Lessons from the NBA finals for LeBron – and the Hawks, too

Those weren't the days: Jason Terry as a Hawk. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Jason Terry as a Hawk. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The most fascinating NBA finals since 2004 (when the starless Detroit Pistons beat Shaq and Kobe) if not 1977 (when the clockwork Portland Trail Blazers stunned the high-wire 76ers of Dr. J and Darryl Dawkins and World B. Free) have imparted some lessons. We’ll see if the Atlanta Hawks take note.

Lesson No. 1: Mesh matters more than manpower. This is the NBA, where talent is supposed to count above all. But talent didn’t. If you were drafting from the two finalists’ rosters, you’d have picked one Maverick in the top four. Of Dallas’ four leading playoff scorers, the youngest is Dirk Nowitzki, who turns 33 next week. Yet the Mavs had a clear understanding of what they could and couldn’t do, and the Heat had no idea. Miami’s biggest shot in Game 6 — a 3-pointer (that missed) with Dallas up by 10 and 2:16 remaining — was taken not by LeBron James or Dwyane Wade but by Eddie House, who hadn’t played in the first four games of the series. It seemed, sad to say, rather Hawk-like.

Lesson No. 2: Coaching matters, too. Not to pile on Erik Spoelstra, who was handed an uncoachable roster, but this was among the greatest tactical routs in the history of tactics. The team with the lesser players dictated matchups and tempo. The former Hawk Mike Bibby, who started the first five games of the series, wasn’t even used in Game 6.

Lesson No. 3: Zone defense is the great equalizer. Dallas, then coached by Avery Johnson, blew the 2006 NBA finals because it couldn’t stop Wade from driving. Dallas, as coached by Rick Carlisle, defused a hard-driving team that blew past Chicago — which played the NBA’s best defense this season — in the Eastern finals by zoning it up and rendering Wade a bit less active and turning James into the basketball equivalent of Roberto (”No mas”) Duran. NBA teams tend to use the zone as a change of pace, but Carlisle and his defensive coordinator made it a core stratagem.

Lesson No. 4: When in doubt, hire a defensive man. The aforementioned Dallas defensive coordinator is Dwane Casey, who was the frontrunner to become the Hawks’ head coach last summer before ownership took a harder look at in-house assistant Larry Drew and his share-the-ball offensive schemes. Drew did OK: The Hawks lost nine more games than they had the season before but put up a better fight in Round 2. The Bulls, who eliminated the Hawks, went from 41-41 to 62-20 by hiring Tom Thibodeau, who’d been Doc Rivers’ defensive whiz in Boston, as head coach.

Lesson No. 5: Continuity counts for something, but not as much as Hawks’ general manager Rick Sund might hope. Only two Mavericks remain from the losing 2006 finalists, and one of those (Jason Terry) has gone from starter to sub. By way of contrast, the Hawks still have three players who were starting in 2006 — Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams — and Al Horford arrived in 2007. The Mavericks suffered through a spate of embarrassing playoff exits but kept tinkering, trading for Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion and Caron Butler (who was hurt and didn’t play in the playoffs) and Tyson Chandler. Better to be wrong than static.

Lesson No. 6: In the biggest games, your biggest name has to be the best player on the floor. Nowitzki was. James was not. Too often Joe Johnson hasn’t been — and he’s under contract through 2016.

Lesson No. 7: It’s never a good idea when your two best players play the same way. Not all great players need the ball all the time. Kobe Bryant doesn’t. Nowitzki doesn’t. LeBron and D-Wade do. If one has it, the other cannot. In all the hoopla over “The Decision,” this essential point got lost. The Dallas defense divided the two and conquered the Legion of Superheroes.

Lesson No. 8: Wade was correct when he said “choke is an overused word,” but it applies here. LeBron  reached the stage he wanted with the team of his choosing — and was so ineffective he wouldn’t have made the all-finals team if the NBA had such a thing. Afterward he snarled at his detractors, telling reporters: “They have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before.” But he has to live with the knowledge that he was outdone not just by Nowitzki but by Jason Terry, who seven years ago was jettisoned by the Hawks.

By Mark Bradley

176 comments Add your comment

J.J.M.

