In watching the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals last night between the Lakers and the Magic, I kept thinking to myself, when are the Magic going to change up their defense against Kobe Bryant? From the second quarter on, the Lakers could see that the Magic were going to play Kobe 1v1 and go under on all ball screens, so Kobe just went crazy. I almost thought for sure Stan Van Gundy would make an adjustment in the third quarter, maybe doubling Kobe on the perimeter, or trapping him on ball screens, instead they kept the same defense, and the final result was predictable, a Lakers rout.

In these 2 sequences, the first one from the first half with Kobe posting up the much smaller Courtney Lee. Kobe backs him up then slithers in between help defenders to score.

In this second sequence, Kobe is left 1v1 against Michael Pietrus. Now, Pietrus did a decent job 1v1 on Kobe, but nine out of ten times, 1v1 Kobe is going to score, and he did here and got the foul,

In the following sequences, we see the Magic's defensive strategy on the pick and roll. They decide to soft switch with the screener's defender sagging and the primary defender chasing. In doing so, they hoped to take away Kobe going all the way to the rim (which they were actually decent at), and take away the 3-pointer (Kobe only shot 1 long ball and missed it). The problem with this defense is that Kobe can easily pull up for the 18 footer, draw a foul on the help defender, or drive and kick. This first one was from the first quarter, Kobe pulls up for the jumper,

In this second sequence, he does a stutter dribble, freezes Dwight Howard, and shoots a 10 footer over him,


Basketball is all about adjustments, the Magic made none defensively and allowed Kobe to burn them for 40 points. The same strategy worked against Lebron and the Cavs because the Cavs supporting staff decided not to show up. The Lakers supporting cast is much better, Gasol, Odom, Bynum, Fischer, and Walton all made shots.

I think for Game 2, you'll see Stan Van Gundy go with more traps and double-teams on Kobe. The key will be how the weak side defenders zone up and close out on the other Laker players. That is what the Nuggets couldn't do, they doubled, but they couldn't properly defend on the weak-side, allowing players like Ariza and Odom to get off good shots.

For more info on trapping defenses, take a look at Roy Williams's DVD on his Scramble Defense. Coach Williams is the head coach of the 2009 National Champion UNC Tar Heels. As always, head over to the X's and O's Basketball forum to talk with other coaches about your favorite basketball topics.


  1. Q McCall  

    June 5, 2009 at 4:16 PM

    Obviously Kobe was close to unstoppable last night...

    But my concern is what you mentioned in your summary -- the Nuggets were probably better equipped as a team to trap and rotate on weak-side and they couldn't pull it off.

    The only thing I can think of is taking the supporting cast out of the game completely and forcing Kobe to singlehandedly win the series..