Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Behind enemy lines: Defending Melo
By Jared Zwerling
An armbar, of sorts, from Paul Pierce: OK, that might work against Melo.
Toward the end of the third quarter Sunday, Pacers forward Sam Young fouled Carmelo Anthony, bruising his left shoulder. Melo took his free throws and then sat out the fourth quarter to receive treatment.
Physical play from top defensive teams is not foreign to Melo. He knows it will happen in the playoffs, starting Saturday when the Boston Celtics come to town.
"I've just got to deal with it," he said. "We know it's going to be a physical series."
The Celtics are aware of how Anthony has raised his game, averaging 32.5 points during the Knicks' recent 14-1 stretch.
"He's playing unbelievable," nemesis Kevin Garnett said. "We've got our work cut out for us."
So how might the Celtics look to defend Anthony? Here are seven tactics -- with insights from two veteran NBA scouts -- and how the Knicks' star will need to counter them:
1. Ball denial. The Celtics will do that as much as possible, especially farther away from the basket.
"They load up on the strong side," a scout said. "They bring a big man over to help and make him pass. They make him take the baseline and make tough 2-pointers before a 3-point shot or paint penetration."
Melo's move: Stopping the ball is a no-no. With a second defender approaching, some keys will be passing out quickly, making fast moves before the extra pressure arrives, or slipping behind his man for the alley-oop feed. Anthony also must be prepared to pull up to his right. The Celtics know he likes to initiate his jump shot with a crossover from right to left, using his off hand as a helpful guide.
Hip-check from Kevin Garnett: That's another tactic.
2. Extra work after the catch. The Celtics will look to make Melo uncomfortable with the ball, making him work for everything while trying to keep him off the foul line.
"They'll make him change direction, make him work off screens," a scout said.
Melo's move: Head-fakes in triple-threat formation or off one dribble might help him draw fouls. He'll also need to use his trademark one-dribble-into-a-spin-move layup finish. His size (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) enables him to bump off his man and get his shot off.
3. Blitz traps. With Melo running more pick-and-rolls this season, the Celtics will look to run sudden half-court traps at him, sometimes featuring perimeter defensive specialist Avery Bradley to generate backcourt steals and transition points.
Melo's move: More LeBron-esque skip passes. "He needs to look past the first pass and look to the second player who's open," a scout said. "That's what LeBron James does so well."
4. Mixing up schemes. The Celtics have a unique man-to-man defensive approach to limit a star player's penetration. A scout called it "box and elbows," meaning "they pack it in and don't let players get points in the paint."
In addition, sometimes the Celtics switch to a box-and-one scheme on Melo to put more pressure on him -- or, toward the end of a game, they utilize a zone D or an extra defender to keep him off balance.
"When guys are tired, they [the Celtics] really amp up the pressure and try to get the ball out of their hands, especially in the fourth quarter," a scout said.
Melo's move: Reading the defense is key, but health and conditioning are paramount. He'll be looked upon to perform at his best down the stretch.
5. Mixing up defenders. The Celtics will rotate defenders to avoid foul trouble and throw Anthony off his rhythm. Garnett, who got into it with Melo at the Garden on Jan. 7, might even face him.
"They can't afford to put KG on him the whole time, but there may be moments when he is," a scout said. "[Jeff] Green, [Paul] Pierce and Brandon Bass will probably take turns. Melo is too much of a load to have one guy guard him."
Melo's move: Make shots on each defender. "That'll soften the Celtics' defense," a scout said.
6. Boxing out. The Celtics will look to hammer Melo when shots go up to prevent him from crashing the boards. "They have strong individual defenders and they don't take plays off," a scout said.
Melo's move: Stay aggressive, use his strength to seal off his man and, most importantly, follow his misses.
7. Hard fouling and trash talking. Top defensive teams like the Celtics are willing to commit the hard foul to send some intimidation. That especially goes for Garnett.
"Nothing is off-limits to him," a scout said. "He plays so hard and he's a competitor, and he says personal things that players don't appreciate. Some players take it personal and it has affected [Anthony] a little bit."
Melo's move: Simply stay out of it with Garnett. Sometimes Melo's lack of focus has affected his teammates.