After four years as a coach in the NBA, it seems that Vinny Del Negro is still clueless when it comes to coaching. In Chicago he was constantly bashed for running nothing but isolation plays and showing no imagination. Living in Chicago and watching the majority of Bulls games, I must say that his critics were right. Now in his second coaching stop, you would think that Del Negro has improved as a coach, but it simply is not so. There is no greater example of this than in the final six minutes of their game four, series ending loss to the Spurs.
With about six minutes left in the game, TNT commentator Steve Kerr started discussing the possibility of Gregg Popovich running the old “HackaShaq” technique with the Clippers. This is a great strategy that worked earlier in the series, as the Clippers’ top three big men are all porous free throw shooters. Griffin, Jordan and Evans combined to average 58% from the free throw line during the season and were easy targets. The “HackaShaq” technique is an opposing team choosing to foul a poor free throw shooter repeatedly in a game, hoping that the player will keep missing and create empty trips down the court. The technique came about in Shaquille O’Neal’s prime, as teams, who could not stop him, simply decided to send him to the line, where he was an embarrassingly awful shooter.
With about four minutes left in the game, coach Popovich elected to foul Reggie Evans who went on to miss two free throws. Del Negro then pulled Evans, putting Blake Griffin at center and went with a smaller lineup. He thought he was doing the right thing, but he simply missed the big picture. Now with Griffin the only big on the floor, he would have to guard Tim Duncan. This was a laughably terrible move as Griffin is an atrocious defender and he was now guarding a much taller player, who just happened to be one of the ten best players in the history of the NBA. Duncan then proceeded to dominate the paint for the remainder of the game, getting numerous assists, scoring on a nifty jump hook and then setting quite a few screens. The team was able to run their offense through and around Tim Duncan, as they knew that Griffin had no shot at stopping him. This is a mistake that a veteran coach simply should not make, and it may have cost them the game.
Del Negro then proceeded to screw up further, in the final two minutes of the game. With the Clippers needing a basket, Del Negro decided to run isolation plays with Chris Paul three times in a row. The first involved Paul losing the ball, which turned into a broken play, the second was a Paul turnover and the final was a badly missed and highly contested shot in the closing seconds. The offense simply showed no imagination and creativity, which is a sign of poor coaching.
Del Negro was a fine player and he does have a nice calm demeanor and gets along well with his players, but he simply does not possess the skills of a great or even average NBA coach. He is weak when it comes to play calling and makes numerous personnel mistakes and is unfit to coach a team as good as the Clippers. GM Neil Olshey provided him with a great roster, but when coaching truly mattered, VDN dropped the ball, as he has constantly over his four years as a he coach. If the Clippers are to succeed going forward they will need a championship caliber coach, which Del Negro simply is not. The Clippers have never been this good and therefore need a quality to coach to take this team further.