Commentary

Closing Time|Closing Time-SPURS|Closing Time-BLAZERS|Closing Time-PACERS|Closing Time-KNICKS

Updated: July 10, 2012, 1:19 PM ET
By Flip Saunders/Minnesota Timberwolves with Ric Bucher, Danny Ainge/Phoenix Suns with Ric Bucher, Don Casey/New Jersey Nets with Gene Wojciechowski, Alvin Gentry/Detroit Pistons with Gene Wojciechowski

Youre up 2-1, or down 1-2*. Nows the time to turn it on, or turn it around

* If it s 3-0, see you in the Finalsor see you next year Youre up 2-1. Time for the kill. History shows youre a virtual lock51 of 63 teams with a 2-1 edge in confer ence finals have advancedbut you wont relax. There are still 96 minutes and a pair of Ws between you and your shot at a ring. The prize that has stood so long as a dot on the horizon now looms before you, so close you can feel it, touch it, taste it.

Youre down 1-2. You can come back: 26 teams have made it to Game 7, where anything can happen. No matter if its your first time, like J.r., Spree and TD, or if youre praying its not your last, like reggie, Patrick and The Admiral. Now is the moment each man wonders, Am I ready? Am I worthy?There can be no uncertainty. Time to finish em off. Thats why we asked four coachesFlip Saunders, Danny Ainge, Don Casey and Alvin Gentryto tell us how they would close the deal for final the four teams. Heres what they told us:

Tim Duncan and (top, left to right) Spree, Jalen, J.r. and

AJ are looking for closure.

CLOSING TIME-SPURS

Get it to Duncan and dare the Blazers to stop him.

What makes the Spurs so good is that they dont care what the other team does. Up 2-1 or down 1-2, they wont change what they do. The Spurs and Blazers are similar in that they rely on their defense and rebound very well. The Spurs have an edge because they have the home-court advantage, theyre very methodical and they wont be intimidated by playing in the Rose Garden. The Blazers feed off their crowd more than any team in the playoffs, and if theyre not playing well, the crowd gets restless. Also, the Spurs getting up in the series will make all those Blazers sharing roles begin to wonder why theyre not playing more, and that could create dissension.

Both teams present matchup problems, but I cant overemphasize the advantage Tim Duncan creates for San Antonio. You give him the ball and make the TrailBlazers prove they can stop him. To do that, Portlands going to have to be physical, which means either Duncans going to the free throw line or the Spurs will be allowed to be physical tooand the Blazers have trouble keeping their composure in physical games.

PICK AND RUN: Depth is the Blazers strength. Thestarters play aggressively, then they come with Greg Anthony and Jim Jackson and really turn up the heat, looking to create transition baskets off turnovers. I think you can counter that by running on them. They send almost everybody to the offensive glass, so if you rebound you can beat them on the break. The other way to attack them is to play pickand- roll with whomever Arvydas Sabonis is guarding. Sabonis is terrible at defending pick-and-rolls, one of the worst. He chases out there but just doesnt have the quickness to get back

SURVIVAL: Portland gets great jumps on teams early, so you have to withstand that first barrage. Establish your game with Duncan and get Brian Grant in foul trouble. Duncans righthanded jump hook in the paint is nearly unstoppable. Overplay that, and he can spin baselinefor a lefty layup. Back off and he can face up and hit the jumper. If Grant is in foul trouble, an already foulprone Rasheed Wallace has to cover Duncan, who will have him jumping at his fakes.

MATCHING UP: The Spurs best defense is man-to-manDuncan on the primary post-up player and David Robinson sliding off his man into the middle. Thats aproblem because Duncan could get into foul trouble against Grant, and Sabonis will stand out at the

three-point line and hit that shot if hes left open. Id put Duncan on Sabonis, and Robinson on Grant because long, tall guys give Grant problems. We saw that when we put Kevin Garnett on him.

SHUT OFF DAMON: Damon Stoudamire usually looks to score and the Blazers will play pick-and-roll to get him open because Avery Johnson has trouble with it. The key is to find Damon quickly in the open floor and then try to shut him down early because hes so streaky. Damon knows he has to score to stay on the floor, with Anthony playing the second and fourth quarters. That can work for you, though. If Portlands more effective with Anthony, you might not try quite as hard to get the ball out of Damons hands.

