Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Asking For A Rejection
Prior to Saturday night’s game against the Timberwolves, Nate McMillan sat down with one of his players, as he often does, and laid out a few demands. He wanted to see more intensity and trust on the defensive end. And specifically, he wanted to see at least one weakside block.
The player: Travis Outlaw.
The result: Nine rebounds, two steals and three blocks, including a weakside swat of a Sebastian Telfair shot that ended up in the third row of the Rose Garden stands. Outlaw credits McMillan's advice for the performance.
“Coach gave me room to roam,” said Outlaw. “He was like, ‘If you see an opening, help off your man a little bit.’ I was trying to hold my main guy but he was like, ‘You can still help off of him.’”
So Travis did what his coach asked, sagging off his primary defensive responsibility on occasion to ball hawk from the weakside. The outcome was an impressive performance from a player sometimes maligned by fans for his defensive limitations. But what might have been more impressive than the actual blocks was McMillan’s ability to see the potential and then challenge his player to go out and execute. Drawing something so specific out of Outlaw, right when the team needed it, runs counter to the notion, in a league seemingly ruled by players, that coaches are largely irrelevant to the results on the floor.
But while the three blocks were nice, not to mention game-changing, the overarching result of the sit down between McMillan and Outlaw was an increase in confidence and an understanding on Outlaw’s part that good defense need not always be focused on locking down one particular player.
“It gave me confidence,” said Outlaw. “If I help off of my man and then he hits a deep three, that it ain’t so bad. You’re still helping the team.”
That performance carried over to the next game as well. Outlaw, along with Nicolas Batum and Brandon Roy, successfully held Kobe Bryant to an 11 for 29 night from the field. And a light seemed to go off in Outlaw’s head
“After talking to coach, I know I can be aggressive on defense,” said Outlaw. “And as long as I push my man a certain way, my teammates are going to come help. Coach said I need to trust my teammates more on defense, and I think I have.”
After that Minnesota game, McMillan strolled through an almost empty locker room to where Outlaw was sitting to once again engage his player in conversation. But this time, McMillan’s message was much more succinct. There was a handshake and a smile, but only five words.
Said McMillan: “That’s what I’m talking about.”