Importance of Guarding the 3pt. Line
Check out M. Haubs layin' down the knowledge on the NBA Today Podcast with Mike Yam
The 3pt. line has definitely revolutionized the game of basketball over the last 25 years or so. Nowadays, its seems every college or pro coach likes to have two to three deep threats on the floor at once to create spacing and pile up extra points per possession. But maybe just as important as making 3pts., is taking them away.
In each Conference Final, you have a top-notch 3pt. shooting team (Magic, Suns) pitted against a team that defends the 3pt. line well (Celts, Lakers). The 3pt. shot is such a vital part of the offensive attack for both the Magic and Suns. So, if the Celts and Lakers can defend the 3pt. line like they did in the regular season it could be the key to them meeting in the NBA Finals.
It's not just about keeping the opposition's 3pt.% low. Limiting the amount of attempts from deep might be just as important. You can live with teams shooting 40% or above if they are only getting up 12-13 attempts a game, especially if those teams are Orlando and Phoenix.
One of the main reasons why we thought the Spurs would take out the Suns was because of the Spurs' ability to contain the opposition's 3pt. shooting. Very surprised the Spurs let the Suns torch them from deep.
Generally, the Spurs just don't keep the opposition's 3pt. % low, they limit the number of 3pt. attempts. They have historically done this under Popovich, and did so this year--the Spurs limited their opponent to a league-low 14.6 3pt. attempts per game. The Spurs' success against the Suns in '05 & '07 was not so much about keeping the Suns' 3pt.% low, but about chasing them off the line.
But the Spurs' failed to contain the Suns' 3pt. shooting and this was a major factor in the Spurs getting swept. The Spurs got hit with the double whammy of the Suns getting up too many 3PA per game and also drilling the attempts at a ridiculous rate (46%). The Spurs allowed the Suns to get up 22.25 3PA per game, allowing at least 19 3PA in every game of the series.
Like the Spurs, The Celts (in the Coach Thibodeau era) have been equally adept at cutting down the damage the opposition does behind the arc. This season the Celts allowed the 5th-lowest amount of 3PA per game (16.8) and were tied for 4th in Def. 3pt. % (34.2%).
So far, the Celtics have done a quality job limiting the Magic's 3pt. shooting prowess. Orlando led the league in 3pt. attempts with 27.3 per game and shot them at a 37.5% clips (4th best). The Magic were held to a 5-for-22 3pt. shooting night in Game 1.
In Game 2, Boston did allow the Magic to shoot 39% from 3pt., but kept the Magic to only 18 3PA, nine below their season average. I'm sure those numbers were a bit too high for Coach Thib's liking. Can't imagine he was happy with a wide-open J. Williams 3pt. make because of an ill-advised double onto Howard in the 2nd half of Game 2.
Imagine the Celts will continue to stay attached to Magic shooters and chase them off the line when possible. And continue to guard Dwight one-on-one as much as possible. And send him to line as much as possible. Dwight had 30 on Tuesday but had to earn a lot of those points at FT line.
Wouldn't you rather the Magic getting the 1 point per possession Howard will likely produce from the line as opposed to letting the deadliest long-range shooting team in league trying to get 3 points per possession?
The Western Conf. Finals could very well hinge on which team wins the battle of the 3pt. line between the Suns' offense and Lakers' defense. In the regular season, the Lakers were the best at guarding the 3pt. line--their opponents shot 32.8%. While the Suns' 41% 3pt. shooting led the league.
The Suns only managed 5-for-22 (23%) from long range in Game 1. We find it difficult to believe the Suns can win any game in this series if they shoot under 35% from deep.
A primary line of attack vs. the Suns should be to cut down the extra point per possession the Suns get from the longball. Make the Suns use more possessions to build up their point total. This should force the Suns have to rely more on their defense and rebounding to win.
Shutting down the deep shooting of Boston and LA might not be as crucial for their respective opponent. Actually, the Suns might be better off encouraging more 3PA from the Lakers and getting the ball out of Kobe or Pau's hands. My partner (and Doug Collins) mentioned the use of more zone in Game 2 and think this is not a bad idea. Try to force the ball into Artest, Fisher and Odom's hands on the perimeter and give them space to shoot. If they hit, then that's something you live with.