Cutting the Pace

The Miami Heat had their backs up against the wall trailing the Indiana Pacers in their series 2-1. The national media was in an uproar as it looked like the Pacers were, for once, the dominant team. Dwyane Wade, more specifically, was under a lot of scrutiny and would be put under the public’s microscope in Miami’s next game.

It would be safe to say that LeBron James and Wade responded beautifully to all of the criticism that they were facing. They combined for 70 points and James had himself a historical night. He scored 40 points, had 18 rebounds, and nine assists. Wade played well himself scoring the remaining 30, grabbing nine rebounds and six assists. All of this without teammate Chris Bosh to space the floor.

Without the proper running mates James and Wade had to perform at super human levels. They did just that. Wade and James were able to play off of each other as well as they ever have since the Miami trio was brought together. They played to the Pacer’s overaggressive tendencies on defense and were able to find great success. I’ll break them down in the film that I pulled via Synergy Sports Technology below.

Wade, coming off of the worst game of his career, used the Pacer’s aggression against them. He was able to move fluidly off of the ball because of the ball denial strategy that the Pacers were looking to use on he and James when off the ball. Wade said that James got him going at the end of the half when he fed him the ball off of a backdoor cut. He was able to find a clear path toward the rim and dunk the ball. You can see that below.

Wade’s defender, Paul George, fronts him on the wing in the video above. Shane Battier comes over to Wade and acts like he’s going to give him a screen, but instead he cuts baseline and goes to the other side of the floor, attracting Tyler Hansborough underneath the rim. Wade sees this and reacts to it. He acts like he’s going to fight through the denial to come get the ball and gives a fake that way.

Once George bites, Wade cuts from the wing to the baseline. With Hansborough underneath the rim, there is a lot of space for James to deliver a pinpoint pass on the backdoor cut. He does so, and Wade catches fire all of a sudden.

LeBron’s passing can’t be overlooked here. He had nine assists, four of which went to Dwyane Wade. You can view another spectacular one below.

Here Wade could be credited an assist to himself, really. This play is the perfect example of what it looks like when Wade and James are attacking with the same level of intensity. Initially Chalmers brings the ball up and gives it to Wade as he comes off of a Battier pindown. Once Wade gets it Battier sets another screen for him at the top of the arch. He is able to penetrate the defense after taking the screen and get to the rim.

If you pause the video at the 9 second mark, there are 5 sets of eyes on Wade as he collapses to the rim. No one else is being covered. This is a very dangerous thing if you’re away from the ball and here is why. Wade is able to kick the ball to Haslem on the baseline. The defense is initially able to react to the catch but he gives it to LeBron on the right wing. LeBron, making a beautiful decision, doesn’t allow the defense to find his teammates by attacking as soon as the ball is delivered.

All eyes are still on the ball and the Pacers aren’t able to find each individual assignment. James is able to find Wade camped underneath the rim and delivers another surgical pass for an easy lay up.

Wade created for James in the second half as well. Three of his six assists were actually because of James when he played off of the ball. According to Synergy, 11.4 percent of the Heat’s plays were off-ball cuts. They scored a whopping 1.58 ppp (points per 100 possessions) when playing this way. It was highly effective because of the combination of Wade and James.

Above is an example of the beautiful off the ball work of LeBron James and an opportunity at the rim created by Wade. James brings the ball down the floor and kicks to Wade in the corner. After receiving two screens from Ronny Turiaf and Battier, Wade is able to penetrate the defense and break to the rim.

Those two screens were important because George and Danny Granger were taken out of the play. They were left on the left side of the floor, and now James was left wide open in the corner. West had to hedge on Wade to attempt to stop penetration and Hibbert had to protect the rim. As Wade came toward the rim, James made his cut to the basket with no eyes on him. He was able to get a clean dunk off of this action.

What Miami did in that game was much like what the Celtics do with Avery Bradley when he’s off the ball. He does a lot of backdoor cutting action and give and goes. He’s an excellent slasher to the rim. Instead of shooting the ball and settling for jumpers, cutting is a more viable option for him. The same applies to Wade and James. If they are able to play big once again and dominate the paint, they will win this game for sure.

Game three signified how great they can be and how well they can play off of each other, contrary to popular belief including my own. They proved a lot of people wrong with their historic performance. I don’t think that it would be too much to replicate either–if I’m correct the Pacers are in a world of trouble.

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