How To Stop LeBron James On The Break
This month I have watched players from both the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics attempt to defend LeBron James on the fast break and for two series I have been disappointed with the feeble attempts made by these world class athletes.
The Washington Wizards chose to make the non-basketball plays by grabbing James by the neck, shoulders and sometimes even by the head. Occasionally they would just knock him to the ground without even attempting to make what Hubie Brown so affectionately calls, “a basketball play.” During and after the serie,s the Wizards, despite never leading once during the series, would mock James for being a baby, overrated or not tough enough. This baffled me because when the Wizards weren’t fouling him, James was dunking all over them.
During this Boston/Cavs series, the Celtics have made better attempts to guard James on the fastbreak, but it still involves lots of clutching and grabbing. For example, in the first quarter of Game 5, James stole the ball from Paul Pierce and he had a one-on-one fast break with Ray Allen. Allen didn’t even attempt to play defense but instead he reached out for the grab/tackle. James, being the fullback that he is, broke the tackle, scored and drew the foul. Allen basically just gave away three points while expending minimal effort.
Now, I’m fully aware of how tall an order it is to defend James on the fast break. His height, weight and strength are legendary. He’s basically Karl Malone except he’s quicker, a better shooter and a better ballhandler. Guards aren’t strong enough to stop him and forwards aren’t quick enough to stay in front of him. Centers need not even try to get in the way. So the question remains, if on a fast break what’s the correct way to defend James?
From the safe, stress free confines of my living room couch, I do believe I have devised a master plan. Even though the Celtics are one game from sending Cleveland home, they should still take note of this, since they have yet to win on the road during the playoffs.
James is a physical player who thrives on contact whether he is on a fast break or not. There are times when it seems as if the contact he gets on his way up for a shot actually improves the look he gets. When he elevates he usually uses the contact to get higher and then hits the shot with the chance for the three point play. In retaliation, I would put on my best game face and maneuver my body in such a way so that it looked like I was going to jump up with him on the fast break. At the last minute, I would pull away and James would anticipate but never receive the contact, then put up an awkward shot that would make even Bill Cartwright jealous. It may not look pretty or glamorous but it would give James a different look than what he’s used to.
Go For The Steal
Numerous times during this series I have seen the Boston Celtics backpeddle away from James on the break instead of being aggressive. This backpeddling would go on until James used up his dribble and then Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, James Posey and/or Kevin Garnett would find themselves under the basket trying to foul. The smarter play would be to go for the steal while James still has his dribble. Although he often brings the ball up court in the point forward position, he is still a forward and he is vulnerable to the steal. If a player were to make a swipe at the ball during the fastbreak before he got into the paint it would add a small obstacle to his path. He would have to spin or make a lateral move, which would allow the rest of the defense to get back. Or, James could possible carry the ball or travel because of how far he was away from the basket. If the steal does not work and the Celtics fouled in the process, the Cavs would just get the ball back on the side. No free throws would be shot, no dunks could change the momentum, and it would give the entire Celtics defense a chance to defend as a team, as opposed to one-on-one.
The Demoralizing Block
Approximately six years ago when Michael Jordan was moonlighting as a Washington Wizard, he found himself on the tail end of a Ron Mercer fast break. He was not in position to feint at Mercer, and the 39-year-old Jordan was too slow to go for the steal. What Jordan did do however is time his jump with Mercer’s and he blocked his shot against the backboard with two hands, took the ball off the backboard, then led the Wizards back down the other end of the floor. It was creative, athletic and just plain smart. If a 39-year-old with minimal, if any, cartilage in his knee can make this move, surely someone on the Celtics can follow suit.
Despite the brute strength James finishes with off the break, blocking his shot is not an impossible feat. When the Celtics stuy film of James on the break they will see that in almost every instance he jumps and then cocks the ball back before dunking emphatically. During this split second his attempt can definitely be blocked. As big as the momentum shifts when he dunks the ball, can you imagine how much momentum he would lose if his shot was blocked instead? It could change the entire complexion of the game.
The Shane Battier
While he was at Duke, and since he has been in the NBA, Battier has been known as the ultimate hustle player. He will dive for the ball, defend the best player on the other team and take that difficult charge to pump up his team. There have been countless times during his career when Battier would sacrifice his body and take the charge hoping to be the catalyst for his team. The Celtics should take note and execute this same plan against James on the break. Yes, James is big, and yes, whoever is on the receiving end of his charge is going to pay dearly, but pain and sacrifice are what playoff and championship basketball are all about. If one player on Boston sped back on the fastbreak and took a charge from James that could change the game. Maybe the next time down the floor James pulls up and waits for his teammates. Or, maybe he over-thinks and turns the ball over. The possibilities are endless when the Shane Battier approach is put into use.
So, there you have it Doc Rivers. I know you just won Game 5 and you’re leading the series 3-2 but there is room for improvement. For your reading pleasure, from the sanctity of my living room, I have devised the ultimate plan to shut down James on the fast break and win Game 6.
As for the non-fast break LeBron James? You are completely on your own.
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