Familiarity Breeds Contempt: It’s NBA Playoff Time!

The best part of the playoffs is the grudge match aspect of the whole thing. The basketball tournaments in Europe are all single or double-elimination tournaments. The NBA is sort of rare in this. Certainly baseball has a little bit of it, but as it’s a different pitcher each night, it’s not the same as seeing the same unpleasant mugs night after night. (Introducing Joakim Noah.)

For us that’s what makes a great NBA playoff series a better watch than just about anything short of The Wire (and its ilk). You’re watching constant little subplots emerge and resolve while others continue across all seven games. Meanwhile coaches try to make the right rotations and sets into momentum and advantage. It’s 300 if you take the right cockeyed view of it.

Anyway, we spoke to Blatt about how much of a game against a playoff-caliber opponent winds up being gameplanned and how much is more spontaneous adjustments.

“A good part of the game is by plan and another good part of the game is random actions that should occur through good knowledge of the situation of the game of the opportunities that are maybe presented in the course of a play,” Blatt said. “As you get deeper into the year and as you play against the better teams you do have more adjustments just because the other side is so tough to play against. But I’d say a fair amount of both.”

Unlike football which is so heavily scripted, Blatt suggested basketball is more about teaching some basic precepts and giving the team a personality.

“I always remember this great saying, ‘Don’t teach them plays, teach them how to play.’ If your guys know how to play, whether it’s a play call or it’s just a read of an action, you’re going to be in good shape,” Blatt said.

We swear we weren’t trying to get into the whole LeBron playcalling issue, but perhaps Blatt just saw this as an opportunity to trace a few more lines in the picture.

“We’re always talking about principles and what we’re looking for in terms of floor spacing and proper screening angles and pace of the game and a number of other things,” he said. “But the game at times just sort of takes over. Things happen. Guys read situations, and you see how they do it, and that’s one of the beauties of basketball. It’s a very fleet free-flowing art form that allows you to sort of create a different picture each and every time.”

If you ask these connoisseurs of the sport a good enough question they’ll take all the damn work out of your hands, and you'll feel smarter afterwards. What’s so hard about that?

Campy’s Flush With the Element of Surprise

We’re not sure why the less educated neckbones in the reporting pool don’t avail themselves of resources like Campy Russell. He’s as kind and easy going as his shooting stroke was smooth, and he’s not at all afraid to tell it like it is in the postgame analysis. But what I respect most about Campy, Chonesy and A.C., besides their obvious chemistry, is that they’re the most approachable, considerate and patient fellows.

We know enough about basketball to make us a little dangerous, but these guys are pros and it’s often surprising that their knowledge isn’t tapped on a more consistent basis. We know we’ve shoehorned them more than once trying to educate ourselves about basketball’s intricacies and history.

Yesterday at practice we quizzed Campyy about the difference between the side and high pick and rolls. If you don’t recall, the Cavaliers were trapped by the Hawks in a few side pick & rolls forcing them to go to the high pick & roll from above the break. We’ll let “Mr. Moves” explain the difference.

“The difference between the side pick & roll and the high pick & roll is it gives you more flexibility. On the side pick & roll they can somewhat isolate you, and send you the direction they want to send you,” said Russell.

He describes them like a blitzing Mike linebacker twisting with the defensive end.

“Some teams do defensive stunts to create discomfort and in some cases force you to over-react,” he said. “They want to throw you out of your rhythm. Make you either go faster or slower and make you hesitate. That allows the defense to get in a better position.”

“[It’s] hardest out top because you have more space and it’s hard for the defense to dictate right or left,” Russell said. “Where on the sideline it’s easier to dictate whether you’re going to drive them baseline and give help or whether you want to come off aggressively and double that.

While you might think that the open space would allow room for cutters the issue is that when the ball’s on one side the defense can cut down the available passing angles. This, of course, is why they teach young ballplayers to bring the ball down the middle of the court on a fastbreak, making it more difficult to defend.

“Once the defense is on the side, it shades that way so it’s hard to come to the ball [on a cut],” Campy explained. “The only place that may be available is on the backside. A lot of times [the defense] want to get close to the guy on the backside so they can’t throw that alley-oop. So you can’t get sold this way [too much] because you leave the backside open.”

As for the Hawks doubling defense, Russell didn’t sound worried. The idea we came away with is that the talent at this level produces a rock/scissors/paper/lizard/spock game, where you’re never able to defend everything but you can anticipate enough of what you need to defend to effectively limit your opponents’ options.

“These guys are so good it’s sometimes just about the element of surprise. If you see a constant diet of it, you can make better adjustments,’ he says, explaining that this becomes an even bigger element of the cat-and-mouse in a seven-game best of. “You’re going to see the things that are working and the things that are not working, they’ll go away from those – but again, you’re always looking for that element of surprise.”

We’ll be tweeting with commentary and live video during Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

As always you can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne and find my columns (nearly) every weekday and on weekends after a game in the Cleveland Scene blog. You can hear me every Monday around 10:45 a.m. as a guest of Michael James’ Defend Cleveland show on WRUW 91.1 You can find all my recent columns here, and all my work at chrisparker.contently.com.

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