June 13th, 2011
1:03 pm

First? its been awhile!

J.J.M.

June 13th, 2011
1:05 pm

great article though Mark..hope some of the players actually read this.

juvenal

June 13th, 2011
1:05 pm

he’s young yet, look how long it took der grosser Kraut-way to go, Dirk!

juvenal

June 13th, 2011
1:07 pm

who is marvin williams?

[...] Lessons from the NBA finals for LeBron – and the Hawks, tooAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)The most fascinating NBA finals since 2004 (when the starless Detroit Pistons beat Shaq and Kobe) if not 1977 (when the clockwork Portland Trail Blazers stunned the high-wire 76ers of Dr. J and Darryl Dawkins and World B. Free) have imparted some …How will we remember 2011 NBA Finals?ESPN12 Clenched Fists: Mavs have Dirk's back – and the NBA TitleFS SouthwestBest NBA Playoff SeriesSI.comTimes of India -SKNVibes.comall 1,051 news articles » [...]

Kurt Angle

June 13th, 2011
1:10 pm

I believe Marvin Williams was drafted by Billy Knight in the hopes of ruining the hopes and dreams of Atlanta fans everywhere. I wish this misery upon no man, not even my worst enemy.

Mark Bradley

June 13th, 2011
1:12 pm

First, J.J.M. Kudos to you.

Michael in Dunwoody

June 13th, 2011
1:14 pm

“They have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before.” What a dumb comment. So do you, LeBron; you’re still not a champion.

juice sourcer

June 13th, 2011
1:17 pm

All great points….so what this means is that the Hawks will never come close to a NBA championship.

Baker

June 13th, 2011
1:18 pm

Great piece. The Heat played like almost exactly like the Hawks would except with better players. Lots of awesome looking fastbreak high-flying stuff but when it came to halfcourt, cycling through players trying their best isolation moves ain’t gonna get it done. I know this has been said a lot but for goodness sakes LeBron, get a post-up game. LeBron either shoots a three or he dunks, stop one of those, then you end up stopping both and he stinks.

Hubie Green

June 13th, 2011
1:20 pm

Team over the individual; drives to the basket over 28 foot fall away jumpers; clutch play over LB just walking around nonchalantly; Dallas “getting the secret” of winning champiuonships, and Bron still trying to figure it out. On top of all that; LB makes a really stupid assinine statement. Does he actually think the only people who were appalled by the way he handled the “decision” are living on the streets? Here is my retort: Bron, you get to wake up every day with the knowledge that your ego driven overhyped production got you the same result you’ve had every other season: no championships. Subtract one from your perceived eight rings.

dap01

June 13th, 2011
1:21 pm

LeBron has as much class as his mother.

MightyQuinn

June 13th, 2011
1:22 pm

King James = Roberto (”No Mas”) Duran. Brilliant, hilarious and, sadly, accurate! Great one, Mark!

Mark Bradley

June 13th, 2011
1:23 pm

Thanks, Quinn.

Hot sauce

June 13th, 2011
1:23 pm

Which teams are we currently in talks with regarding the trade of Josh smith.

Leeindc

June 13th, 2011
1:23 pm

“better to be wrong than static”
1) trade Nique for Manning
2) blow up a perennial playoff team and not make the playoffs from 99-2007

Not Don Waddell

June 13th, 2011
1:24 pm

Reminded me a lot of the Orlando series, Orlando had the best player, but the Hawks had #2 – #6 -players…yes, Miami had lebron and Wade, but Dallas had #3 – #10 players…Bosh stole money, he is a glorified Horace Grant, without the toughness…Heat will be back next year, but after that Wade’s athleticism will crater and they will struggle to get out of the East…wish that the Hawks could find a way to get Howard…

hank

June 13th, 2011
1:30 pm

LeBron should have paid better attention to Dirk in the off-season. If he had he could have changed his ‘decision’ and followed Dirk’s example and stayed in Cleveland. And, not only in that Dirk stayed but improved his game from ‘06. No matter how many ‘championships’ he may or may not have one day, he will never have the satisfaction of taking ‘his’ team to the finals. Nothing he gets in Miami will ever compare to what he gave up by leaving and that is conquering his demons and the endless adoration of his fans not only in Cleveland but the ones he alienated by leaving. Instead of trying to be compared to Michael Jordon (that notion is caput), he is now trying to be like Dirk.

zachdahater

June 13th, 2011
1:32 pm

Recipe to title contention for THE HAWKS

Get a good SF, and a Center that is a scoring threat. Joe and Jamal got doubled aggressively hard because people could leave their players and we had goofy Collins and Zaza on the floor, and we have bad ball movement.

