Yesterday’s game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat is what I’d like to classify as basketball porn. This was easily the greatest game that I had ever seen in my life. It had everything–suspense, drama, action. Absolutely nothing was missing from this game.
Throughout the game, each team had their runs. The Heat broke through the Spurs stifling defensive scheme multiple times in the first half, but couldn’t keep the lead. Tim Duncan scored 25 points through the first 24 minutes (half of the Spurs first half total) on 11-13 shooting. It was an amazing effort from Duncan, and seemed obvious that he didn’t want to play another game.
This game was absolutely engrossing from start to finish, but the quarter that mattered the most was the fourth. Miami was down by 10 points to start the final frame of regulation and even though the game was relatively close, the way the Spurs’ defense looked made it seem like it was all but over. The Heat were shooting 42% from the field through three quarters.
In the fourth quarter they made 11 of 17 shots while holding the Spurs to a morbid 35% shooting. The Heat–more specifically LeBron James and the Heat’s defense–took the game over. Here is how they did it.
Finding a way without Wade
In this series, Miami has had struggles getting into the paint and finishing. They haven’t drawn fouls like they normally do and they’re taking more mid-range jumpers than they were in the regular season. The Heat’s shot distribution has been more balanced than it needs to be in this series. Take a look at their shot chart:
As you can see, the Heat have shot nearly as much in the mid-range area of the floor as they have in the restricted area. In the regular season the Heat took 33.4% of their shots in the restricted area. The nearly 3% difference is stifling. That’s how great the Spurs defense has been.
The Spurs defense has greatly altered Dwayne Wade’s game, giving him very little room to operate inside the paint. They’re sagging off of him in Rondo-esque ways. Take a look at the shot below from last night’s game:
The Spurs are packing the paint and keeping players at the free throw line on Wade’s drives. They’re doing the same thing with LeBron James as well, daring them both to shoot the ball. This is why their mid-range attempts have increased from their regular season number of 27.2% to the current 28.9%. They’re forcing them both to shoot the ball off of screens and bogging their offense down with isolation.
With Wade on the floor, the Heat can’t even rely on his cutting with the Spurs playing so close to the paint. They’re always prepared to take the cut away from the Heat because of how they bludgeon the paint. This late turnover sticks out to me. When Wade flashes through the paint, they completely ignore him when he gets to the weak side.
The passing lane for the cut is completely taken away because of the complete disregard for Wade outside of the paint. Even when he catches with a head of steam, he’s running into a brick wall. That’s why he was out of the game for the seven minute stretch when the Heat got back in the game.
The Heat went with Ray Allen, Mike Miller, LeBron James, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen down the stretch. This lineup was a +74 in seven minutes. The spacing in this lineup is what freed LeBron James to do as he pleased in the paint. There were key plays down the stretch that developed because of spacing.
For instance, take a look at this pass from LeBron to Chris Andersen as Tim Duncan comes over to help.
Had Dwyane Wade been in, Manu Ginobili gets in front of Chris Andersen on his flash to the rim. Since Mike Miller is standing in the corner, LeBron is able to get the pass there on a whim while Ginobili hesitates about what he’s going to do. That gives James enough time to get the ball to Andersen who gets the foul call on the contest.
Lets take a look at what was basically the same sequence with Wade in the game. LeBron James gets Tony Parker switched onto him, but he isn’t able to do anything with it because of the bevy of Spurs in the paint.
Two things happened on that play. Danny Green takes away a driving lane to LeBron’s right when he cheats off of Wade in the paint. LeBron then tries to post Parker up but loses vision of the weak side of the floor. Kawhi Leonard sees that and then attacks James and forces the turnover. James didn’t see it coming because he was focused on beating Parker and Green’s initial defense.
This turnover was a result of switching and then sagging because of the absence of a shooter on the wing. In the previous play where Andersen draws the foul, James has clear vision of the floor. Help is hard to come by for the Spurs because of all of the shooting. Not so much in this scenario. Duncan still comes over and Ginobili also slides into the paint as well because he knows Green is directly in the passing lane to the corner while taking away James’ driving lane.
Having Wade on the floor at the end almost cost the Heat the game and a shot at another NBA title. What will be interesting to see is if Erik Spoelstra has the guts to limit Wade’s minutes in Game 7 or at least play James and Wade separately on the floor. The Spurs have figured out a way to take away their strengths while they’re both on the floor. Spoelstra has to coach around that.
If the Heat don’t play more floor-spacers, they may end up losing a championship because of their superstar slasher and not winning in spite of him. As harsh as that may seem, its evident.