The 2008/2009 playoff series presented different challenges, each team Utah, Houston, Denver and Orlando had quality players. In order to win a championship you must see yourself worthy of winning and achieving the goal. Talent alone will not get the job done. There are certain traits which are required, some more than others, but to name a few: leadership, mental toughness, you need a happy community – good chemistry among the team, and you need to be able to make adjustments in order to accomplish the task.
Each team has its own style of play, Utah executes very well at the half court offense, they run well in transition and they are a sound fundamental defensive basketball team. The Houston Rockets, with a healthy Yao Ming and Ron Artest, and Luis Scola provided a strong front court and two small quick guards in Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry, with Battier and Landry giving plenty of support. So it goes in playoff basketball, to win you must first know who you are playing personnel-wise and knowledge of their talent and ability within the team concept. The secret to winning is realizing that you will not stop them, but how can you slow them down that you can win the series and move on.
In playoff basketball, it is truly win or go home. Each team and player alike have to raise his level of play – to win and to be a member of a championship team. However, to raise your level of play does not mean scoring points. Knowledge of how to play is critical in order to win a championship. Players who win championships buy into the system and what they have to do in order to win.
Players who win championship accept coaching and they realize that it’s about “we” and not “me.” The mental attitude that develops in the social setting around championship caliber teams is that is not how I act, but more important is how I react to the challenges that are before me.
Each playoff series presented match-ups that created multiple problems - for example with players such as Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Millsap, Okur and Kyle Korver in Utah -where is the strengths and weakness of the team and personnel that you are playing? This is the question that must be dealt with before each playoff starts and sometimes before and after each game – if things are not working out. If you are losing in a series you question everything that you are doing and why you are doing it.
Not being successful breeds and questions – on the only hand success breeds confidence and momentum. Lack of success drains your energy – where success keeps you energized. It is all a mindset – championship teams can talk themselves up and turn things around and teams that do not have the mental toughness to overcome fall to the wayside along the championship journey.
Teams that will win championships will have players that usually will embrace their roles on the team in order to win. Acceptance to the place you are “right now” is a mature look at life, it does not mean you are going to be at the same place tomorrow or the next day but this is what you need to do now in order to continue to move ahead. Championship teams see the big picture, you need workers to support and believe in the task. Willing workers and passionate people drive the marketplace to successful teams.
Over the years, defense has always been a major part of our success as a basketball team. There are seven defensive principles:
- Work at being a good defensive player, be ready, anticipate and work hard.
- Apply pressure on the ball.
- Limit penetration – stop the ball.
- Limit post passes.
- Seal the lane.
- Contest shots.
- Limit second shots.
These seven principles are what we talk about in order to prepare for games. In each series the questions are basically the same – the answers will vary. Some match-ups will not be in your favor, speed, quickness, athletic ability, size but a plan must be in place to deal with limiting the production (not always stopping) to win the series so that we can move on. In order to understand the plan of attack, strength versus strength, the team must see the larger picture and give of themselves to get the job done, not "me," but "we" mentality.
The process is based upon “risk” and “reward” values. Our defensive schemes are designed to bend, but not break – when teams get to playoff basketball they are usually sound (good players and teachers) at both ends of the floor. At some level this team is going to score points, what we try to do is limit, damage control the offense. The same can be said with unfavorable match-ups. This goes back to the first principle: defense is at times hard work. Defense will get broken down and teammates must be ready, willing and able to give help. Knowing how, when and where to rotate and support each other is paramount for defensive-minded teams to have success. Defensive execution is knowing personnel, contesting passes and shots, being active (quick), challenge the offense without committing fouls. Being aggressive without crossing the line. Offensive execution is built around spacing, player and ball movement and the ability to make shots. The Magic offense that we saw in the finals had a very good transition offense which put points on the board with lay- ups and 3-point baskets and a post player who could dominate the lane area at both ends of the floor. By following our principles one through seven, we were able to defeat the Magic. Take away their transition points opportunities, limit the points. Solid pressure on the ball – make them earn shots behind the arc, no gifts. Fight the post passes and touches (lane catches and dunks). Limit dribble penetration, contest shots without fouling and limit their offensive rebounds and second chance opportunities. Like most things in basketball, sounds very easy and simple things to do. Championships are won because of trust, individuals come together and they commit to each other. In the end, there is but one goal, who shoots and scores does not really matter. To win a championship, it is the ability to get a stop! In the end, defense will win championships.