Maybe pressing does work in the NBA
The 76ers reveal a strategy
BY DAVID THORPE
Nothing else was working. Down double figures late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the hot-shooting Hawks, the Sixers did something most people think doesn’t work in the NBA: they unleashed a full court press.
Over the next couple of minutes, the Hawks blatantly lacked the conviction and coordination to punish Philadelphia’s high-risk gamble. They ran out of timeouts, failed to inbound the ball, and at times handed the ball over, almost as a favor. Only because of some good fortune—two very tough buckets, and a Joel Embiid mistake—were the Hawks able to hang on to win. They certainly didn’t prove they could handle the pressure. Over the first couple of minutes of the strategy, the 76ers’ reported odds of winning went from .04 of a percent to 18, a 450 percent improvement.
For a long time pressing in the NBA has been seen as a Rick Pitino pipe dream. As coach of the Knicks and then Celtics starting in the late 1980s, he tried it again and again, and had one good s…