My solution

ANDRE IGUODALA seems available after the emergence of Turner in the playoffs and the trade talk for Monta Ellis. THEY NEED A SG. WE CAN’T AFFORD JAMAL CRAWFORD!!

Let’s sign Jamal Crawford to trade him and other players to the 76ers for Iggy. I say….

Iguodala FOR Jamal, Josh Powell, and Etan Thomas

I have faith in this MAGNUM ROLLE guy we have signed. He’ll be a good backup PF.

AS FOR THE CENTER, trade Josh Smith and maybe others for Emeka Okafor or Andew Bogut.
That =

Teague, Hinrich
Joe, Wilkins
Iguodala, Marvin
Horford, Magnum Rolle
Bogut (or nameless Center), Zaza, Collins

Might not be Bogut, might not be Okafor, but if we manage to get Iggy in here, trading Josh Smith for a scoring center would be the smartest choice. ONLY if we get a good SF on the team. (Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, Corey MAGETTE, Gerald Wallace, Andre Iguodala)

MIGHT WANNA TRADE JAMAL FOR COREY MAGETTE!! The Bucks need a good SG.

ASG = JERKS

June 13th, 2011
1:32 pm

Joe Johnson needs to come out carrying Bruce Levinson in a cloud of lighted smoke and strobe LAZERS.

Matt from MN

June 13th, 2011
1:35 pm

Miami…your tears are delicious to me!!! I’m just really, really enjoying this.

ASG = JERKS

June 13th, 2011
1:36 pm

“They have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before.” What a dumb comment. So do you, LeBron; you’re still not a champion.

Basically LaBron is saying he is rich and you are not. You will never get the hoes he does.

Paddy

June 13th, 2011
1:36 pm

Mark…do you think the ASG learned anything from this playoff series that will help them mold a team for the future?

Mark Bradley

June 13th, 2011
1:37 pm

I don’t know, Paddy. Rick Sund has harped on that Pistons-of-2004 model.

All I'm Saying Is....

June 13th, 2011
1:38 pm

Interesting comments, Mark, but don’t overlook the fact that Lesson 3 (defense) worked because of Lesson 5 (wholesale change of the roster) so let’s not play the blame game with respect to Coach Avery Johnson and the Mavs of 2006 as before he arrived Dallas NEVER played defense under Don Nelson and he did not have a defensive-minded Center like Tyson Chandler.

KBP

June 13th, 2011
1:43 pm

Not Don Waddell . . . . Bosh is much better offensively than Horace Grant was and Grant was a better rebounder and defender than Bosh. I am a 40 year Hawks fan but why take shots as guys that simply do what they do. Riley should have known Bosh was not a tough guy( Horace Grant) before he offered him the money. The Heat have 2 exceptional perimeter players and 1 very good one and a young PG. They need Tyson Chandler or Joakim Noah. Very glad they can’t get either one.

JSS

June 13th, 2011
1:46 pm

So let me get this right, LeBron and the Heat pull a 1977 Sixers Finals and suddenly they are the worst thing since the invention of Cheez Whiz? They are still just a point guard away from the next 3 or 4 years in the Finals. No back hand slaps at the Mavs, they won on the floor and were tough when they needed to be….

Rick Sund is crazy, he has 3 guys playing starter minutes who need to coming off the bench and powering this team… And none of them is named Marvin Williams.

All I'm Saying Is....

June 13th, 2011
1:48 pm

And, by the way, the Heat Big 3 either choked or gave up down the stretch in Game 6. One could tell the former because they either missed or passed up shots and the latter because they would not hustle to foul a Mavs players when hustle was all that was required. You were spot-on with the Eddie House launching a 3 comment but you should have added that the 3 by Eddie came out of a Heat timeout??? Either Spoelstra drew that play up for Eddie (bad idea) or LeBron who was driving to the hoop decided to pass to him on his own (worse). Next sign, as I mentioned, was that Heat players could have but simply did not make an effort to foul Dallas when they still had time (remember the final difference was only 10 points) to do so, hope for a miss and then make a quick three (hello, Mario Chalmers?).

