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Kallas: Can’t Anyone Defend The Three?

Oklahoma City, Like Memphis And Every Other NBA Team, Still Does Not Know How To Defend The Three-Point Shot
Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies hits the game-tying three-point shot, sending it into overtime against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011NBA Playoffs on May 9, 2011 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee.  (credit: Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies hits the game-tying three-point shot, sending it into overtime against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2011NBA Playoffs on May 9, 2011 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (credit: Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

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By Steve Kallas
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You are up three, late in an NBA playoff game, and the other team has the ball.  What do you do on defense?  This issue was discussed in great detail in a very recent column (see Kallas Remarks, 4/29/11).  Yet nobody seems to learn from the mistakes of others.  We’ll discuss another flagrant example of something that is easily correctable – yet, inexplicably, nobody is able to correct it.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF REGULATION IN GAME 4, OKLAHOMA CITY AT MEMPHIS?

The set-up is some variation of the same theme.  In this case, Oklahoma City has just taken a three-point lead near the end of regulation on Monday night.  They are desperate for a win, having lost home-court advantage to the surprising Grizzlies (remember, no Rudy Gay) and are about to tie up the series.  All they have to do is defend the three-point line.

So, what happens?  With less than 10 seconds left, Memphis point guard Mike Conley, Jr. gets a weak pick from Marc Gasol above the three-point line.  Russell Westbrook, guarding Conley, switches to Gasol (the pick was so weak that, presumably, Oklahoma City had already decided to switch on everything).  So Kendrick Perkins, who had been guarding Gasol, switches to Conley as the clock goes to under seven seconds left.

Conley, with nowhere really to pass and the clock running down, makes a move on Perkins that causes Perkins to take a step back (why? You are up THREE, not two).  Incredibly, ALL FIVE players on the court for Oklahoma City are INSIDE the three-point line defending (what exactly are they defending up three?  Incredible!).

So, you know what happens.  Conley pulls up for a good look at a three, Perkins comes to him (too late) and Conley ties up the game with 3.5 seconds left.  Another gigantic mistake that will probably be lost since Oklahoma City came back to win the game.

But a gigantic, game-extending mistake nonetheless.

WHAT’S A TEAM TO DO?

Again, that’s simple.  Like the Memphis-San Antonio game discussed at length in the prior column, all you have to do is tell your defensive players to defend ABOVE the three-point line, not BELOW it.  While this is a very simple concept, it has to be coached since players (see Perkins taking a step back when Conley is making his move) defend at the end of the game (up three) the same way that they defend at all other times; they protect the basket.

As we’ve discussed, a stupid way to defend when you are up three very late in the game.

DID IT HAPPEN AGAIN IN THE SAME GAME?

Well, pretty much so.  At the end of the first overtime, Oklahoma City, up three, was defending against Memphis (again).   This time, under 12 seconds left, Shane Battier of Memphis gets the ball (again, all five Oklahoma City players inside the three-point line).  Battier passes to little guard Greivis Vasquez above the three-point line (who easily could have been denied the pass by Russell Westbrook, who was actually playing off of Vasquez).  Vasquez, with Westbrook now pressuring him from the side, hits a three to tie up the game (again).

Nobody learns from these mistakes.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, plenty.  These coaches have to teach these players how to defend the three in this special, late-game situation.  The joke is, the later it is in the game, the EASIER it is to defend.  For example, in the Memphis-San Antonio game, discussed in the prior column, there was only 1.7 seconds left.  EVERYBODY should have been above the three-point line defending, since, if San Antonio throws it into the two-point area, the game is over.  Even in regulation in the Oklahoma City game, if Conley throws the ball into two-point territory, the game is over (even at that point, however, players have to be taught to STILL defend the three-point line and NOT converge on the guy with the ball in the two-point area).

This is really elementary stuff that, someday, will be commonplace.

If this kind of play isn’t discussed by the “experts” during NBA playoff games, when will it be discussed?

Unbelievable.

Thoughts? Leave a comment below.