In case anyone is wondering what happen to the Heat Wednesday night; the Bulls employed a strategy that use to be utilized against Shaquille O’neal. No, not that Hack a Shaq. That merely involved intentionally fouling Shaq, usually late in games, because he was such a poor free throw shooter. The strategy I am talking about could be titled the “make him beat us” strategy.
It works in two parts. First, the team makes the conscious decision to make closing out on shooters a higher priority than stopping the focal point of the offense. This was Shaq with the Lakers and Lebron now with the Heat. With Shaq, the player guarding Shaq would get less help with double teams than normal. In turn, Shaq with have huge games when teams attempted this strategy. I’m talking 34 plus points and 15 plus rebounds. The idea is that the opponent will live with that so long as the rest of the team does not get hot from the perimeter.
For Lebron, the make him beat us strategy means the defender covering Lebron is going to get less help side defense and there will be less of a team effort to close off driving lanes for Lebron. By the teams not sagging off of their man as much, they are more easily able to contest the flurry of jump shots (Chris Bosh) and three pointers (Ray Allen & Shane Battier) that Miami likes to shoot. Not only can they contest shots better but they are cutting off the passing lanes more too. Lebron, being trained to take what the defense gives him, will penetrate almost every time he sees the lane open. Proof the efficacy of this strategy is apparent in that Lebron only had 3 assist against the Bulls.
The second part of the strategy is basically the Bad Boy Pistons’ Jordan Rules strategy. It’s saying, ‘he may get to the basket, but once he’s there we are going to make him earn it.’ Teams similarly used to beat up on Shaq – even before the late game Hack a Shaq strategy. This is exactly what the Bulls did to Lebron. Ultimately, the hard fouling only works to frustrate the player by roughing him up and preventing him from getting clean shots. It worked like a charm against Lebron Wednesday night, earning him a flagrant foul when he retaliated out of frustration.
From a fan’s standpoint it’s exciting to watch a player be forced to beat a team by himself. Few players in the history of the league warrant such a strategy and even fewer are capable of single-handedly defeating it. That’s not to say it is not going to take a team effort for the Heat to repeat, but if this strategy is a sign of things to come, then we can look forward to some extraordinary performances from the already extraordinary Lebron James.