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NBA Playoffs: Teamwork Wins

   by Al McMordie - 05/08/2006

You need talent, of course, to advance in the NBA playoffs. You need defense, too. Another key that is sometimes overlooked is a four letter word for postseason success: T-E-A-M. I thought of that this weekend as the defending champion Spurs routed the Kings in game 6 to wrap up their series, then came from behind to beat Dallas in a thriller Sunday.

The Kings had really played well against San Antonio, especially after that Game 1 blowout. Sacramento fought hard, but when the money was on the line, guess how the team-oriented Spurs closed it out? No. 1, they did it with defense, holding the Kings to 41% shooting on their home floor in Game 6. No. 2, they did it with unselfish teamwork. 6 players scored in double figures for the Spurs, including two guys off the bench (Michael Finley, Brent Barry). When they were in trouble at the end of regulation in Game 2, they looked for the open man, not one of their stars, and Barry delivered with a three-pointer to force overtime.

In Game 6, it wasn’t Duncan or Manu Ginobili who took the most shots, it was Tony Parker and he delivered with 31 points in their 105-83 victory. Duncan? He took 8 shots (making 6) for 15 points. Duncan, like many great players in NBA history, doesn’t care about being the star or scoring the most points. He only cares about winning. In Game 1 Sunday against Dallas, his team needed offense and Duncan responded with 31 points.

Teamwork and unselfish play starts with the coach, who has to be forceful enough to preach it, be a good enough teacher so that players absorb its importance, and be able to soothe over any egos that might be hurt (or ship those guys out of town). It also falls upon the players, particularly the stars, to be smart enough to understand the value of team play and think about wins, not stats.

The Lakers used teamwork to get a 3-1 series lead on the Suns, as Phil Jackson asked Kobe Bryant to get more players involved on offense, which was a good strategy. But they still ended up losing to the Suns mainly because they simply don’t have the talent or depth that Phoenix has. It was interesting that Bryant was forced to score 50 points in game 6 to keep the Lakers close, a game they should have won. But in the second half of Game 7, Bryant scored only one point because he knew he HAD to get others involved for LA to compete. No one stepped up, with horrible games from Kwame Brown, Lamar Odom and everyone else. The Lakers had the right idea (on offense, anyway), but didn’t have the talent to advance. Defense was another story, as the Lakers imploded the final three games.

Now take a look at Game 1 Sunday of the Pistons/Cavaliers series. In the first half, LeBron James was sensational, with 22 points. Yet, the Cavs trailed 69-48! Zydrunas Ilgauskas was the only other Cleveland scorer in double figures with 10 on just 3-8 shooting. Now take a look at the Pistons’ first half scoring: Rip Hamilton 8 points, Chauncey Billups 12, Tayshaun Prince 16, Lindsey Hunter 12, Antonio McDyess 12. Talk about balanced scoring! That’s the value of teamwork. No one was crying on the sideline of the veteran Pistons about not getting enough shots. Like San Antonio, all they cared about was feeding the ball to whoever had the hot hand and getting a W.
Defense, of course, is the other important attribute this time of the season and notice that the Cavaliers shot 50% in the first half, but Detroit shot 63%! In the Spurs/Mavs opener, notice that Dallas’ scoring went down in each quarter: 29, 23, 20 and 13 points! Another thing to keep in mind is adjustments that coaches make. In Game 1, Dallas coach Avery Johnson decided not to double-team Duncan for much of the game. Duncan made the strategy backfire by scoring 20 of his 31 points in the first half. The teams with the best combination of talent, defense and teamwork advance in the NBA playoffs. By the way, both the Mavericks and Spurs shot under 42% in Game 1, so don’t be surprised if this is a series dominated by defense. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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