Very happy for Dirk and JT but most of all Jason Kidd.

Joe Johnson needs to man-up and accept the responsibility that comes with the money and Hawks still need a center (Sund could have obtained Tyson Chandler) but at least we’ve found a legit point guard.

LET’S GO HAWKS!

JSS

June 13th, 2011
1:50 pm

Paddy, the ASG is done… I think everyone over there is awaiting the lockout so they can find a buyer (post hence)…. To do what Dallas did, you have to taste the luxury tax… That is not the ASG M.O.

Bigboy

June 13th, 2011
1:52 pm

Mike Bibby was awful throughout the playoffs…glad the Hawks unloaded that guy.The Heat need a PG in the worst way.I’d take a team full of good players over a team with a couple of great players anyday.The Mavs aren’t a fluke either…ask the Lakers or the OKC

Meliwa

June 13th, 2011
1:55 pm

Lesson #9: Hawks ownership and management needs to stop selling the public on the idea that Round 2 of the playoffs is good enough. Mark Cuban didn’t sell the Mavs’ faithful on the idea that simply making the playoffs was good enough, even when Dallas was getting bounced in the first round. Let’s be honest–in the NBA you make the playoffs simply by sucking less than three or four other teams. Round 2 simply puts you in the middle of the pack. Granted the Atlanta Spirit’s attitude is slightly better than the former ownership (who sold the public on making the playoffs–period–was good enough), but it’s the mediocrity attitude from the ownership that eventually got the Thrashers leaving for Winnipeg. The Hawks may be leaving in short order without a change.

ASHCAN.

June 13th, 2011
2:00 pm

Im not a miami fan but save the bashing until labron career has ended because the heat will be back in that position(Finals) time after time.At least we can carve that on stone before we can the hawks.If the hawks don’t make a move to get this team in a better position to win,i will not even waist my time to watch or go to see them play.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Joey

June 13th, 2011
2:04 pm

Mark, all that being true, I would add Lesson No.9 – it doesn’t hurt to spend money.

The Mavs payroll is exceeded only by the Lakers.

But, big payroll or not, words can’t say how much I enjoyed watching Lebron and Co miss all of the free throws, and just generally choke!

Bobby Coccyx

June 13th, 2011
2:09 pm

Hawks are going nowhere fast…

MightyQuinn

June 13th, 2011
2:15 pm

Did anybody besides me think about Joe Johnson’s shot at the fans after last years playoff debacle when hearing LBJ dissing those dissing him? And has ANY athlete in any sport ever gone from being generally liked and respected to being almost universally disdained without getting arrested or accused of committing a felony?

Tyson Chandler. End of Story

June 13th, 2011
2:16 pm

True Shooting Pct
1. Tyson Chandler-DAL .697
Team Offensive Rating per 100possessions
2010-11 NBA 131.0 (1)
Total Rebound Pct
1. Kevin Love-MIN 23.6
2. Kris Humphries-NJN 22.1
3. Dwight Howard-ORL 21.8
4. Zach Randolph-MEM 20.1
5. Tyson Chandler-DAL 19.7

Win Shares Per 48 Minutes
1. LeBron James-MIA 0.244 (24%)
2. Dwight Howard-ORL 0.236 (24%)
3. Pau Gasol-LAL 0.232 (23%)
4. Chris Paul-NOH 0.232 (23%)
5. Tyson Chandler-DAL 0.218 (22%)

Hey that Tyson Chandler feller is pretty good. Nice how gives the Mavericks a Twin Towers look and you make it all about Miami failing.

They got 1 of the best centers in the league and how about giving DAL their due instead of “STAR POWER” vs team cohesion

they got a center we dont Miami doesnt

Tyson Chandler. End of Story

June 13th, 2011
2:17 pm

“Mark, all that being true, I would add Lesson No.9 – it doesn’t hurt to spend money.

