Looking Good For Today and Tomorrow

Dwyane Wade
Photo Credit: Brock Williams-Smith

Sometimes, things are simple. Take it away, Chris Douglas-Roberts.

“Our main goal on the offensive end is to get the ball inside to Al [Jefferson], because he’s our best player. Their main objective is to not let Al get going, so the ball is sticking because we want to get the ball in to him and can’t.”

This storyline has been the driving force behind this series since the very first practice. Through two games, Jefferson had found his opportunities to score, but those chances had come at the cost of 15 Charlotte turnovers in each outing as the Miami HEAT applied pressure to both the passing lanes and the passing players.

In the first quarter of Game 3, that pressure was largely absent. Jefferson, still visibly limited by his foot injury, scored 15 points on nine shots in the period, but the issue was less that he was scoring in the post and more that he was getting the ball in the post in the first place. Charlotte wasn’t doing anything differently; the HEAT just weren’t dealing with cross-screens.

“Every catch was exactly where he wanted it, right in his wheel house, right in his comfort zone, where he can inflict incredible damage to our defense,” Erik Spoelstra said. “There was not a lot of resistance to it.

“It was just too easy.”

Things changed in a hurry. As soon as the HEAT shifted its defense into gear – doubling Jefferson on the catch, clogging the lane on his pick-and-rolls or outright denying him the ball in the post – Charlotte’s offense ground to a halt.

“We just didn’t respond well to their ball pressure,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “They got up into us.”

After those nine first-quarter attempts, Jefferson took just four shots the rest of the way. He had just one more post-up possession, according to Synergy Sports, after five in the opening period. According to SportVU data, Jefferson had just 34 touches after averaging 55 during the regular season. The Bobcats didn’t score more than 20 points in a quarter the rest of the way, turning the ball over 13 times in the final three quarters. With the same process as they had used in two prior games, it was mission accomplished.

“We had to make adjustments,” LeBron James said. “We had to help our bigs even more on the perimeter, put more pressure on [Jefferson] and their passers that were giving them the ball. We were able to turn that around.”

So often, those adjustments have little to do with scheme or strategy. It’s never been the most interesting point to make or discuss, but the HEAT’s defense is predicated on five players playing hard and playing smart. So as Game 3 went along in Charlotte, the HEAT played harder and they played smarter.

Now they’re up 3-0 in the series, and we can pull back and look at the big picture. No team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit, but winning a fourth-consecutive first-round series was never the ultimate goal for this team. Just as important as winning was playing and looking like a team that can win a month from now. We’ve spent most of this week talking about the defense, but the offense, against one of the league’s best defenses, has yet to disappoint.

Much of the scoring has derived from forcing a low-turnover team into turnovers, but the HEAT are also scoring over a point-per-possession off half-court sets – something no team accomplished during the regular season. There’s been some incredible isolation scoring from James. There’s been efficient outside shooting from a variety of suspects, including James Jones, with whom the HEAT have outscored the Bobcats 110-72 when Jones has been on the court.

In Game 3, there was more of Miami’s next-level offense. Offense such as a pick-and-roll on one side of the court turning into multiple swing passes and a Ghost Cut – he’s only standing still if the defense is looking at him – from Dwyane Wade taking advantage of James drawing attention in the paint.

Or Wade ghosting the defense with another cut as his body movement creates an opportunity for Jones in the corner.

Or the HEAT triangulating their passes around James in the post, patiently seeking out the perfect moment to strike.

“We were much more committed to working for our offense,” Spoelstra said. “Working possessions, not settling, but having the poise to get to the last 10 seconds in the clock and make one more pass to get a better shot.”

All plays you’ve seen the team make plenty of times before, but plays that signify the team working close to its apex. With so many teams looming in the future using similar defensive schemes to the one utilized by Charlotte, the HEAT executing at this level, and keeping turnovers in the single digits, is as encouraging a development as you can reasonably expect in what’s become possibly the league’s most incognito first-round series.

Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com, Synergy Sports and STATS LLC