UP AND DOWN: If San Antonio has a 2-1 lead in the series, your emphasis is, Guys, if we win Game 4, we go home 3-1. So lets end it and get some rest before the Finals, which is something we need. Robinson has been great but he could break down physically at any time. If the Spurs are down 1-2, you tell them, Were not in a must-win situation, but were getting pretty close. Even at 1-3 down, the Spurs have reason to believe they could still win the series. If they win Game 5, they go to Portland knowing they already won a big game there at the end of the season. And theyre back home for Game 7.

ONE FOR THE ADMIRAL

closing time SPURS

The Spurs Rub play is designed to get Robinson an open jumper. It starts with a high pickand-roll, but the key is reversing the ball quickly, and thats what San Antonio does best. Robinson (50) sets his screen for Avery (6) inside the circle, almost at the left elbow. Avery has the option of shooting the jumper (A) or passing to Robinson, who fades to the right elbow (B) instead of rolling to the basket. If the ball goes to Robinson, he can take the jumper or get the ball to Duncan (21) in the post (C), either directly or through Elliot (32).

COMING TO EMPTY

No team has made more trips to the conference finals without advancingthan the 04 Spurs.And only time SanAntonio made it toa Game 7, they didso as an EasternConference team,in 1979.

CLOSING TIME - BLAZERS

If one Blazer isnt rolling, here comes another

You can forget about the Trail Blazerslosing their composure. Yes, theyre young and temperamental,but they have so much depth, and anytime somebody gets in foul trouble they seem to rally around to calm him down. The only way youre going to frustrate the Blazers is to beat them four times, and I dont think theres any one strategy to do that. You have to hope theyre missing shots and losing confidence, but theyre bigger and stronger than you, so thats a lot to hope for. No matter how inexperienced they are, they feel like bullies because they have such great depth and athleticism.

You can count on a serious defensive battle. Both the Blazers and Spurs can trap the pick-and-roll on the perimeter and still have one or two shot-blockers guarding the basket, which is why you have to make those medium-range jump shots to win.

The Blazers ability to play in the Alamodome could be the difference in the series, because I feel like Portland is a better home team. They have a great crowd and great support, and San Antonio has the least intimidating crowd of any of the final four teams.

STOPPING TD: I want Brian Grant on Tim Duncan in the post, and Id tell him to use his lower-body strength to push Duncan off the block. Teams make a mistake by pushing Tim out and then letting him take that faceup jumper off the glass. I want to pressure him once he faces up so he has to put the ball on the floor, and then Ill send a second guy running at him. Maybe you have Rasheed Wallace come off the bench again because hes been getting in a lot of foul trouble early in games and hes the second-best defender against Duncan.

RESPECTING AVERY: Avery Johnsons penetration is a big factor, and I dont think teams have respected him as much as they should. Theyve been daring him to make jump shots even though hes been making them for the last two years. You need to mix it up, confuse him a little bit, so Im going to trap him and get the ball out of his hands, even if that means more touches and one-on-ones for Duncan and David Robinson. The Blazers can trap Avery quickly with their size and athleticism. Im not worried about Arvydas Sabonis defending the pick-and-roll, because you have Wallace and Grant guarding the basket and rotating to help on the big man rolling.

SHIFTING THE FOCUS: Grant and J.R. Rider carried the Blazers earlier in the playoffs, but Damon Stoudamire and Wallace are the keys now. Stoudamire has to be a big part because Avery does not defend the pick-androll well. Im going to post up Wallace with Sean Elliott on him. The Spurs will double-team off Sabonis. He hasnt taken many threes this year, but he can hit that top-of-the-key jumper. And the Spurs are going to make him prove he can.

THE FINISHERS: If Im up by three with a minute left, Im playing Greg Anthony and either Rider or Jackson depending on who is playing better with Wallace, Grant and Sabonis. That makes me strong inside, and Anthony really disrupts the perimeter game. Sabonis isnt a great shot-blocker, but he takes up a lot of space and plays the passing lanes well. I would consider Augmon in place of Sabonis because Augmon and Anthony are the best perimeter defenders on the team. If Im down, Im going to Stoudamire or Wallace, but Rider and Jackson are the kind of guys who can score against good defense, so if they have it going, Im going to them, too.

STAYING COOL: Down 1-2, the Blazers respect the Spurs and understand the desperation of the situation. So Idont think youll see any letdownsor any overconfidenceif theyre up 2-1. As a coach, you just keepemphasizing that the series is not over and not to get complacent. I dont think this Portland team will do that. Theyve already proven that theyre not going to just fall apart.