The Mavs payroll is exceeded only by the Lakers.”

ORL is close iirc

GABred

June 13th, 2011
2:19 pm

The problem with Miami is during the finals they became the BIG 2 and Lebron was not a member. He may have bought in to Pippen’s assenine statement that he was MJ comparable. If he left Cleveland for the sun, beach, quality of life then I can’t blame him. But if he left because, he felt he was a finished product that was flawless as the game had ever seen,and his team there was just that insufficient and not worthy of his talents, then he missed the mark altogether. Arrogance and pride can be there own pitfall.

Jay Dorkman

June 13th, 2011
2:22 pm

My favorite thing about the Hawks is the fact that they don’t have crybabies on their team.

Truth2

June 13th, 2011
2:27 pm

The way I see it, Lebron is immature, period. He doesn’t seem like he needs to listen to anyone, much less the fans. Does this sound familiar? Baker(blogger) is correct in saying that these Heat are an talented and upgraded Hawks-like team who imploded when it really mattered. I like Lebron, but like other fans-was exposed to his weakness for all the world to see. Like Magic said in the post game show-Lebron should have accepted the blame himself-he needs to learn how to speak to the media, and like John Barry mentioned, Lebron needs to just shout his mouth and work on a low post game, midrange game-to improve his effectiveness in the paint. The Hawks should learn from these playoffs and finals-from the Mavericks. Also, Dwanye Wade needs to mature as well. Those coughing antics by him and Lebron were frowned upon by the basketball gods and thus that Karma came back to bite both of them in the azz. Lebron showed to be a follower, rather than a leader-thus, he played like a follower-not a leader. This decision to come to Miami didn’t guarantee anything. What it did was create a three headed mess. The Hawks players should develop their game as fast as they can, because whenever the next NBA season starts-competition will be fierce. We’ll wait and see-if my premonition is true.

max jj

June 13th, 2011
2:30 pm

give JJ another $25 million / year max deal or he may leave–he want respect!

Ted M

June 13th, 2011
2:31 pm

Lesson No. 6: In the biggest games, your biggest name has to be the best player on the floor. Nowitzki was. James was not. Too often Joe Johnson hasn’t been — and he’s under contract through 2016.

And you said the Hawks, for PR reasons, had no other choice but to sign JJ to the max contract. lol I realize that was Sund’s mistake not yours but knew it was a mistake.

Ted M

June 13th, 2011
2:36 pm

Wow Erick Dampier trade for Tyson Chandler. Michael Jordan got his clock cleaned on that trade.

Who Cares?

June 13th, 2011
2:37 pm

“Wikipedia: The Atlanta Hawks:

A so called professional basketball team that has been established in the City of Atlanta since 1968!
This Franchise has never been to an Eastern Conference Final or an NBA Finals since its existence in Atlanta..”

Brutal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bigboy

June 13th, 2011
2:40 pm

Forget that Nowitzki talk….Jason Terry was the best player for the Mavs in this series.They would have gotten swept without Terry.

Who Cares?

June 13th, 2011
2:45 pm

Lebron, you have no mid-range jumpshot at the elbow(14-21ft) shoot 500-1000 per day this summer and next year you will be unguardable..That shot is extremely difficult to defend!! It works trust me..you’ll be able to shoot over whoever is guarding you at 6′8″…

Prediction: Hawks slip to 6th.

AllstarAL= Tyson Chandler….not.. Tyson is 5x better defender and help defender

Tyson Chandler. End of Story

June 13th, 2011
2:46 pm

Jordan, Pippen, Grant/Rodman AND Kukoc.
Worthy, Magic, Kareem AND Scott AND Cooper AND Rambis
McHale, Parish, Bird AND 6′5 Ainge AND 6′5 Dennis Johnson in the backcourt

The Big 3 is a myth imo. You need a center to win and a competent point guard to put everyone in scoring position. The Heat are playing there wide receivers as quarterbacks.

Until they get 1 more threat or deep teams like Dallas fall off I dont see them getting the trophy

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MightyQuinn

June 13th, 2011
2:47 pm

Finally, one so-called debate is over for this year: LBJ>MJ? Ha! The King needs to go see the Wizard about getting a heart!