May 26, 2010, 12:35 PM EDT
Real men, of course, don’t play zone.
It is why the Suns’ gimmickry was derided by the Lakers after Game 4 as inconsequential to why the Western Conference finals are now tied 2-2.
It is why Carmelo Anthony, Jonny Flynn and now Wes Johnson enter the NBA seemingly needed to be reprogrammed from Jim Boeheim’s wretched ways.
And yet, during a quiet moment, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy couldn’t help but grin about the whole fuss.
Yes, he, too, disdains the approach. But in speaking with his brother, he said the two coaches consistently came to the same conclusion when the opposition sprung a zone: confusion, temporary loss of cohesion.
No, nothing like the scale we’ve seen from the Lakers this past week, but a very tangible sense of perplexity.
For years, Phoenix has been the NBA’s test kitchen, from “seven seconds or less” to this unyielding preponderance of playoff zone.
How ironic that a state that has come under fire for its restrictive social policy continues to serve as the NBA’s most progressive party?
So where does it go from here? If the Suns do somehow manage to spoil Celtics-Lakers, will there be copycats awaiting next season?
Don’t kid yourself, there already are.
Among the reasons the Heat managed to finish second in the league in both defensive scoring average and defensive field-goal percentage was a liberal dose of zone. Just go through that roster and try to find a single defensive stopper (and don’t try to equate Dwyane Wade’s steals and blocks to man-on-man deterrence).
Former NBA coach Don Casey, who quite literally wrote the book on the approach, Temple of Zones, argued for years that the league needed to open its mind to the possibilities.
“Many people felt the zone is a poor-man’s way of teaching defense, that it slows down the game, it’s harmful,” Casey told me in an interview a while back. “They’re wrong on both counts. It’s the inability of the offenses to attack them in a proper way. Hence it looks like it’s a slowdown game.
“When I first came into the league, as a college guy, I had played a zone. As time went on, I kind of agreed with them, that the stand-around approach (of a zone), it just may not be good for the game. But if it’s taught properly, it’s an aggressive defense and it can be played very well and it can be attacked very well.”
No one is suggesting Alvin Gentry had any back-to-the-future thoughts in mind when desperation prevailed after Game 2 of a series that appeared headed to a sweep.
But this nonetheless stands as a wakeup call, that there are other ways, that what’s old can become new again.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
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