Billy the Kid rides again! Only in this case we are talking about Billy Donovan and basketball, not William Henry McCarty and gun-fighting. Donovan is the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and his team takes the court tonight for game #2 of the Western Conference Finals leading the defending champion Golden State Warriors 1-0. The Thunder have been this deep in the playoffs three out of the last six years, so Billy was brought in to help finally deliver an NBA Championship to the people of Oklahoma City. If OKC is to get by Golden State and then Cleveland (C’mon, Toronto has no chance), a major reason why will be that the Thunder have been defended the three-point line successfully. Ironic if you ask me, because the three-point shot is what Billy is best known for as a player, and what has shaped much of his offensive philosophy on the sidelines as a coach.
His affinity for the shot dates back to his senior season at Providence College. Billy was the quiet leader of a Friars team that captivated the PC campus, as well as the country, during an unexpected March Madness run to the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans. You see, his last season (1986-87) in Friartown happened to be the first season the NCAA put the 3-point line into the collegiate game. Most teams at the time did not know how to defend the 3-ball, choosing to continue taking away easy baskets in and around the lane, rather than chase out to guard the new line.
Behind Rick Pitino, Billy and his merry band of bombers took as many 3’s as they could. The thought was, 3 counts more than 2 on the scoreboard, and by hitting a few, it would draw defenders out and open the paint to score inside as well. BINGO! It worked from day one and has revolutionized the game ever since.
So, when Billy got into coaching, he began running a high octane offense that emphasized spreading the floor with as many good shooters as he could recruit, and of course, shooting a lot of 3-pointers! His nineteen year run on the sidelines at the University of Florida was highlighted by back-to-back NCAA national championships (2006 and 2007). Among the great shooters Donovan lured to Gainesville were: Mike Miller, Chandler Parsons, Bradley Beal, Matt Bonner, and Erik Murphy to name a few.
Now back to the present day, and my initial premise, live by the three, die by the three. The Warriors’ Steph Curry happens to be the greatest three-point taker and maker of all-time. His final total of 402 made regular season 3’s (he shot an astounding 886), is not only an NBA record, it is also RIDICULOUS! Teammate Klay Thompson, an awesome shooter in his own right, finished second in the league this season with 276 triples of his own. Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes also shoot from distance, so the Thunder have their work cut out for them going forward. In game 1’s win OKC fared AOK because they “held” the dubs to just 11 made threes. Believe it or not, that’s very good because in the regular season, they averaged 13 makes per game. Keep an eye on how the Thunder defenders will hug all shooters behind the thin line. Should they somehow get by Golden State, Lebron and the Cavs will be waiting for them, and all they have done this postseason is knock in a stupid 16 threes per game! Hey Billy, as the old saying goes, make sure you look out for #1, but try not to get beat by the 3!
And that is My 2 Sense for this week.