Lockup: Ball Denial Defense Could Be Cavs' Key to Five-Game Series Win

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Lockup: Ball Denial Defense Could Be Cavs' Key to Five-Game Series Win
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Thus far in the Cavaliers' first-round series with the eighth-seeded Bulls, the Chicago backcourt tandem of Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich have done a masterful job of frustrating an otherwise impenetrable Cleveland defense.

Rose has frequently abused counterpart Mo Williams on the Cavs' defensive end, slashing into the interior of the floor at will and either getting open looks at the hoop or having myriad passing options through the carouseling Cleveland defensive unit.

In Games One and Three, Hinrich—a terribly inconsistent scoring threat—was one of the direct beneficiaries of Rose's explosive one-on-one ability. The former Jayhawk registered 28 points while shooting 46 percent in Game One before having an off night in Game Two and once again lighting it up in a 27-point Game Three burst (75 percent from the floor).

The Cavs have an ocean-deep bench, so finding the right matchup to slow down Rose and Hinrich isn't a problem. The problem has been a more non-personal X and O issue.

When dealing with a player like Rose (someone who can beat his man one-on-one and either get to the basket or make the remaining four defenders react to him), mistake No. 1 is giving him the space he needs to operate, set up his move, and break down his man on the dribble. A solid five-man defense (like that of the Cavaliers) will stop this offensive initiation with simple and effective rotations, but as seen in last night's 108-106 Chicago victory, it doesn't always work.

One solution to this problem is a simple man-to-man lock of said player. In this elementary defensive scheme, Cavs player X (the more athletic that player is, the better) simply face guards Rose and does not let him touch the ball at any cost. This dares the Bulls to find someone other than Rose to beat the Cleveland defense (how many times have you heard that phrase applied to LeBron James and the Cavs?).

An even simpler offensive counter to this is the bringing of a pick to free up Rose and get him the ball. What does the defense do now? A basic dialogue of "stay" or "switch" between the two or three Cleveland defenders involved in the pick transaction gives the defense a great chance at maintaining the lock on Rose. At worst, either an over-aggressive Cavalier will foul fighting through the pick(s) or Rose gets the ball and the highly-heralded Cavs defense gets to set up an effective help defense—perhaps the most important element in all basketball—behind whoever is guarding Rose.

As the Cavaliers were mounting their comeback during the waning moments of the Bulls' Game Three win and Chicago was advancing the ball into their offensive end, James switched onto Rose, who went on to hit a string of back-breaking buckets.

Finally, off a Joakim Noah offensive rebound with 1:45 remaining in the contest, James ("the more athletic that player is, the better") employed the lock on Rose. The ball was sent to the top of the key and into the hands of Flip Murray, who was being checked by Williams. Rose attempted to get the ball from Murray, but James stayed with him stride for stride in order to make Murray find somebody else to burn the Cavs.

After about five seconds of stalling, Murray initiated a dodge against Williams down the left side of the floor. Williams kept in front of Murray, who isn't known as a remarkable one-on-one offensive threat.

The result? James, who was still locking Rose at the left wing and was directly behind the play, sprang upon Murray's blind side and managed a steal. No attempt to free Rose from James' overbearing defense came, so the lock worked wonderfully.

Using this kind of defensive strategy at any level of basketball—or sport, for that matter; the lock is employed in sports that stress team defense like lacrosse and football (bump and run coverage/ball denial) frequently—is a huge gamble, especially at the professional level. However, in the right situation (like when the opposing point guard is shredding your defense whenever he wants), it can give a huge payoff.

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