George Karl: “We can’t use the call as a crutch”

April 19, 2011 – 10:30 am by Chris Fedor

The NBA playoffs have been very compelling as a number of the games have come down to the wire. The league could not have asked for anything more with the competitiveness of the game. However, if there is one criticism with the games it’s the officiating. Obviously the officials are all human and there are going to be some missed calls at times, but in at least three of the games so far, the stripes have had a direct impact on the outcome of a close game. You can look at the New York Knicks getting a bogus call against Carmelo Anthony that helped the Celtics steal game one of that series. However, there might not be a more egregious error than the one that occurred late in the game between Oklahoma City and Denver.

With the Thunder down by one, Russell Westbrook put up a shot that hung on the rim before it was tipped in by Kendrick Perkins. The only problem: the ball wasn’t out of the cylinder yet and the league admitted it should’ve been called offensive goaltending. Now, the Nuggets were only down by one at that point and there was a minute left and they still had a great opportunity to win the game, but Denver was never able to recover from that blown call and it’s unfortunate that all three refs missed that call which is not a reviewable call.

George Karl joined ESPN Radio New York with Stephen A. Smith to talk about how tough it is to defend Kevin Durant, on his team not having a true star, whether or not the Nuggets are better without Carmelo Anthony, and if he thinks the Lakers are vulnerable.

How tough it is to defend Kevin Durant:

“The special players in the league, there is no defense to stop them when they are in a zone, shooting the ball well, or in a rhythm and flow of the game. It’s very difficult to get good defensive position on them. I would say at least 20 of his points were made against good defensive situations. Then he gets 12 free throws, which is 32 points right there. I think we only had three or four really major screw-ups against his shots. Even though you don’t like guys getting 41, sometimes you just have to respect that it happened. We were in the game and we had a lot of control of the game. We will make some subtle changes, but I don’t think you’re going to see us do anything drastic out there because I think if we would’ve made free throws, we would’ve gotten some whistles to go our way, if we have just a little more patience on offense we have a chance to win that game.”

On his team not having a star:

“I think what you’re basically saying is that coaches like the team to be the first, second, and third priority of every situation. In the NBA game there’s too often that we rely on one player or rely on a situation or circumstances where the personality of your team is dominated by your top two or three players. I still think teams win championships by having a team feel first then maybe a team feel second. I’ve always said the teams that win championships are the teams that pass the ball to each other and trust each other on the defensive end of the court. I think the game is that simple and it’s not as complicated as we make it sometimes. I think it just comes down to the basic blue collar mentality that you have to defend to be successful and you have to pass the ball to the open man at the offensive end to be successful.”

Whether or not they are a better team without Carmelo Anthony:

“That’s a very difficult question. Anytime a team makes the playoffs every year I have respect for that. Melo came after the year I think they won 15 or 16 games. He took our team to a very good level. Conference Finals and then I think last year if I didn’t get sick and Kenyon (Martin) didn’t get hurt, I think we had a chance to get to the Conference Finals last year. I just thought that team had run its string out. It was over and we had to make a change. How was the change going to be made? Do you make it below the star level or do you make it at the star level and try and get your salary cap under control? I think the choice was made by Melo when he came out and said he wanted to be traded. I think the combination of everything, the six years together, Melo making his demand, and it was just a situation where we said we had to make a change. (Host: I will ask you again, are you better with or without Carmelo Anthony?)

I have to say we are a better basketball team only because of our defense. Offensively we would’ve been a very high caliber offensive team with Melo but the combination of how we played, where we got, and maybe just being together for a long period of time, we had lost our defensive intensity. That falls on my shoulders as much as it falls on Melo’s shoulders. The whole thing comes down when we changed we thought we would improve defensively but we never thought we would be 10 points better defensively. In a very quiet way our team has become what I call kind of a solid San Antonio Spur team. We don’t beat ourselves. In the past we were an explosive team. We could blow up on anybody and we could go off on any given night and win by 15 or 20 points against the best teams in the league, but we also had the ability of beating ourselves way too often with bad shot selection, poor transition defense, and poor defensive commitment. Those things we have gotten better at as a team. Then it allows our offensive players that we have, two deep at each position, we will find someone that will score some points for us as the game goes on. As a coach I respect having Melo, a guy who you know is going to get you 25 to 35 every night. It’s easier to coach that team then it is to coach a team where you don’t know where the scoring is going to come from. In the same sense I’m very confident that we will figure it. That’s the challenge for the game against Oklahoma City. I think defensively we will play better, but I’m worried about how we get our offense tuned up to the point where were able to outscore a very good offensive team in Oklahoma City and two guys who are very capable of putting big numbers up on the board.”

If he feels the Lakers are more vulnerable this year:

“I would have to say yes to that. In my mind the Lakers right now because of the mental fatigue I see a lot in their game on the court at times at both ends of the court, I think it’s what has got them struggling a little at times to score points and struggle with the pick-and-roll with quickness.”

On the way the West shapes up and if they would like a chance at LA right now:

“Well I think we have enjoyed playing the Lakers the last couple of years. We have won games against them, we think we have a formula on offense and defense that we know what we have to do to beat them, and I would love the opportunity. The only problem with that opportunity, I think we would only get them in the Finals of the Conference which means they have woken up a little bit and maybe they have re-focused and found that mental toughness. If you’re in Las Vegas right now do you feel comfortable picking who’s going to win the Championship? (Host: I don’t think anybody would.) That will happen probably a little bit in this round, but you will feel a lot better when the final eight gets down to the final four. That semifinal of the conference when there is eight teams left in the league I think is the best basketball played in the NBA. Those two weeks or two and a half weeks where eight teams usually the best eight teams in basketball are going to nose to nose is where someone rose up, someone gets lucky and wins a series they’re not supposed to win. Then they get focused to the point where they’re not going to put themselves in that position again. The learning process of playoff basketball is fantastic. Every series has a personality, every series has an intensity and an enthusiasm to it and you watch in front of you how young guys learn how to become veteran playoff players and winners in playoff basketball. I had a wonderful experience with Chauncey Billups. This man knows playoff basketball as well as anyone I have ever been around. No matter what happens in this series I think you’re going to see a lot of young players learn a lot about what it takes to play in the NBA. When you watch them play, watch them get the courage, and how we overcome the mental de-energizer of a bad call beating us in a game. We have to overcome that. I think we will be fine, but if we were to play every other night and play tomorrow morning I’d be a little bit worried about our youthfulness instead of just forgetting about what happened and moving on and learning from the loss. We used the call as a crutch. We can’t do that. We can’t use the call as a crutch. We gotta be ready to go, go out for 48 minutes, in a very tough building, and figure out how to stay strong, how to stay together, and figure out how to stop two great players.”

Listen to George Karl on ESPN Radio New York here

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