Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford stuck up for his small forwards Wednesday morning, saying any criticism Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Tolliver are taking, based on LeBron James’ 61-point game, is unjustified.
Clifford said at shootaround that MKG and Tolliver did precisely what was asked of them: Defend against James’s drives and passes first. But James had an incredible night from 3-point range (8-of-10) that couldn’t be anticipated or stopped.
“Consider the greatness of the player and the sequence of what happened,” Clifford said of James’ 22-of-33 shooting night. “He was in the pick-and-roll most of the time, which is where most of his baskets happened. As the ball was released, if you stopped (the video) and said, ‘Can we live with that shot?’ you’d realize MKG and Tolliver did a good job.
“If there’s somebody who could be blamed for that, then blame me. We did change our coverages somewhat (as the game transpired). You could have flat-out doubled him, but then they would have scored 150. (Kidd-Gilchrist and Tolliver) taking heat for that? No. That’s a coaching decision.”
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Clifford has coached extensively against league MVP James from his days as an Orlando Magic assistant, including a playoff series. It’s always been Clifford’s view that James wants to be double-teamed because he’s so adept at finding open teammates.
“There are many aspects to his greatness,” Clifford said. “The first thing is his ability to get to the basket and finish. I believe, and you can look this up, something like 53 to 54 percent of his makes are at the rim. Going into our game he was 69 percent (shooting at the rim). That’s a thing not many other guys – maybe nobody else – can do; scoring that many of his points at the basket at that percentage. And that doesn’t count how many times he gets fouled.
“The second part is they have 3-point shooting all around him and their corner-3 shooting is through the roof. Because of his incredible passing ability, every time he comes off the pick-and-roll and you commit two guys, he looks first at the roll man for the dunk or then he hits the weak-side corner – which is the biggest part of their 3-point shooting.”
Clifford added that for the season, James was shooting 34 percent from above the break (essentially the key area), so his 8-of-10 night from 3-point range couldn’t reasonably be expected.
“He’s a phenomenal player who had a phenomenal night,” Clifford concluded. “I just don’t want people saying it was the players’ fault. They actually did a good job.”