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Bobcats defensive strategy against Kyrie Irving late in game — questionable

There is no question that at some point we all just have to accept that Kyrie Irving is a great player, a superstar in fact, and those kind of guys make plays like the ones you’re getting ready to see. That being said, the Bobcats did some good things against Irving late, and adjusted, but they also did some things that were very questionable. Most likely, some things that could’ve been avoided with a little bit better strategy in the huddle.

In no way am I saying that Coach Dunlap did or didn’t instruct his team to do any certain things, but what happened on the floor and the result that came from it certainly made me scratch my head last night. Let’s have a look at the film.

Here, we see the Bobcats hedge hard on the PnR with Haywood and seem as if they are going to blitz Irving with a double team while the rest of the defense rotates to make up for the 4-on-3 situation created. Ah, and this would be a great idea considering it would force the ball out of Irving’ hands. Yet, Haywood eventually retreats and this leaves Ben Gordon on an island — Irving 3 good.

On this play, which is pretty much identical from the one above, the Bobcats again hedge high on the PnR with Haywood. And again, Haywood retreats and leaves Gordon on his own — Irving 3 good.

Dell Curry even points out here in the telecast that it’d be a good idea to blitz Irving and get that ball out of this guys hands. It should have been clearly evident to everyone on the Bobcats coaching staff, players on the bench and guys on the floor that the Cavs were interested in one thing — creating a one-on-one matchup for Irving.

The clip above is just simply a good example of Kyrie Irving being one of the best ball handlers in the NBA by completely breaking down the PnR defense with two sick crossovers on Jeff Taylor and Tyrus Thomas. The defensive breakdown on this play comes on something that is called ‘gap defense’. As Irving crosses Tyrus and prepares to head to the rack, Ben Gordon has to recognize this (which he does) and jump to cut off the ‘gap’ Irving is driving to, forcing Irving to kick the ball out. Gordon fails to do this with lazy defense and it results in the easiest bucket of Irving’s night.

We shouldn’t be too surprised about this, because Ben Gordon has never been known for his defensive effort. This is a late game situation, though, that requires maximum effort on the defensive end. A result of the liability that Gordon can be on the defensive end of the floor in late game situations.

Ah, the Bobcats finally figure it out on the play above. Dunlap elects to substitute a quicker, more mobile Tyrus Thomas for Haywood and it results in the Cats being able to blitz Irving on the PnR, finally forcing the ball out of his hands — what we were looking for, and could’ve accomplished, long before this.

Tyrus and Taylor run at Irving, forcing him to retreat. Bobcats rotate defensively behind the play and eventually this leads to a corner 3 from Alonzo Gee (only guy unaccounted for on rotation) and a Bobcats rebound.

Dunlap made a great move by getting Tyrus in the game for Haywood and allowing the blitz to take place, but I think my first question would have been ‘why not earlier?’ Charlotte definitely could have possessed the idea that ‘Kyrie Irving will not beat us’ and forced someone else to make the plays for Cleveland down the stretch, but most of the time the Cats elected to play one-on-one against Irving.

The play above was a great draw up by Dunlap. When you read things about how Dunlap loves to overload the ball side of the floor with help defense, this is a great example to use. Cleveland pretty much just isolates one side of the floor and lets Irving go to work. One PnR comes and Tyrus sags down on it just a bit to keep Irving in front, but he has Sessions right behind him ready to jump Irving if he does somehow elude both Taylor and Tyrus. Irving is forced to retreat and from there just gives Taylor a few crossovers to get around him, but while all that is happening Tyrus is shadowing Irving, waiting on him to make a move to the basket. When the happens — charge.

Well, there are two different ways of thinking about this:

#1- Dunlap wants to give his rookie Jeff Taylor the opportunity to guard one of the best offensive players in the league on the last play of the game. This could be a huge play for the rookie, propelling his confidence. I guess something along the lines of what Dunlap was thinking.

#2- The Bobcats had found success in blitzing and shadowing Irving, but mysteriously went away from that on the last play of the game. Gerald Henderson appears as if he’s getting ready to take off on a full sprint towards Irving, forcing Kyrie to make a critical decision of whether he wants to hit the open man, or try to beat the double team on his own. Instead, the four Bobcats that are guarding the four Cavs camped out on the baseline just stay put and Irving gives the rookie Jeff Taylor a lesson and hits the game winning shot right in his face.

So, if I’m trying to really win a basketball game then there is no question that the right play here is to get the ball out of the hands of the opposing team’s best player. Now, of course Charlotte was trying to win the game, but the strategy they took to get there can been questioned many times down the stretch of this one.