Defense Wins Championships

November 25, 2011
by Justin

When I think of overused sports clichés, “Defense Wins Championships” comes to my mind instantly. When I reflect on defensive baseball players, I remember the great Ken Griffey Jr., 10-time gold glove winner. When defensive football is mentioned, Ray Lewis “decleating” a random wide receiver on a drag route comes to mind. Basketball is different for me; several players from my generation were great defenders. Bruce Bowen, Scottie Pippen, Gary Payton and Dennis Rodman were once the best in the game, if not the best ever at their positions. Here are two defensive techniques all three of these top defenders used to lock down the opposition.


Full Court Press

My favorite player of all time is Magic Johnson. His will to win, his size and his ability to put pressure on any defense is the reason why he has statue in front of the Staples Center. Magic won five championships, but he could have easily had seven had he not ran across Pippen and Rodman in his last two NBA Finals series.

Rodman and Pippen both full court pressed Magic on nearly every possession. When you guard a ball handler from baseline to baseline, you throw off the timing of the offense. Shot selection goes from calculated to erratic, because of time lost on the shot clock. The last thing any scorer wants is to compete against the shot clock for quality looks. Rajon Rondo is a great example of a full court defender who is active in the NBA today. Check out Scottie Pippen doing what he did best:


Deny the ball

For off ball defenders who usually don’t guard the point guard, denying the ball is key. Gary Payton, who was primarily a point guard, locked up all most every team’s best perimeter scorer no matter the size. Bruce Bowen prided himself on guarding anybody 1-4 a la Rodman and Pippen. He most notably was responsible for containing Kobe Bryant every time the Spurs played the Lakers.

When you deny the ball, your head constantly should be on a swivel, between your man and the ball handler. This is to safeguard yourself from a brutal off-ball screen or giving up position for an offensive rebound. There is nothing that kills any team’s momentum like an offensive rebound, but I digress. Be sure not to over pursue your man, otherwise you’ll get beat back door. Keep contact with your matchup constantly, never giving up an inch of space to operate. When swatting at the ball, only use your hand on the inside of your opponent. The reason for this method is in case the ball is successfully passed to your matchup; you’ll be able to recover and square up as an on-ball defender seamlessly.

There are a few people who make a living in the NBA shutting down the Durantss and Carmelos. Every great defender knows the shot clock can be like an extra man on defense, suffocating the offense into a horrible shot selection. I guarantee you that winning isn’t just about scoring more points than the other team. Winning on the hardwood is achieved when your offense is riding the momentum of your opponent’s scoring frustrations. So take pride and deny, and press for success.


Yorick Hempstead is an ex-college athlete who is a sports blogger for He is always talking sports on twitter @HempsteadHuddle. 

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