Back On The Trail

The Blazers have been absent from the conference finals longest of the final four teams,their last trip coming in 1992. But they also have historys highest winning percentage in conference finals (148), winning three of four series

RASHEED DOWN LOW

The Blazers post up Wallace with a basic cross screen by Rider (34), who cuts over to the right side to get Rasheed (30) to the left block, where he takes the entry pass from Damon (3). Sabonis (11) and Grant (44) keep their men on the perimeter. You want Rasheed to get as close to the basket as he can so that Robinson or Duncan has to come over to help. Wallace is still going to have to make some 15-footers because San Antonio doesnt give up many layups or dunks, and Sabonis, when hes on the floor, has to hit his jump shots if they double off him.

For More on somthdingelse here: ESPN.com, a part of Network

CLOSING TIME - PACERS

Up or down, the Pacers play it only one way

The Pacers remind me of the Green BayPackers when Vince Lombardi was coach. Rememberthe power sweep? It was like, Were coming. Nowyouve got to stop us. Thats how the Pacers are: absolutely predictable, but try stopping them.

Larry Bird has built his offense around Reggie Miller and Rik Smits. Indiana wants you to double Smits so they can open up Reggie or Chris Mullin or Travis Best or Mark Jackson or Sam Perkinsall good three-point shooters. Smits is good at reading the double-teams and getting it to the open man. Or he hurts you shooting from the outside.

Jackson generates a lot of things too. Ill tell you, hes a little bulldog. He might have trouble against a quick point guard, but he can manage speed-wise against Charlie Ward and Chris Childs. Youll see Jackson trying to exploit Ward on the post-up. The Pacers are a non-gambling defensive team, which is a reflection of assistant coach Dick Harters philosophy. Theyll play straight man-to-man. They hate to double-team the post, so Birdie will let Smits or Antonio Davis play Patrick Ewing. Theyll jam up Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Childs on the perimeter. Theyll trap the pick-and-roll 99% of the time. And theyre going to thump you as much as possible as you come through the lane.

THE EDGE: Larry uses Reggie and Jalen Rose to expose New York. He continually puts Reggie in scenarios that force the Knicks to decide whether to go over the top of screens or try to beat him to his spot. The Knicks try to bounce him around down low, but they almost never stop him. Jalen is so versatile that he creates mismatches at the 2 and 3. Mullin will have trouble guarding Sprewell, and Jalen is the answer for that. Hes long, he can run and he can post up against Sprewell, too.

POST TIME: Like I said, the Pacers want you to doubleteam Smits in the post to get open looks for their outside shooters. But Smits often gets into foulntrouble against the Knicks because Patrick has that up-and-under move. When that happens, Larry posts up Jackson against Ward. We did that with Stephon Marbury and had success. And if the Knicks switch a bigger player on Mark with the smaller player on Reggie, theyll post up Reggie like the Bulls did with Jordan. Reggie isnt a post-up player per se, but against a smaller guy, hes effective.

THE EXTRAS: Both Dale and Antonio Davis cause troublefor Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby because they are very strong in the box. They also have a big edge in experience. Camby and Thomas counter by running the floor, which is where they have the edge. Derrick McKeys scoring was a big asset at the end of then season. He can play the 3 and the 4, and hes in there when the Knicks go small.

THE PROBLEM: The Pacers have to be worried about Larry Johnson, who is playing very good basketball, outside and inside. One of LJs better moves is to break downcourt for a quick post-up. They also run back screens for him. LJ is faster than Mullin, and he likes to take him to the post. He can also take Chris outside. If LJ is killing Mullin, they bring in Rose. But LJ is strong enough to give Rose problems, too.

CRUNCH TIME: In late-game situations, Indiana goes with Best, Antonio Davis, Smits, Reggie and usually Rose. They are all good defenders who play good team defense and cover for each other. If the Pacers are down in the last two minutes, they go with Smits, Rose or McKey, with Reggie and either Best or Jackson. Thats their best three-point unit.

ONE WAY TO PLAY: If Indiana goes up 2-1, I dont think anything changes. And if theyre down 1-2, it will be the same. What got you there will keep you there and take you to the next level. Theres not going to be any trickery, or gimmicks, or half-court traps. In a series, you do what you do best.

UNLUCKY SEVEN

Indiana has reached the conference finals three times, facing three different opponents (Knicks, Magic, Bulls), playing in three Game 7s and losing all three times.

