Throughout the playoffs, I’ve been absolutely dumbfounded by the perimeter double on the star player. I stare at it, click my little rewind button on the DVR, and watch it again. I keep hoping that some sort of burst of inspiration as to the thought process behind this tactic will hit me in the frontal lobe, surging through my body, springing me backwards on my couch and knocking the power out like an EMP of wisdom.
In the first round, the Mavs committed the worst possible attempt at this. They would bring either the power forward or small forward all the way up, nearly to half-court, and attempt to trap Chris Paul. You know. That Chris Paul. The MVP candidate one. The assist machine. Needless to say, it didn’t work out well. Paul either dribbled out of it, or wrenched it to David West or Peja. The idea is to force the ball out of Paul’s hands so he can’t create a play, but in order to do so, you leave a man wide open, allowing him to set up for, wait for it, a play.
Also in the first round, the Washington Wizards tried a similar tactic against LeBron James. This worked a lot better, mostly because LeBron has no one else on his team who can knock down a perimeter shot. But even then, the Cavs managed to figure out ways to get LeBron the ball after he halfcourt was set, and the perimeter double only led to him splitting it. Which is bad.
Now we reach the Finals, and this approach has returned from the dead. After two games of superb defense against Bryant, which we’ll get to in a second, the Celtics tried the perimeter double. Way out near half-court, as evidenced in the video over at Xs and Os. I was cruising along in the BDL LiveBlog when I look up.
“Oh, no. They’re not bringing Garnett all the way out there to… noooooooo!”
It’s not that I’m rooting against the Lakers, hell, I thought it was awesome that the Machine was on target. But I hate to see a team completely disregard what had been so effective and go for what amounts to defensive suicide.
First, let’s talk about why that particular trap doesn’t work. For the most part, the average NBA half-court system operates from about two feet beyond the arc to the baseline. That’s where most offensive players remain, and that’s where naturally their defenders stay as well. By committing two defensive players that far out, you now have four players against three in a much more wide open floor, with three players removed from it. The standard pass out of the trap is usually a long one to a cross court wing player, closer to the perimeter, or the man of whoever is doubling that’s come out to receive the ball. What you essentially have at this point is a miniature fast break, caused not by a turnover and speed, but by spacing and numbers. This makes it harder for defensive players to create confusion, and in turn, leads to open shots. Furthermore, the Celtics last night committed one of their best down low defenders in Garnett to the double. Which leaves the lane even more open.
Conversely, leaving Ray Allen in one on one (or anyone outside of Jesus H. Christ or Michael Jordan circa 96) with Kobe is also suicide. There is an effective doubling tactic, and it’s not only one that the Celtics used in Games 1 and 2, but one that the Lakers used against Paul Pierce that night. Against most opponents, you want to go out and challenge them. Bring the fight to them. Throw the first punch. But against superstar players, you can’t afford to do that, simply because they’re fast enough, smart enough, and skilled enough to solve you in that attempt. With Bryant, the best option is to first watch for the pick and roll. At this point, with Pau Gasol having turned into Casper the Friendly Ghost, the Celtics are almost hoping they run the pick and roll with Bryant and Gasol. It gives them a convenient opportunity to double Kobe. The other option is to provide man-help, with the primary defender guarding his weak side, and the interior defender stepping up if he drives to the strong side. It’s preferable to wait to bring the double until Kobe goes for his spin move, surprising him with the double as he’s wheeling his way around his man. You still have to give up a few things to Bryant, first and foremost that sick right side fadeaway, hanging runner he has that is absolutely filthy. Your primary defender also has to be good enough to stay with him on the crossover. This isn’t a plan to stop Kobe Bryant, only to defend him.
The double team on Bryant is a necessity. It’s not an option, it’s a requirement. But how they bring that double is what separates an effective defensive attempt at frustrating Bryant with an exercise in futility. And in a series of inches, that can be the difference.