Boston is in trouble. And, I don’t think they need Paul Revere to let them know the Cavs are coming. Mr. Lebron James, with a dunk as memorable as John Starks over Scottie Pippen, sounded a horn so fiercely that Revere may have heard it. I’ll bet Auerbach did—God rest his soul.
As an L.A. kid, one learns to despise the Celtics during elementary school. I think its part of the sixth grade curriculum in the L.A. unified school district. Kids of my era—that matured on the basketball melody voiced by Chick Hearn and Len Shackelford ‘high above the western sidelines at the house that Jack built’ have no love for anything in Massachusetts—and that goes for Legal Seafood and Dunkin’ Donuts.
What the C’s did to the Lakers in 1960s was just short of an assassination of hope. I can relive nearly ever Lakers lost in the NBA Finals during that decade. The most painful, of course, was the shot made by Don Nelson in 1969. I can still see the ball striking the heel of the rim, flying up to rafters of the Fabulous Forum and falling into the basket. My little ten year old soul was sliced— every time I see Nelson I think of him wearing number ‘19’ and making that shot.
I began the year looking forward to a 2008 re-match between the Lakers and the C’s. Although I must admit that Magic Johnson’s ‘baby-hook’ in 1987 fully eviscerated the Leprechaun’s mysterious spell over the Lakers. Johnson’s field goal, to that generation of Laker fans, restored order in the basketball galaxy, putting the C’s down—it didn’t erase the pain of memory, but it certainly made the present seem ok. (Thanks, Magic!)
This year—as I told my son—was the year we fully pay the C’s back for all the Finals defeats in the 1960s.
I am, however, saddened because the C’s have but a sliver of a chance to get to the finals—at least this year. I want the Lakers to beat Boston…but, I have difficulty rooting for the C’s to win. It is only with the advent of L.A. native Paul Pierce that I can even bear to watch this team.
I won’t delve into the regurgitated analysis of the tactical problems with Rondo’s decision-making from the point-guard position, nor how mystifying it is that a team with Pierce and Allen can struggle offensively, nor how utterly lost the C’s can look in ‘end of game’ situations…instead, I’m going to explain how the Cavs can end this series in six games. Two words: Delonte West.
I’ve followed his career from St. Joes to Boston to Seattle and to Cleveland. This is a player with an exceptional basketball IQ. Though averaging only eight points and four assists in the series, he scored a game high 21 points in critical Game Three.
The Cavs offense strategy is designed to mitigate Boston’s primary defensive strength—their ability to defend on the ‘ball side.’ Boston is less effective when playing ‘help.” The Cavs prefer to execute a ball reversal pass (normally to LeBron James) and force the C’s to rotate defensively. Theoretically, this should allow James to make the catch as the defense is shifting, affording him multiple opportunities to ‘read’ the locations of gaps –thus enabling him to dribble penetrate. The problem is that James is taking jump shots instead of driving (and, shooting a low percentage). This means that it looks as if the C’s are defending better than they really are. The C’s aren’t stopping James—he just isn’t converting the poor percentage shots he’s taking.
Here are four pieces of advice to Delonte West:
1.) Get into the ‘painted area,’ engage two defenders and then pass-- instead of executing a ball reversal pass from the ’28-foot’ marker (which is where he is picking up his dribble.)
2.) Bring Ilguaskas to ‘ball-side’ elbow, enter the ball to him and have him ‘face-up’ the defender. This does a couple of things for the Cavs. First, it gives Ilgauskas more quality touches in area where he can attack; and second, he Ilgauskas is a effective enough jump shooter from that spot to bring his defender (either Garnett or Perkins) away from the basket. Once that happens, he can attack the basket using one of two dribbles. This guy, though, a post player, is very skilled and savvy with the ball. The Cavs can run the offense through Ilgauskas.
3.) Use Ilgauskas to reverse the ball to James—the simple action of throwing the ball to Ilguaskas at the ‘ball-side’ high post --where he is a threat to score —will open up dribble penetration opportunities for James when the ball is reversed to him.
4.) Delonte, you are more comfortable attacking from the corner than from the top—and, though you’re a lefty, you appear to be more comfortable playing from the right side of the floor. (This isn’t unusual because many right handed players are comfortable on the left side.) The Cavs can have a bushel-full of success against the C’s by playing screen/roll on the right side of the floor—thus enabling West to attack the ‘painted area’ going ‘left. And, if the screener is James, the Cavs can play ‘pick and pop’ or ‘pick and roll.’ The value with James as the screener in this wing ‘pick and roll’ action is that it completely opens the middle to dribble penetration. How does one ‘bum-rush’ any defense: Dribble penetration that is calculated, decisive and under control.
Although I’d love to see Lakers/Celtics in the Finals, I can’t bring myself to wish good fortune on Celtics. It’s Don Nelson’s fault—he shouldn’t have broken the heart of a kid.