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Attacking Boston's defense without Kobe: Q and A with coach Dave Miller

Before January's epic win in Boston, in a Chalk Talk PodKast Andy and I broke down Boston's defensive philosophy with former Hornets assistant coach Dave Miller,who has also worked on college staffs including USC, Texas, and Arizona State. One point of emphasis centered on the way Boston's system is designed to stop the opposition's superstar.

Well, it looks like Kobe Bryant (L.A.'s current superstar-in-residence) won't be on the floor Thursday eveningfor Boston's visit to Staples (7:30 pm PT, TNT).To find out how it changes the context of tonight's action, we again picked Miller's brain with a few pregame Q's:

1. During our last Chalk Talk Podcast, you noted how Boston's system is tailored to stopping superstars like Kobe Bryant. Well, 24 looks doubtful for tonight's game. Does that change at all how the Celtics operate on that end of the floor?

Coach Dave Miller: The Celtics defense really does not change at all. It is built on intensity, intelligence, aggressiveness, and communication. They pride themselves on what they do on the defensive end of the floor and talk openly about wanting to be the best defensive team in the NBA! If Kobe does not play, the focus of their team defense will be to stop (Andrew) Bynum from getting off early and prevent (Pau) Gasol from controlling the game from the post. Expect a heavy dose of a fierce and nasty Kevin Garnett! I would imagine he will be "meeting and greeting" the Laker bigs outside the lane and not allowing them initial post up position.

Coaching against him made me very quickly learn Garnett doesn't love to win... HE HATES TO LOSE!!!

2. So with 24 in street clothes, how do the Lakers have to attack?

Coach Miller: Without Kobe, these Lakers have picked up their defense, controlled the boards, and have executed the offense with great ball movement and sharper, harder cuts. Offensively, the Lakers do not need to change anything. They are 4-0 without Kobe and are running the triangle offense the way it was designed to be played. Tex Winter would be very proud of their recent effort! The Lakers are:

  • spacing the floor beautifully...

  • popping to the ball and using the four available pivots...

  • hitting the first open man, which is key to the overall execution of the offense...

  • if the person is open and it's his shot, he's shooting... if not, he's moving the ball, getting it to the next open man.

This group hasn't taken very many bad shots (or "forced the issue," as coaches like to say). That needs to continue tonight. If there is a dribble drive in the middle and a player occupies two defenders, the ball needs to be kicked to the open shooter. You must not get stubborn or selfish against teams that play a loaded team defense like the Celtics.

Everyone has been involved offensively. Pau has shown his skill set of being a facilitator. His basketball IQ and understanding of the triangle excites the other four players on the floor. He is a skilled and willing passer from the low post, and deadly hitting cutters from the pinch post. Overall, the ball has gone from side to side. The triangle will naturally create an overload and crisp ball movement, occupying all five defenders so the offense then can take what the defense gives them.

Teams that win championships have good benches. When short-handed others get their chance to show why they were selected to be on the team. Much is expected when you wear purple and gold! Mitch Kupchak chose them for a reason. They can play. They are pieces to the puzzle.

I'm hoping Kobe is taking mental notes not just on that they've done well, but what they've done well in his absence and increases his trust and confidence in his teammates.

3. What changes about scoring when the superstar is sidelined?

Coach Miller: Anytime your superstar is out it's harder to score! While we've talked about all the good things the other Lakers have done, well, they're supposed to. They are pros! I love Gasol and I love Odom, but don't forget neither has played at this high a level before playing with Kobe. 24 demands doubles. He draws defenders from the weakside. Those two things alone create opportunities for his teammates.

The NBA is built on stars. Players and coaches accept that. But to win championships it takes a team effort. While opposing fans might call him a ball hog, they fail to realize he is ourball hog. He is who he is: the smartest and most competitive basketball player on the planet, with the mentality of a basketball assassin. The Lakers will welcome him back healthy and play through him.

I'm just hoping Kobe sees he has talent around him and the cupboard is not bare.

Overall, Thursday's game will be an "EFT" game: ENERGY, FOCUS, and TOUGHNESS!