The week began and ended with a game against the same team, the 3rd and 4th time that we played this team. We play in a year-end tournament, and in the infinite wisdom of the tournament director, one side of the bracket features teams who have been playing each other all season, and the other side features teams who have been playing each other all season. I asked to drop in seed just to play someone different, and the director opposed because the tournament was seeded. The other two coaches who we have played repeatedly said that the director does it every season so his team makes the championship game, as they felt our side of the bracket was stacked (the two teams who we played on our side of the bracket have beaten us by 6-20 points in a total of 6 games; the two teams who we played one time each on the other side of the bracket beat us by 4 and 5 points in our second and third games of the season).
We opened the week with a loss. We practiced and played again on Wednesday. We practiced Thursday, had no gym on Friday, and played on Saturday. In our practices, the focus has been changing the rotations on our press to be more conservative and to take away lay-ups – essentially changing from a trap to a run-and-jump. The other emphasis has been finishing, as we continue to get the ball inside but not finish our chances with enough efficiency.
We worked through some of the post drills from Ettore Messina’s clinic that I attended years ago, as well as some of our normal finishing drills like Marauder Lay-ups.
We lost again on Wednesday.
There are two positives from the games. First, after trying to run pick-and-rolls once or twice against us, teams stop running them altogether because our pick-and-roll defense is really good. Second, after our games this week, both coaches commented on how hard our guys play and how they never give up regardless of the score.
I had such confidence in our pick-and-roll defense, and our half-court defense in general, that I stopped pressing for a couple games. Unfortunately, in the half-court, we struggle to score. I went back to the press to keep up the tempo and try to create a more transition-oriented game for offensive reasons, but we continue to gamble too much too soon and put our defense at a disadvantage.
In the 1st round on Saturday, we lost again. The coach, who has played us four times now, said that it was the best that we had played. In many ways, it was, which is good. It is hard to be mad at or disappointed with guys who never give up and who play hard all the time. However, I look at our team and think we should be winning more, so I am frustrated with myself.
We did a decent job of doing what we wanted to do. We wanted to take away lay-ups and force jump shots. Unfortunately, they shot really well and made almost as many threes in the first half as they had in the previous three games against us. In the first three games, only one player had made more than one three-pointer, and now it seemed like everyone was a shooter.
The end of the half told the story. We got stops on two defensive possessions in a row with us down by 7. However, though we had our hands on the rebound, we did not secure it. They tipped away the ball or took it out of our hands, and on both possessions, they kicked out to their best shooter for an open three-pointer. Rather than being within 7, we trailed by 13 at half.
Thirteen was their biggest lead of the game. The entire second half was played between 7-13 points. We had a couple offensive possessions in a 7-point game but were called for a foul on a rebound (terrible call) and a charge (I’m not a fan of players taking a charge directly under the rim) on consecutive possessions, and then we took an ill-advised three-pointer down by 9.
Our problem basically comes down to making shots. We had a possession in the first half where we moved the ball around their zone and found our tallest player right under the basket with nobody around him. If he had pivoted toward the baseline, he had an open lay-up; if he had pivoted toward the middle, he had a short hook shot; instead, he kicked out to the three-point line. On another possession, we got the ball inside to our best offensive post and he missed three consecutive chances – great effort to get two offensive rebounds, but we need someone to put the ball in the basket. If we made some of these shots, our transition defense would look better, we would not fall behind by so much, and we would not have to press so hard on defense to create steals. We do a lot of things well, and we play really hard, but at the end of the day, it comes down to putting the ball in the basket.
By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League