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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bill Russell's Insights About the 2013 NBA Finals

Prior to game six, the NBA TV crew interviewed Bill Russell and the 11-time NBA champion made some interesting comments about the 2013 NBA Finals.

Media members make a big deal about in-game adjustments and between game adjustments but Russell--who served as a player-coach for two championship teams--cautioned, "You have to make adjustments that your team can make." An adjustment will only work if it is something that a team has previously practiced and is thus mentally/physically prepared to execute. The idea that a coach can come up with something completely new between games--let alone during a 15 minute halftime break--is absurd and that is why San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich gives snarky answers when media members ask him stupid questions about what kind of adjustments he is going to make.

Media members act as if after every loss the losing team should react to what the winning team did but Russell said, "When I played, when we had to make adjustments we would adjust not to what we did wrong but we would try to get back to what we did right and do that. That is the only way you can take control of the game." This is a very important and underrated point: great teams focus on what they do well and they play their game, as opposed to reacting/overreacting to what the opposing team just did. In the 2007 NBA playoffs, Coach Avery Johnson of the 67-15 Dallas Mavericks changed his starting lineup against the eighth seeded 42-40 Golden State Warriors, a decision that I criticized for exactly the reason that Russell mentioned: "The Mavericks posted one of the best regular season records in NBA history but for most of this series they have been changing their lineup and trying to outthink the Warriors--but you can't outthink a crazy man. Don Nelson is the crazy man in this series--crazy like a fox. He knows that his team is not as good as Dallas, which is why he keeps saying that--but he also knows that by running and gunning on offense and triple-teaming Nowitzki on defense and just creating a wild and crazy shootout that there is a chance that his team will be standing at the end; certainly, the Warriors would have no chance to win by playing in a more conventional way." In another article about that series, I declared, "Dallas Coach Avery Johnson made a big mistake--pun intended--by benching his centers in game one and trying to play 'small ball.' Dallas must continue to use the starting lineup that rampaged to one of the best records in league history." Instead of making an adjustment to react to how an inferior team played, Coach Johnson should have focused on making sure that his Mavericks kept doing what they did well.

After San Antonio took a 3-2 series lead over Miami, most Finals MVP talk focused on Tony Parker and Danny Green but Russell said, "If San Antonio were to win, I would pick Tim Duncan as the MVP because he makes both the offense and the defense for San Antonio; you've got inside presence offensively and inside presence defensively. One thing about Tim Duncan that I like is he is one of the best passing big men." I agree with Russell that Duncan's impact has neither been measured fully by statistics nor has it been appreciated by most media members/commentators; I still think that Duncan should have won the 2007 Finals MVP for the very reasons that Russell mentioned.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:59 PM

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