Observations, Thoughts and Ruminations on the Lakers game and Monty Williams

Published: March 12, 2013

Now that the dust has settled some, and we’ve had a moment to take a step back from the debacle that was the last 7 minutes of the game last Wednesday against the Lakers, I want to be slightly masochistic and revisit it.

In the aftermath of the game, the Achilles-like rage at Monty Williams drowned out pretty much everything else. While Monty certainly takes a lot of the blame for the loss, he also deserves the majority of the credit for the Hornets jumping out to a 25 point lead. So let’s start with that.

The Offense

It’s been established that Monty values size on the Hornets (see Lopez, Robin–more on that in a bit), but he also fears it. This is the main reason his offensive game plan didn’t revolve around any of his own players but Dwight Howard instead.

Once Davis picked up two fouls in the first 3 minutes of the game, Monty was forced to adjust his offense. The Hornets’ standard pick and roll sets would have been a disaster. Vasquez or Gordon, driving off the pick, would have run right into Howard. The Hornets’ other bigs–really just Lopez since Anderson isn’t used much on the pick and roll–just aren’t talented enough to achieve the execution that is needed as the roll man against Howard.

To neutralize Howard, Monty ran an inverted set. Think the Hornets’ regular offensive setup but backwards. Lopez and Anderson were placed above the extended free throw line while Vasquez, Aminu, and Gordon (or some other combination of guards) were lined up from corner to corner along the baseline. Most plays started with Vasquez bringing up the ball, passing to Lopez, and then cutting towards the baseline.

The result of this court placement caused Howard to float up further towards the free throw line to guard the Hornets’ bigs. Howard is a tremendously smart defender. When an opposing team starts their offensive set and places their center in the low post, Howard has time to position himself well to defend. It’s also one of his biggest strengths when rebounding. Positioning and timing is integral to being a good rebounder.

By inverting the offense, Monty took that part of Howard’s game away. He was out of position by the time the Hornets started their offensive sets. Once Lopez passed the ball to a guard cutting to the back court off a pin down or some other screen, all sorts of cuts and off ball movement started.

This confused Howard further. He couldn’t tell where the play was coming and took a moment to react. The off ball movement also disguised Lopez’ cut from the free throw line to right under the basket without Howard being able to recover because he was trying to diagnose what was going on. Time after time in the first half this allowed Lopez to get better, inside positioning on Howard in order to box him out. There is a reason Howard only finished with one defensive rebound and one block in the first half, he was effectively taken out of the Lakers defense.

This gameplan also limited Howard to 11 minutes played and caused him to pick up 3 fouls. It sounds so simple to merely take him out of position and not let him play to his strengths but in practice it’s a lot harder to do. Monty came up with just a brilliant gameplan.

We all complain about Monty’s offense–especially this season–but it showed he can run an exciting, explosive and faster paced (the Hornets had around 6 more possessions than their season average) half court offense. Which, if you’re like me, is something you’ve been wanting to see since his first season as coach.

To me, the real question from this game has become: Where has this offense been all season? As opposed to: Should we fire Monty? My one guess right now is simply this, as stated before Monty values/fears size, however most teams do not have a center anywhere near Howard’s ability and therefore the Hornets don’t need to run this offense all that often. Since I really enjoyed what the Hornets were doing for 3 quarters, I hope this isn’t the case.

The 4th Quarter

Monty shifted his gameplan in the 4th quarter–mainly in the final 7 minutes when the Lakers went on the 20-0 run. Instead of keeping the movement based offense (which, again, was freaking awesome) he went with more isolation ball. Obviously this infuriated the Hornets’ fan base especially as the team failed time after time to score.

But really, when you think about it, what team doesn’t run an offense like that late in the fourth, whether it’s to maintain a lead or try and win a close game in crunch time? Nearly every team reverts to hero ball late in the 4th. Honestly, it’s rare that Vasquez and Gordon will finish 0 for 11 in the 4th quarter. When it was going poorly could Monty have run better sets to give them better looks? Yes. But it’s not like Monty forced them to miss those shots. If only one or two are made, I might not be writing this post.

And for all the complaints about Lopez (which I’ll touch on in a second) he only took 2 shots in the last 5 minutes of the game. Let’s not pretend that Monty was only running plays for him. The Hornets just missed their crunch time shots, plain and simple. The defense on the other hand…

The Late Game Defensive Substitutions

Yeah, I’ve really got nothing here.

I will point this out though: This is the first season where Monty actually has job security. Remember lat last season against the Warriors when Belinelli won the game? We all screamed (including myself and I don’t really support tanking) questioning why Monty had Belinelli in the game when he should have been playing a young guy instead…you know, for experience. Monty had to win that game because he was auditioning for the new owner in Tom Benson.

This year? Different story. Monty has an extension. He doesn’t need to win to keep his job. Anthony Davis’ health is more important to his job long term than winning against the Lakers was.

But still…as a fan, I don’t care about that as much. Lopez was getting killed on the pick and roll late in the game. Monty’s defense wasb’t effective  and he needed to make a change. If he refuses to bring in Davis then try a zone, or a trap or whatever, just not what was occurring because it wasn’t working. I’m probably not writing the piece if Davis plays more than 2 seconds in the 4th.

Monty has a huge culpability for the loss last Wednesday. And while that one game can and even should change your opinion of him it shouldn’t make you think he has suddenly become an awful coach.

Monty is still a young coach and like young players he still needs to learn how to win. Sometimes that takes hard losses. Now if this becomes a trend next season, that’s a cause for concern.


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