Cone: China might use box-and-1 vs. Brownlee
Published on October 4, 2023

HANGZHOU — What is the box-and-1, and why is Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tim Cone expecting China to employ the defense against Justin Brownlee in the men’s basketball semifinal on Wednesday, October 4?

Brownlee scored 36 points on 12 of 21 from the floor, including 5 of 7 in three-point shots, and hit what turned out to be the game-winning jumper at the baseline as the Philippines survived a savage comeback by Iran from 21 points down for a heart-stopping 84-83 victory last Tuesday and a spot in the Final Four against the host team in the 19th Asian Games.

His total point production, notwithstanding, which went with 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in 36:39 minutes, Brownlee was held down to two points in the fourth quarter — that well-guarded go-ahead basket that erased an 83-82 Iran lead with 41 seconds remaining at the Zhejiang University Gymnasium.

Fatigue due to his extended minutes was a factor. A junk defense called box-and-1, which combines the principles of zone and man-to-man, was another.

“Yeah, certainly we’re concerned,” said Cone when the matter was brought to his attention during the post-game media interview. 

“He [Brownlee] was running out of steam, you could see it. I couldn’t give him enough breath in the second half. I should have maybe taken him out earlier. But as soon as I take him out, they start making a little bit of a run at us. And when I put him back in, they box-and-1 him. 

“The Iranian coach did a tremendous job to get them back in the game, and I didn’t do a very good one.”

Told that he did, Cone disagreed.

“No, I didn’t. Players make plays down the stretch, coaches don’t,” he said. “We made a defensive stop and Justin hit a big basket. It looked like he was fouled, but he still made it. That was the difference in the game in the last 30 seconds.”

So what exactly is this box-and-1?

According to the web, the box-and-1 is a type of junk defense used against teams with “one great offensive player surrounded by players of less offensive talent.”

The defense puts one defender (the chaser) “playing man-to-man defense on the opposition’s best offensive threat while the other four defenders set up in a box formation and play zone.”

It’s main goal is to confuse the opposition by giving it something “they’ve rarely played against and force them to adjust their entire offense accordingly.”

China, which beat South Korea 84-70 in another quarterfinal match at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center last Tuesday, had by now broken down the video of the Philippines-Iran game, Cone believes, and has seen the possibilities of the box-and-1 against Brownlee or whoever turns hot for Gilas Pilipinas at 8 tonight.

“I think they did a really good job for three quarters,” said Cone of Gilas’ performance before Iran came charging back. “But like I said, when they threw that wrench into our plans with the box-and-1, we just kinda struggled.

“So we can expect China to do it to us tomorrow as well. They’re gonna see our game, they’re gonna figure it out. So we gotta come out and do some counters done — without a practice. That’s the problem, we don’t have a practice. But we’ll see if we can get one in the morning, maybe shoot around, and see if we can get some things done.”

On the bus ride back to the hotel from the Iran game, Gilas team manager Alfrancis Chua, who coached Barangay Ginebra San Miguel to the PBA Finals before assuming a team management job with the Kings and eventually becoming SMC sports director, explained very briefly, using the fingers of one hand, how the Nationals could perhaps counter the box-and-1.

From the simplest point of view and plain understanding of a non-coaching mind, it looked like it would involve a specific player bringing the ball down and setting things up in a way that the defense’ weakness would be exposed.

For certain it’s far more complicated than that, and the complete explanation would best be expounded in the presence of Cone and the Gilas coaching staff.

At posting time, as the Philippine team goes to lunch on the second floor of the Park Hyatt, an adjoining room is probably being prepared for a most crucial strategic team meeting and film viewing for the Philippines’ Final Four game against host China — with the box-and-1 on top of the agenda.