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San Antonio Was One Box Out Away From The NBA Title

Boxing out is simple. In a perfect rebounding world, five defensive box outs form a vacuum of space where the ball can land untouched. But in the course of live gameplay, players leak out on the break, guards turn and stare at the shot, and bigs crash the glass with no regard for opposing players. Boxing out is often an afterthought.

Never were the consequences of poor rebounding technique on display than at the end of Game 6 of the NBA Finals. When LeBron James fired a three-pointer from the left wing, Chris Bosh snatched the board and muscled it to Ray Allen. Moments later, it was a tie game. Then overtime, and Game 7. Series over.

So where did San Antonio break down, exactly? It all started before LeBron even caught the ball. As he curls off a screen, both Boris Diaw and Tony Parker stretch to contest the shot:

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It’s a situational risk, but a necessary one. San Antonio must bother the game-tying shot at all costs to prevent a tie game. The consequence, however, comes on the glass. With Parker and Diaw both marginalized on the perimeter, it’s up to either Kawhi Leonard or Manu Ginobili to peel off their men and at least put a body on Bosh. Neither player does.

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Bosh is able to grab the board largely uncontested. To make matters worse, Ginobili comes flying in late and creates chaos — which, in rebounding situations, always favors the offense. Defensive players lose track of their assignments in an attempt to get the rebound, and the three-point line is often left wide open. Like this:

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Even though Bosh ends up shoveling the ball to Allen, look at the rest of the Heat players: Five San Antonio players approach the paint to contest for the ball, but eventually morph into glorified ball-watchers. Meanwhile, LeBron James and Mario Chalmers are wide open. Remember, there are still 8.9 seconds remaining and plenty of time for a ball swing.

But Ginobili’s leap of faith actually knocks Danny Green off Allen — the lone Spur actually putting a body on a player — and Allen is able to sneak out to three-point line before Tony Parker can close out.

And with 8.1 seconds left, this:

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It’s a deceiving photo — Bosh doesn’t actually grab the rebound over five San Antonio players — but it perfectly captures the mayhem non-box outs can cause. Everyone staring, Miami players open everywhere. Just box out. That’s all it takes.

Dylan Murphy

Dylan Murphy is like a young Marcel Proust, if Proust was a Knicks fan and wrote about basketball. He is nothing like Proust. You can find his writing at SB Nation's Knicks blog Posting and Toasting, The Classical, Sports on Earth, and HoopChalk.

  • Matthew Guokas

    Once there is a double team, or in this case 2 players challenging a shot on the strong side, the weak side is zoned up. One of the reasons why teams don’t like to play straight zone is the vulnerability on the board. In hind sight, Ginobili needed to dive in and get between the basket and Bosh, failing that, Ginobili picked a bad time to “flop”. More hind sight, no Duncan on the floor.