Say what you want about the NCAA championship, but the University of Connecticut had a hell of a championship run. Two things stick out; high pressure perimeter defense, shot-making under pressure, and getting the shots you want within the offensive set.
The Miami Heat excel at those three things.
Watching the Lakers all season hasn’t been easy. It would be nice, as a Laker fan, to see the progression of a united team. Team chemistry shows through when execution is completed at a high level. The Boston Celtics during their championship run made this incredibly obvious. The way they ran their defensive sets through, then assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, was absolutely amazing. The same can be said of the Miami Heat as well. Not only did they acquire the talent to do those specific roles, but their pressure defense suffocates the opposition and forces turnovers. They hit threes from almost any position on the floor, at a high level. When things aren’t working, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have a few pet plays that get executed down the stretch, and end up with a 3-point bomb from a role player, or an And-1 situation from a superstar.
The Lakers, however, have gotten away with high energy defense. It isn’t always the most organized. It definitely isn’t the most disciplined. It is a perimeter defense founded on activity and energy, and every time turnovers are forced and the Lakers get in transition, the defense gets stronger with the added momentum and confidence. Some would say, interior defense is non-existent. Pau Gasol doesn’t excel at man-defense. Jordan Hill compensates with energy and athleticism. Chris Kaman is prone to cheap fouls. Who is left? Wesley Johnson?
UConn has been playing talented teams all season long. During the tournament, they’ve played against teams with more talent than their own roster. The difference? UConn sticks to their strengths and runs with it all the way. Boatright and Napier add veteran savvy and control on the offensive end. Daniels provides multi-dimensional offensive play from midrange. Nolan and Brimah provide activity and defensive play. Giffey just knocks down shots behind the arc. All of them contributed on both ends of the floor. Their combined team play was greater than the individual talents coming out of Kentucky.
On the Kentucky side of things, there are plenty of McDonald’s All Americans. Randle couldn’t comfortably get the ball in the post and operate. Cauley-Stein was out with injury. The Harrison twins did a poor job of maximizing their best talent in the paint. They didn’t direct offensive traffic and walked past half-court, over and over. James Young was the recipient of all the confusion, and was able to find ways to attack the basket and knock down a couple of three pointers. In the end, they lacked harmony. They couldn’t get defensive stops. They didn’t trap the guards up high. They couldn’t get organized offensively. They had the size, and didn’t exploit it. Their talent kept things close, and honestly, they were lucky to keep it so tight.
What does this all mean? The Lakers were organized on both ends of the floor with Phil Jackson. Even when it was clear that Phil didn’t preach defense during practice, he did teach offensive patience, shot selection, and poise. Team defensive help was of utmost importance, and the only thing that broke that down, was team chemistry.
Mike Brown, a descendant of the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff, couldn’t implement the discipline required for the Laker team. Mike D’Antoni, a coach that runs a high-octane offense that may remind people of Paul Westhead, couldn’t implement the discipline required for the Laker team. However, the Laker team is full of professional athletes. Sometimes, it’s not always up to the coach to teach the right thing. Sometimes it’s up to the players to learn it for themselves.
It would have made the season a lot more enjoyable for Laker fans.