NBA Finals The debate about nature versus education, about certain traits, psychology and behavior, has begun to explode since people were able to think philosophically. Ever since the term itself was coined by Francis Galton, an English scientist (an occupation that apparently existed during the European Renaissance), countless studies and experiments on “nature versus culture” have consistently come to the same conclusion: it is usually a little of both.
A similar discourse exists in the world of sports, where one wonders how much depends on the success of a strategy team compared to how much depends on the execution of the players. It took different names, none of which are as appealing as its scientific equivalent, the most widespread being quite voluminous and exclusive, “Xs and Bones or Jimmys and Joes”.
No matter what you call it, the answer is generally the same: it’s usually a bit of both.
So when you read about Chris Paul’s absolute dominance in the Phoenix Suns’ 118-105 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of Tuesday’s NBA Finals, you’ll see a lot of pattern analysis, which is perfectly justified. Sam Quinn and James Herbert have both made adjustments, Mike Budenholzer and Bucks can make their defensive plan for Thursday’s game 2, keeping Brook Lopez bigger in fall coverage, going smaller and more often, sending a second defender at the Paul unit.
But there are aspects of the defense that have nothing to do with the pattern – effort, intensity, physicality – that the Bucks need to improve if they want to slow down Paul and Devin Booker in Game 2 and beyond.
“I just have to make it harder and harder for them, as hard as possible,” Bucks striker Giannis Antetokounmpo said of Paul and Booker after Game 1. “They will have a lot of photos to take. The right decision. The ball will be very “A lot in their hands. I just have to make it as difficult as possible. Keep them in front. Make them two, but two difficult.
Doing “hard” things for the superstar’s guards with Paul and Booker’s abilities is easier said than done. Lopez and Bobby Portis were criticized for being fried by Paul in isolation after the exchanges, but Paul’s blows were not great. Almost all of Paul’s jumpers were fought closely, with the hand of a large man a few inches away from the release.
Sure, Paul got the pairs he wanted, but it’s hard to imagine another defender tackling those shots close to Lopez.
“He hit hard shots. That’s what he does,” Lopez said of Paul after the game. “That’s what he’s done all his career and he’s done it tonight.”
This is where the “X and Os or Jimmy and Joes” debate takes place. In Race 2, is Budenholzer doing everything he can to prevent Lopez from changing for Paul? Or does he assume that Paul will not be able to consistently take those average fight photos throughout the seven games and stick to the game plan?
Many of the players in Milwaukee echoed Antetokounmpo’s feeling that, regardless of the pattern, the bumps need to be tougher on Paul. Yes, Paul’s blows were heavy, but they were on pace. He got where he wanted to go, and at that moment, he only needed the smallest strip of airspace to take down the jumpers he had practiced millions of times throughout his career. So in this case, a lot of work needs to be done before Paul gets up to shoot.
“I think Brook played pretty well on defense, but that’s what CP does, those two mid-range, those 15 feet, side steps, right side steps, he does them,” said Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, who spent the most of the game 1 Booker guard. “Maybe do something else. Have him put it in his left hand. Have him lead the basket. Maybe give him a different look and do something different next time.”
The simplicity is surprisingly refreshing. Hey, it doesn’t work, so “do something else.” This defensive strategy has been used against superstars for most of the NBA. Give them a different look, show them different defenders, take them out of their places. In short, make them uncomfortable.
Here’s an example of what Holiday is talking about. It’s towards the end of the game and Paul tries to run, but Holiday is practically in his shirt until he crosses half of the field. He leans over Paul, gets a few shots on the ball and anticipates the screen, forcing Paul to push him back and head to Antetokounmpo, one of the league’s best defenders. From there, Antetokounm