nelson to “defend the three, defend the three.”


Apparently, none of the above took place.


Even the Stan Van Gundy quote “we played like we were trying to protect a layup” is fascinating.  Because that’s what players do virtually every second of every game.  They’re taught since day one to protect the basket, to not let your man get by you, to not allow easy layups.  And that’s true …  99.99% of the time.


So the change in defense (to defend the three-point line, not the basket) has to be practiced and practiced and practiced.  And, it seems, NOBODY does it.




Well, if it’s going to be taught, teach it the right way.  Jameer Nelson shouldn’t stop at the three-point line, he should stop even higher up, maybe a foot or even two feet ABOVE the line.  That way Fisher, at a minimum, has to launch about five or more feet BEYOND the three-point line, a very low percentage shot.


This writer has long advocated a defense in the final seconds where you literally have four or five athletic defenders stand above the three-point line.  That way, if anyone throws a lob or drives to the basket, the game is over (see Kallas Remarks, 11/24/08).  If, in Game 5, Nelson had come above the line and Fisher dribbles past him, game over.  If Fisher lobs it inside, game over.  If Fisher pulls up for a very long shot, game (in all likelihood) over.




Discussed at length elsewhere (Kallas Remarks, 11/24/08), some coaches don’t because you’re taught, as a coach, not to stop the clock and let the other team score points when you are winning the game.  It’s also the only way you can lose the game (make the first, miss the second, offense gets the rebound and hits a three – a longshot but possible).




It seems virtually impossible for the Magic to come back, even though you can easily argue that the Magic could be up 3-1 in games rather than down 3-1 in games.  But to beat the Lakers twice in L.A. (the stupidity of the 2-3-2 system aside and assuming the Magic win Game 5) is virtually an impossible task.


Teams should start reviewing tape of the last 50 times that any team down three hit a three in the last five seconds of a game to tie the game.  They will see the obvious:  that guys defend below the three-point line, that guys get picked at the foul line (why is the defender down there?), that the entire defense in basketball in the last few seconds of a three-point game should be totally changed.  And then they should coach the players to change the way they defend.


Someday, that’s how the game will be played.                    


© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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