SETTING REGGIE FREE

The Pacers basic play is called Motion, and its used to get Reggie Miller free. Both Smits (45)and Dale Davis (32) set screens in the lane. Reggie (31) chooses the screen he wants, and Jackson (13) knows how to get the ball to him. Mullin (17) can also use one of the screens or set another one for Miller. What makes Motion so dangerous is that Reggie is a master screen reader. Hell run to a spot, stop, come back a couple of steps, go again, fake. He never quits. Our scouts, Tom Barrise and Hal Wissel, say he might be the NBAs best at using a screen. And if you try to beat him to a spot, hell curl around and beat you that way, too.

CLOSING TIME - KNICKS

Its the D that does it for New York

These arent the same Knicks we beat two out of three times this season. Not only have they changed their team, but theyve done it during the playoffs, which is really impressiveas impressive as stealing home court by winning Game 1 from the Pacers. Theyve completely altered their offensive approach. Now theyre playing Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston together, and theyre posting Sprewell a lot more. More than anything, theyve tried to get in the open court and run like crazy.

But the real key to the Knicks is their defense. Even if theyre down 1-2, they wont panic. They feel theyre capable of getting back into any series because they stop teams from scoring. Its nothing fancy. They just lock in and play you tough. Sprewell has decided hes going to guard. Houston has gotten a little better. Chris Childs was the difference in the Atlanta series because of the job he did on Mookie Blaylock. Their best offense is still their defense.

The Knicks are at their best when they come up with stops and get easy baskets. They overplay the wings and front the post because Patrick Ewing and Marcus Camby are very good at helping from the weak side. They basically say, Over the course of 48 minutes, we will wear you down with one guy.

THE UPPER HAND: The Knicks isolate Sprewell, giving him the ball the way we give it to Grant Hill. Chris Mullin doesnt have the ability to guard Sprewell because Latrell is quicker and stronger. When Mullin covers him, the Pacers double, rotating toward Houston, who they wont leave open. But the Pacers dont like to double, which is why Jalen Rose usually covers Sprewell. Rose does a better job defensively, but Sprewell is in such a groove, hes tough for anybody the Pacers throw out there.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: You want to force Indiana to doubleteam Larry Johnson. If the Pacers can get away with playing Johnson straight up, then you cant free up Houston or Sprewell for open jumpers when the ball swings to the weak side. Its simple: Sprewell and Houston are going to have to have a great series. If Patrick plays mediocre ball, you can still win. But you have to have one other guy play well. That could be LJ.

THE BIG GUYS: The Pacers want you to double Rik Smits. Patrick goes 25-30 minutes, with Chris Dudley playing 20-23. You really want Patrick in there because hes an excellent shot-blocker and defensive rebounder. But Dudley is the best at covering Smits one-on-one. Hes quick enough so Smits cant go around him outside, and he can front him, too. Fronting Smits really cuts down his effectiveness. He can catch-and-shoot with the best of them, but if you front him, you force him to make plays that are more athletic where theres a smaller margin of error.

COVER UP: If the Knicks have to double Smits, it opens up the floor for Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin, and thats how you get in trouble. Houston struggles trying to cover Reggie, so Sprewell and maybe Childs guard him, with Houston on Jackson. Childs is a terrific defender. He has a low base, is strong and will keep Reggie out of the post.

A SIMPLE CHOICE: In the Philly-Indiana series, Mark Jackson used his size to post Allen Iverson. Hell do the same thing against Charlie Ward and Childs. Mark doesnt want to shoot the ball. He wants you to trap him so he can pass the ball. Would you rather have Jackson or Reggie shooting it 20 times? Most coaches would say, Let Mark Jackson shoot it.

GETTING IT DONE: The toughest thing to do is to close out a series. But the Knicks did it against Miami in a Game 5 when nobody gave them a chance. Theyve become a much different team than they were in the first 45 games. Theyre more confident, and when youre confident, you can close out a series when youre up 2-1, 3-1. And if theyre down, they wont panicbecause of their defense.

MAKING HISTORY

Good news: The eighth-seeded Knicks are the 23rd visiting team to steal home-court advantage by winning Game 1 of the conference finals.

Better news: 14 of the first 22 advanced.

MULTIPLE CHOICE

One of the Knicks favorite plays is Floppy Up. They run Houston (20) off a screen on Patricks (33) side and then through another screen from Johnson (2) or Kurt Thomas (40) for the open three-point shot (A). Houston can also curl back off the screen from Ewing for a shot at the right three-point line (B). If the Pacers trap, then Houston throws the ball back to Patrick, who gets that little jump shot (C). They killed Atlanta with that play in the conference semis