Biffman has been a contributor to DBR by keeping us up to date with Duke alumni in the NBA. Here's his take on Larry Brown and the NBA Finals:
Occasionally, a coach devises a game plan that's practically perfect in
both strategy and tactic. And, Tarheel or no, Larry Brown did just that in
the Pistons' series against the Lakers. In the wake of the Lakers' defeat,
the common norts spewer line was "the Pistons played tough defense" -- but
so did the Timberwolves and Spurs. The Pistons were given no chance. What
Larry Brown went against conventional wisdom.
The standard method in guarding the Lakers is as follows: run a bunch of
big bodies at Shaq in the post and try to hold him away from the basket
(Oliver Miller? Please! He's STILL jiggling reverberating), and then foul
him again and again, hoping he'll wear down. Failing that, front him and
make his teammates make passes. Double team at every opportunity.
Meanwhile, try to play good single man denial on Kobe and hope he misses a
bunch. This strategy is usually doomed because a) Shaq's a good passer out
of the post, leading to a ton of easy shots, b) Shaq has such good hands
that he'll catch all lobs, and c) Kobe is a tremendous one-on-one player
who moves extremely well off the ball. As such, he has the advantage
against almost every defender in the league.
Enter Larry Brown. His defensive strategy was different. In the post, he
played Shaq with a single person 3/4, and force Shaq to make moves, rolls,
to move his feet to get the ball...and make him make quick decisions. The
Pistons had a number of players who couldn't play behind Shaq, but were
strong enough that he simply couldn't bull through them. Also, you could
count on one hand the number of times per game that Shaq was doubled.
(Those times were when Shaq was indecisive). The Wallaces, Williamson,
Okur, Campbell -- they all played Shaq alone. As an aside, Shaq impressed
me with his offensive array in this series more than he ever has -- he
really busted his considerable posterior making moves, but by the 4th
quarter in every game, he was dogged. In addition, on offense...if the
Pistons had a fast break -- the big men busted down the court to make Shaq
chase and expend further energy...
Secondly, on Kobe -- you had a good defender to play him. (Which should
make the "Carmelo would have been better with this team" crowd shut up.)
Prince did an excellent job...but what many people missed was that every
time Kobe made an offensive move, he was almost immediately doubled. Prince
was exceptional -- but Kobe was almost always shooting jumpers over two
guys, and that's a tough order for anyone. The Pistons then just locked
down on everyone else. The only game the Lakers won, they got points from
unexpected sources (Rush, Walton, George) -- and they STILL should have lost.
The Pistons also were able to exploit the Lakers with speed on offense. Rip
Hamilton ran everyone ragged...and not stuck in the Triangle, Chauncey
Billups was able to abuse Gary Payton.
Finally: Slava Medvedenko...what were you thinking?
So...Kudos to Larry Brown for finding a niche and an edge -- using the
talents he had to win an "unwinnable" series. While Brown has developed a
reputation as a carpetbagger, he's probably one of the three or four best
coaching minds we'll see in this generation -- even if he did choose to
wear the wrong shade of blue.