Oh, That’s Defense: Chapter Eight
This is going back a few years ago when Mike D’Antoni was in his Nash/Amare/Marion heyday with the Phoenix Suns. They were, as we all know, a run-and-gun, fast-paced, high-octane offense. They were the toast of the league, as no one had a more exciting style of play.
Defense? Not so much.
But after stellar regular seasons kept leading to underwhelming postseasons, D’Antoni (who I happen to be a big fan of) saw need for a change. So one year he decided to really turn the screws on his team to change the culture and promote defense. He knew this was the only way to get over the postseason hump. He knew this was the only route to an NBA title.
Of course, Phoenix just plain stunk at defense, but still D’Antoni had to try.
I remember one specific time when D’Antoni was being interviewed on TV and he spent most of this time promoting his team’s newfound defensive vigor. He spoke of point differential and improved rotations and contested jumpers and better communication and blah, blah, blah…
Hogwash. I thought it then and I think it now.
D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns? Defense? Please.
You know defense when you see it. You know those teams that can get a stop with the game on the line and those teams who cannot. Our beloved Dallas Mavericks have too often fallen in the latter category.
That’s what happens when your team employs the likes of Dick Motta and Don Nelson as head coach. These two guys would never take a backseat to D’Antoni on the offensive end, but at the same time, wasted little energy on the defensive side.
Lip service will be paid, pointless stats will be touted and coaching staffs will assure you that “additional practice time” is given to “tighten things up.”
Hogwash. We know better.
Avery Johnson, for all his faults, was critical in changing the climate. At the very least he demanded accountability on the defensive end of the floor. Rick Carlisle came in and kept defense a priority. The Mavs franchise was doing their level best to change the team’s DNA and culture.
Things improved, personnel changed. Our team defense was getting better and yet we still didn’t pass the ultimate test. We still didn’t have the look of a team who could get those big stops. At least not a team who could get those big stops in a critical playoff game.
And then there was last year. Wow. Last year.
It’s easy to point to the arrival of Tyson Chandler as being the catalyst for change. His ability to defend the pick-and-roll, his ability to block shots and his vocal leadership were indeed transformational.
It was just as exciting to watch Marion use his length to bother shooters, DeShawn his strength to bully guards and Kidd his smarts to frustrate younger and more athletic counterparts. However, it all goes much deeper than this.
Team defense, when done right, is something else all together. And you know it when you see it.
It’s symmetry. It’s poetry. It’s dance.
It’s trust. It’s communication. It’s teamwork.
It combines strategy and skill and determination to bring out the best in each individual and in the group as a whole.
This could never have been more apparent than in last year’s playoff run. What started as an honest renewed attempt to focus on defense, coalesced in the playoffs to give us a team worthy of a title.
It was this defense that had LaMarcus Aldridge, dominant for three quarters, rendered useless time and again in the fourth.
It was this defense that forced Kobe and Gasol into botching an important pick-and-roll in Round 2 that led to our eventual sweep.
This defense was responsible for making Durant and Westbrook unable to find a flow and too green to make a change.
And finally, this defense made it impossible for the celebrated trio from South Beach to consistently get to the rim. They were unable to consistently dominant with their athleticism and unable to live up to their preseason proclamation.
Our defense allowed us to beat teams that were more talented and more athletic. In a league built on speed and youth, it was a team built on smarts and guile that took it all. Our team, and more importantly, our defense was that good.
Defense. You know it when you see it. And you saw it in the 2011 version of the Dallas Mavericks.