Nate and Brandon were downright perky today at practice in the aftermath of the team's big Game 2 victory.
It was clear from talking with both of them that the Chess match between the two teams and two coaches is starting to heat up. What a difference 24 hours makes. Last night pregame Nate was prickly as can be; today at practice, he was almost goofy, his mood seemed to match his bright red polo shirt.
One storyline from last night that you might have read about was the fact that Nate could be seen hiding his signals to his players inside his suit jacket down the stretch last night.
Dwight Jaynes wrote this ...
McMillan was using his coat to hide his play calls from the Houston bench most of the game. You don't see that very often. Pretty soon in this league, we're going to see players wearing wrist bands with plays on them, matched with numbers - and coaches will call numbers that players can check on their wrist bands for corresponding plays. Blue-32, red-44. . . HUT, HUT!
Henry Abbott had this to say...
As Spike Lee and Kobe Bryant discuss, NBA coaches don't hide their play calls. Opposing advance scouts (like the Rockets' Pat Zipfel) sit on press row and take down every call all season. By the time of the playoffs, all of the coaching staff and half the players know what a team is going to do before they even set up. The whole trick is just execution, or adding new little wrinkles here and there. Which is why you don't see coaches opening their jackets to hide the secret hand signals they're sending in. Only, I did see Nate McMillan doing that tonight. Clearly. I suspect it's something to do with Shane Battier, who I saw yelling at teammates about Portland calls more than once. For what it's worth, the play where I saw this most clearly started with Battier checking in with 2:47 left. It ended up being nicely broken up by the Rockets' defense, and Brandon Roy was forced into a tough 3 after some ball fakes with a hand in his face. Which he hit, to give Portland a 96-90 lead.
After the game, Jason Quick assured me that Nate has regularly hidden his signs in this manner. Because of my vantage point at home games, I honestly can't say I've seen it before or saw it last night.
I asked Nate a little bit about what was going on last night. Here's what he had to say.
Was Shane Battier stealing your signals?
Yeah. Why do you say that?
Well it was pointed out to me that you were using your jacket to disguise things a little.
Yeah he was.
He relays to the assistant coaches who have the playbook...
I thought you caught me waving at him one time.
You were waving at him?
Yeah I was. He was looking at me and I said... [Nate waves and smiles at me like he's in a grand floral parade] ... and [Battier] started laughing.
But yeah, we made an adjustment with our calls.
So the adjustment was that you could get the call to Brandon without Battier seeing it? Are you just trying to get a split second advantage? Do they know you well enough to figure it out once the play starts to unfold?
Well, [Battier was] picking it up sometimes in the backcourt. Which gives them time to call it to the bench, the bench get it in, then what the bench does is call out a play that they have that is close to the play that we are about to run.
So what we do is we don't call the play until we get across halfcourt. Now they don't have as much time to call out and to adjust.
What [Battier] was doing, on free throws when they are shooting free throws, he's looking at the point guard and looking at me and trying to get our plays. So we knew that, we made our adjustment with our point guards, not to call out the plays, use signals, and in situations like that, dead balls and free throws, we call the plays once we cross halfcourt.
I wondered last night whether the Blazers were perhaps more protective of their signs late in games because they simply run fewer plays in those situations compared to most teams. Sometimes, especially when Brandon is rolling like he was last night, I get the feeling that the play is either "Brandon goes left" or "Brandon goes right." I asked Nate...
In late game situations, would you say you have more plays or less plays than the average NBA team?
We have go-to sets. Most teams have them. A handful. You're going with your best players.
We have a ton of plays. Do we run them all? No.
I think the matchups, I think who is playing well, dictates what we do. But we normally go through Brandon, L.A. and Travis.
I really should reinforce how much Nate seemed to be enjoying this cat-and-mouse between a pro's pro with all the tricks like Shane Battier. The mindgames and chess moves sure beats golfing in April.
Like I wrote last night, I loved the adjustment of switching Brandon Roy onto Aaron Brooks for a short spell and running a backcourt of Brandon and Rudy, shortening Sergio Rodriguez's first half action. The limitations of such a setup are obvious and Roy listed them off today at practice: he can't expend too much energy chasing Brooks around and still get things done offensively, the team is most comfortable with a more traditional point guard in the game balancing the offense, and, frankly, Brandon probably doesn't have the raw speed to stay with Brooks for extended minutes.
But the trap Nate sprung last night left me with the impression that Brooks seemed intimidated, or at the very least surprised, by Brandon's defensive presence.
I asked Brandon whether he thought Brooks was taken aback by the matchup adjustment.
I wouldn't say intimidated. I think it's just more like... it may have caught him more off guard than intimidated. It was something he probably didn't expect. I guarded him a little bit in college. My thing is not really to stop him but to try to give him a different look. Make his looks a little bit tougher. It's that whole mental thing. We grew up together. I was hoping I could psyche him out on a few jumpers.
I asked Nate the same question.
Well, I thought he didn't attack as much. He may have been surprised. I think probably the next game they'll be ready for that. That's the adjustments. If we go to that they may look to be more aggressive. But we'll see.
I also asked Nate if he had plans to make further defensive adjustments on Brooks, such as switching Batum onto him for short stretches. His response, "We'll see on that too."
Something to look forward to?
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PS Before the game yesterday I talked with Ethan Lindsey of OPB about this year's team. A few quotes made it into his story (starring Travis Outlaw and Bill Schonely!) that aired on NPR this morning. Here's a link if you are interested.
KP apparently did an interview with them as well... I will pass that along once I can find the audio.