The Brooklyn Nets will face the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, starting Saturday night at 8 P.M. Today and tomorrow, we'll take a look at how the teams match up.
Coach: Tom Thibodeau vs. P.J. Carlesimo
Carlesimo set a franchise record this season for highest winning percentage by any Nets coach in any individual NBA season, finishing the year 35-19 as the interim head coach, and Nets players seem to have responded to Carlesimo's loud style. But Carlesimo hasn't done much different, system-wise, to set him apart as a coach: the Nets have a small (albeit effective) playbook offensively, and though the Nets do have certain defensive principles, they don't have the athletes to commit to them for 48 minutes.
Thibodeau, however, is a defensive mastermind: he was the first coach to use the new NBA's zone defense rules to his advantage, packing the paint with an extra defender, as Zach Lowe details here:
Coaches want players away from the ball "to 2.9" on defense, and the meaning is simple: Stay in the paint for as long as possible without committing a defensive three-second violation. It's a tenet that has swept across the league during the last few seasons in the form of ultra-aggressive help defense, a sea change that has inspired a slower but perhaps more important evolution in the way NBA teams approach offense.
In short: If defenses pack the lane to take away an offense's first option, that offense better be creative enough to adjust. "Getting to the hole is getting harder and harder," says Chicago's Carlos Boozer, who should know, considering the identity of his coach.
Thibodeau didn't invent this system, and he's loath to take any public credit for it, but coaches, scouts, and executives all over the league agree he was the first coach to stretch the limits of the NBA's newish defensive three-second rule and flood the strong side with hybrid man/zone defenses.
The Bulls ranked first and second in the NBA defensively in the militant Thibodeau's first two years, and even after a barrage of injuries left them scrambling, a team that played Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson over 4,500 minutes combined finished sixth overall defensively. Even if Carlesimo's record left him above criticism -- and given his questionable rotations during some games, it doesn't -- there's no debate which coach has the upper hand.
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Deron Williams vs. Kirk Hinrich | Joe Johnson vs. Jimmy Butler | Gerald Wallace vs. Luol Deng | Reggie Evans vs. Carlos Boozer | Brook Lopez vs. Joakim Noah | P.J. Carlesimo vs. Tom Thibodeau | Bench Mob vs. Bulls Bench