NBA’s Fried Liver Attack
I have to admit I have a soft spot in my heart for strategy games. I love card games like Hearts, Spades, or 31. I enjoy Risk so much that I currently have a board hanging in my work office. And I’ve played my fair share of chess over the years. When playing games I really enjoy non-traditional strategies. An easy Risk strategy is to isolate yourself in Australia and let the other players weaken themselves. But it’s one I rarely play, because it’s so predictable and boring. I prefer Hearts over any card game, since the greatest reward of shooting the moon (collecting all the points) is antithetical to the basic premise of the game (collecting no points).
My favorite non-traditional strategy in chess is the Fried Liver Attack. For those understand the rules of chess, I would suggest going to this link and forward through to move 6. In the Fried Liver Attack, white sacrifices his knight very early in the match to get the black king out in the open. It goes against everything that is taught in chess: control the middle in the opening, don’t lose material (pieces) early, and get your pieces out early. By standard thinking, white looks to have a disadvantage after their 6th move. They’re down a piece, black has full control of the middle, and they have more pieces out from the back row to attack. Nonetheless white goes on to trounce black due to one key strategy, they have exposed black’s king. Follow the link again, and play the rest of the game out. Notice that white forces black to move his king at every turn except for one. White wins by taking one advantage to the extreme.
In the NBA, there are traditional strategies as well. For instance good defense is the cornerstone of winning teams, is reliant on having a big strong center and requires keeping players close to the hoop to rebound the opposing team’s misses. On defense, players should stay between their man and the hoop in lieu of risking being out of position for a missed steal attempt and an easy bucket. On offense, teams should establish the low post game to open up the perimeter.
And then there is the 2007 Golden State Warriors.
Don Nelson built a team that defies traditional strategy. The Warriors frequently play without a traditional big center and eschews a low post scorer. The center position is manned by either a slender 6’11″ Andris Biedrins or Al Harrington a 6’9″ power forward. Golden State seems to attempt the fast break on every play, and they often go for the steal.
Despite all these flaws, the Warriors have made it to the second round of the playoffs because they do one thing exceptionally well: they spread the floor. While most teams will have one or two players that can shoot from the outside, the Warriors always have at least 4 and sometimes 5 players that can connect from downtown with accuracy. Don Nelson takes full advantage of this by using pick & roll or isolation plays on the outside to create mismatches & force double teams, which results in one of their shooters being open.
By using one singular advantage to an extreme, the Warriors have opened up multiple avenues that wouldn’t be available to them. For instance normally an undersized team wouldn’t be able to score from inside, but time and time again the Warriors have penetrated the lane and scored from the paint. Spreading the floor on offense means the defense is spread as well. This means not only is it harder to defend from a blown assignment, but it’s harder for help defenders to get over to assist. And defenders are always under the threat that by leaving their man will result in a high percentage three point shot.
Additionally the Warriors ability to score aids their defense. An excellent transition team, Golden State can keep opposing teams off the glass with the threat of the fastbreak. If the opposition sends too many players to rebound and fails to capture their miss, the result is usually a quick score. Although undersized, the Warriors use their quickness in conjunction with zones and double teams to smother larger players on the inside. Unlike the sharpshooting Warriors, their opponents usually has one or two players that can’t connect from outside. With less ground to cover and fewer players to worry about on the perimeter, Golden State can avert the low post threat.
Unfortunately this style of play has its weaknesses. As I mentioned previously, the fastbreak keeps teams from committing too many players to the offensive glass. Nonetheless teams usually have a size advantage against Golden State and can use fewer players to recover their misses. Additionally not having a low post threat gives less stability to the Warriors’ offense. This was apparent in the end of Game 4, when a series of bad decisions down the stretch cost them the game.
Like the Fried Liver Attack in chess, Don Nelson’s offense forces the opposition to play the game their way. After watching a few games against the Mavericks, I’m hooked. I’ve either stayed up late, or taped every game of the Utah series. With the Warriors down 3-1, and heading back to Utah where the Jazz have a strong home field advantage, I’m sad that Golden State’s season may come to an end. It’s a non-traditional approach that has been a joy to watch.