As an undergrad at Stanford, Nets center Jason Collins used to take notes when Cardinal coach Mike Montgomery spoke. Not the mental kind, but actual Bic-on-paper scribbles. One of the defensive strategies he copied down was Montgomery's beat-and-belt theory: Beat your man to the spot and make him belt you. That charge-taking technique might come in handy against Tim Duncan, but even Collins knows he'll need more than that to derail the league's MVP, right? "It's simple," he says. "Just find out what he likes to do and take that away from him." To his credit, Collins then laughed.
Humor aside, here are four strategies Collins, forward Kenyon Martin and their fellow Nets should use.
Force him right. When playing Duncan straight up on the left block—his preferred position in the post—make him catch the ball a few feet farther out than he'd like to and then shade him to his right. " Duncan wants to lead with that left shoulder," says one Western Conference scout. "He goes to his left about 60 percent of the time, so try to force him baseline." Defenders should also stay up on Duncan; if he turns to face up and still has his dribble, he's even more dangerous. But they can't get too close. As Collins points out, "If you stick your hand up too far to guard the jumper, he'll come up through your arm."
Wait to double. Martin is one of the few players in the league who may be able to handle Duncan one-on-one, and he's slated to see the most time trying to do so. At 6'9" he's a good shot blocker and, perhaps most important, he's gained the respect of referees during this postseason. New Jersey coach Byron Scott will give Martin help, but he will wait until Duncan starts his dribble to send the double (something Phoenix had success with during the first round). "If you come on the catch, he's a good passer," says Scott. "It's when he puts it on the floor that you can put him in a little bit of trouble. That's when he has some turnovers."
Vary the help. If the double team always originates from the same spot, the Spurs will adjust. "It's a very intelligent team, and he's a very intelligent player," the scout says of Duncan. "You might get him once, but you won't get him twice." The solution: Have a forward double one time, then have a guard run down the next time. Before the Finals, Duncan said he expected the defender covering the post-entry passer to sag back, which is what the Nets did in the regular season. That's even more reason to mix it up.
Keep him off balance. Duncan's game is predicated on efficient movement and practiced, near-mechanical moves. Catch, turn, bank shot. A Spurs player who frequently guards Duncan in practice said last year that Duncan hates to be given a slight forearm shove in the stomach when he rises for a jump hook. If this is done subtly, the refs may not see it, and Duncan's balance can be upset.
One final piece of advice for New Jersey. "Don't worry about stopping Duncan," says the scout. "If you can just contain him, it's a totally different series."