Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
When the Brisbane Bullets square off against Melbourne United a couple of times throughout Round 8, they’ll have an interesting strategy tucked away in their back pocket… in case of emergency.
It’s a tactic that head coach Andrej Lemanis rolled out during the fourth quarter of Brisbane’s close loss to the defending champs a couple of weeks ago.
Blitz Casper Ware.
Melbourne’s star guard has been in scintillating form this season and with that Round 6 game going down to the wire, the Bullets decided that Ware was not going to be the man to beat them. If they were going down, it was not going to be off Casper’s burning hot shooting hand.
So they doubled him. Hard. As soon as he crossed half court.
It was a pretty extraordinary strategy and one that essentially paid the ultimate compliment to Ware and his ability to perform in the clutch.
“We tried something different and said, ‘He’s not going to beat us,” Lemanis explained post-game.
“We went after him and got the ball out of his hands.”
Lemanis is a disruptive’coach when it comes to his defensive philosophies. He likes his teams to be annoying at that end of the floor and is constantly looking for ways to take the offence out of their stuff.
For example, the Bullets are a team who will often blitz ball-handlers during the final possession of quarters. If the shot clock is off and the offence is pounding the rock, the Bullets will generally double the ball to force an early pass and pressure their opponent out of their set.
But what Lemanis had his team do in Melbourne two rounds ago was a whole other level of disruption.
Because the veteran coach didn’t just have his players double Ware with the clock winding down. Nor did he simply blitz Casper on pick-and-rolls. Instead, Lemanis instructed his guys to double-team Ware as soon as he entered the frontcourt… and with eight minutes left in the ball game!
“Sometimes you’ve just got to try something,” Lemanis told NBL Media.
“When you go into the game, if you do your scouting and you watch Casper take over games at important times… I mean, in the previous two or three games – against Cairns and New Zealand – he just took over for a period of the game and that was the difference right there.
“So you can sit there and allow them to do what they want and lose the game the way they want to beat you or you can stir the pot a little bit and make something else happen.”
When the Bullets got after Ware in Melbourne, they did so with a seriously undersized line-up on the floor. Reuben Te Rangi was at the five, Lamar Patterson was at the four and surrounding them were guards Cam Gliddon, Adam Gibson and the recently-released Stephen Holt.
It was a major adjustment that gave Melbourne’s coaching staff plenty to think about.
“You struggle a little bit in your own mind about: do you go against the small-ball or do you match the small-ball? We tried a little bit of both,” United head coach Dean Vickerman explained.
“We’ll go back and assess: did we explore enough with our bigs when we had that advantage or did our small-ball group look better?
“It’s something we’re seeing more and more in this league so you’ve got to find a way to be good at either one.”
During those minutes, Melbourne – and especially Ware – did a great job of moving the ball quickly and taking advantage of Brisbane’s scrambling defence.
Andrej’s move forced other United players to beat them…and those ‘other’ guys stepped up and got the job done.
So, does that mean we won’t see the Bullets blitzing Casper at all this week?
“Well, that is part of who we are,” Lemanis said.
“We have that in our tool bag. Whether it’s Casper or any dominant player in the league, that is always something we can think about as a coaching staff and are prepared to do as a team.
“It’s just one of those strategic things that we can choose to use or not use depending on how the game is playing out.”
The Bullets will host United on Saturday night at the Brisbane Convention Centre before the two teams face off again on Monday night at Melbourne Arena.