Giving Credit when its been overdue: NBA Finals adjustments

All season long people have been beating up o Erik Spoelstra for making, or not making, certain adjustments. People have said that he shouldn’t be the coach of the Miami Heat and that he can’t deal with their superstar personalities. Three games into his second consecutive NBA Finals Spoelstra deserves a large share of the credit for their 2-1 lead.

The reason why Miami has won two straight games against a red hot Oklahoma City Thunder team is because of the adjustments that Spoe has made. The main adjustment would be inserting Chris Bosh back into the starting line-up and keeping Battier in with him as well.

Battier has gone 20-34 from three point land but has been playing the four position instead of the three. Having LeBron James and Dwyane Wade at the two and three positions respectively with Battier at the four and Bosh at the five open up so many driving lanes. The league’s best shot blocker in Serge Ibaka is taken out of the picture. The problem the Heat had with Tyson Chandler last year is wiped out because of this. Take a look at the play below and you’ll see what I mean.

Because of the spacing on the floor with Battier, Serge Ibaka is confined to protect from the corner three. Bosh is able to get a clean roll at the rim without being bothered or having anyone impede his path. Durant overextends when trying to help on Dwyane Wade and Wade is able to get the pass over everyone’s heads for an easy bucket.

The same thing happens below except for Wade misses a clean look at the basket. Even though it was a missed shot it was still a great opportunity that, nine times out of ten, Wade will absolutely finish.

The cross-match makes perfect sense because Ibaka isn’t going to post Battier up on the defensive end. His game hasn’t improved in the post at all so its not a threat. At the worst he steps out and takes a contested jumper.

The cross-matches have been killing OKC defensively. They’ve been scattered and confused when getting back on defense. Thabo and Westbrook have had terrible communication on who they’re supposed to be guarding. Brooks has been trying to hide Durant defensively but it isn’t working because of the pick and rolls Miami is running. OKC is switching and its forcing Durant to guard LeBron and Wade at times. These are huge factors and the reason why Durant has been in foul trouble for the past two games.

Miami has also defended very well for the most part. On the defensive end, Miami has taken away OKC’s best play. That would be the series of pindown screening that they run. They’ve used various strategies depending on OKC’s various personnel that they run these screens with. There’s a specific one that I’d like to key on with Derek Fisher setting the pindown for Kevin Durant. James Jones was checking Derek Fisher here. Take a look.

Jones and James both attack Durant as he comes off of the pindown. Durant sees this and tries to give a pass to Fisher who is wide open for a three point shot. James ends up getting the deflection and its a turnover for OKC. That’s the type of defense the Heat have played on the Thunder. They’re suffocating Durant and letting anyone else beat them at this point. They aren’t letting him get comfortable looks as they did in game one and late in game two. Instead they are forcing him off of his spots and making everything that he does uncomfortable. They also are attacking him on the defensive end to get him in foul trouble. That greatly disrupts his rhythm.

To have a chance in this series, Oklahoma City can do a few things. The fist must be to use Kevin Durant as a screener more often than they have. Especially with Westbrook–who is being guarded by Wade. As Kevin Durant told Wade yesterday, he’s too small for him. His looks are too easy with Wade on him. Take a look at the play below.

Wade is trapped on Kevin Durant after Durant seals him off when giving Westbrook a hard pick. Durant will usually slip the screen, but since it was Wade on him he set a solid pick that allowed for the switch. This results in an easy two points for the Thunder.

Kevin Durant needs to be used to set screens more often in this series. This means that the Thunder will have to go small more often to get more mistmatches off of it. They have to take advantage of the cross-matches that Miami is feeding them by playing one big at a time. If they can do this successfully, they’ll be able to play the rim protector that they want to while keeping up with the spacing that Miami has on the offensive end.

One thing that they also need to do is force LeBron James to post up farther away from the paint. When he’s able to get deep position in the paint he can seal the opposition off with his weight and height. He uses that to his advantage to make a play much more simply than he used to. Being deep attracts help defenders more often than being farther away does. He can find his teammates or score in this position–whatever the defense gives him.

You can see that Sefalosha did his work early. He kept LeBron from getting deep and being able to back him down. Instead James has to face up and hold the ball. No one else is moving and he is forced to shoot a jump shot. That’s the look that the Thunder want.

This series is far from over, but I think that we should take the time to give Erik Spoelstra credit for working with the tools that he has. He’s proven to be a very versatile coach throughout the playoffs and right now its paying off on the biggest stage. Kudos to him.

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