Submitted by Jim Feist on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 12:00 AM
by Jim Feist
Playoff basketball pits the best against the best, which gets even more heated the deeper we get to June. The star players and the better teams usually find themselves advancing. This is why it’s essential to keep close tabs on coaching adjustments and strategic shifts that take place from game to game.
Coaches can earn their money this time of the season – or hurt their team by doing nothing, or the wrong thing. The first round series between the Celtics and Bulls was a fascinating chess match of coaching strategy. Chicago stunned the green by winning the first two games in Boston by crushing the Celtics on the glass. Boston players were booed off the court at the end of Game 2.
Boston coach Brad Stevens made a key adjustment for the next two games, inserting veteran forward Gerald Green, who didn't contribute a lot during the regular season. The purpose was to go small and the tactic was the right medicine. The quicker Celtics were able to spread the floor, which allowed sparkplug guard Isaiah Thomas room to drive to the hoop and shoot or pass out to anyone open on the perimeter. The Celtics shot 17-of-37 from long range in Game 3. They still got crushed on the glass (52-37) but it didn't matter in an easy victory. In Game 4 the Bulls were ready for the tactic and still won the rebounding battle, but Green scored 18 points and Thomas 33 in another easy win. Boston won those games by 17 and 9 points -- so much for home court!
During one regular seasons, former Laker star Kobe Bryant had some of his most explosive game against Phoenix, yet the result was almost always the same: The Suns won with an avalanche of points.
So, Laker coach Phil Jackson made several strategic adjustments for the playoff series: Instead of letting Kobe do all the shooting, he asked Kobe to distribute the basketball more, asking others to look for their shot. He also recognized that the Suns had a smallish frontcourt, so L.A. pounded the ball down low often. L.A. shot for a high percentage and dominated the points in the paint while taking a 3-1 series lead. The first four games went under the total, too, as the Lakers controlled the tempo.
However, starting in Game 5, the Suns changed strategy by releasing players early on defense in an attempt to push the tempo more. They were able to find more looks on the perimeter, too. While mounting their comeback against the Lakers, the Suns shot 45% and 47.6% in the final two games from three-point land, after shooting 33%, 43.5% and 35% in Games 2, 3 and 4 (all losses). Point, counterpoint, checkmate!
It’s important for sports bettors to watch as many games as possible and carefully read up on the games the next day. Such things as injuries and strategic adjustments can be revealing.
In last year's NBA Finals, the Cavaliers fell behind 3-1 as LeBron James was often focused on playing good team basketball, getting everyone involved. This is how you generally win in the NBA, but it wasn't working so well in that series. In a Game 2 loss to the Warriors, 110-77, James took 17 shots and Kyrie Irving took 14. So they changed strategy. By the time the Cavs started their remarkable comeback in Game 5, James took 30 shots, Irving 24, and in Game 7 LeBron took 24 shots, Irving 23. Yes, basketball is a team sport, but this time of the season you want your stars to shoot more (provided you have them).
Good coaches know how to make adjustment, either during the game or from game-to-game, while weaker coaches have a history of looking lost and doing the same things over and over.
Russell Westbrook had a monster NBA regular season, but come playoff time his team was getting pushed around by the Houston Rockets. He got into an exchange with a reporter, who asked another player is the Thunder had any other go-to guys when Westbrook needed a breather. It was a legitimate question and in the next game Westbrook was 15-of-34 shooting in a season ending defeat, getting no help (again) from his teammates.
So it is important that coaches make adjustments this time of the year and important for bettors to play close attention. However, if the coach doesn't have enough horses, there's only so much he can influence the outcome as the NBA is about how many stars you can bundle together on one team. Just look at the Warriors, who sat Kevin Durant for parts of their opening series against Portland -- and still swept!