Miami Heat Control the Pressure to Spark their Run

Miami put together a a well played game shooting 49% from the field–a mark that is six percent up from what they shot in game one. They also knocked down 53% of their three point takes.

What made the difference in this game was the defensive scheme that Miami played on the Spurs. The  Spurs shot 50% from deep with Danny Green going 5-5 from deep and 6-6 in total. Miami was conceding the three ball to the Spurs, but defended all shots that weren’t beyond the arch very well.

They only shot 41% from the field–a mark that got them past the Miami defense in game one. However, they shot 38% on their two point shots. With very little free throws and four times as many turnovers this game was bound to have a different ending result.

They only shot 50% at the rim which is below average for the Spurs and 44% of their shots were two point shots that came outside of the restricted area. Why so many two point shots? Well, the Heat switched their scheme up to allow the Spurs to take these outside shots.

Instead of playing a more aggressive coverage where their big hedges hard, the Heat opted to play a softer coverage as they did toward the end of their series with the Indiana Pacers. Take a look:



Chris Andreson sags back off of Tony Parker instead of trying to impede his path in the lane to help Mario Chalmers recover. Instead of having Chalmers come over the screen and chase Tony Parker, Chalmers goes under for an easier recovery.

Duncan drops down to the free throw line and re-screens for Parker, but there’s an easier defense because Birdman is sagging back. He’s able to come up on Parker and challenge the shot.

Here’s the possession in motion:

These adjustments to their defensive scheme have really benefited Miami. The sag into the paint and going under the screen are very important, but the Heat had an answer for that and more in LeBron James. Lets take a look at Miami’s  possession to end the half:

LeBron’s positioning here under the rim is of utmost importance. A lot was being made of Kawhi Leonard grabbing offensive rebounds, but this was a result of LeBron  helping off of him so much. James was essentially playing the role of a free safety in this game. He flew around the court and played multiple roles defensively.

Chris Bosh left the lane open and it was LeBron’s job to contest the shot. Gary Neal picks up his dribble because of Mario Chalmers’ help off of Tony Parker in the corner while LeBron is laying in wait. Neal has no option but to shoot.

This was a good defensive stand, but the Heat weren’t able to corral the rebound because no one boxed out Leonard and he’s too good of a rebounder to leave untouched. This is something that the Spurs took advantage of in the first half sans this play.

This play resulted in a turnover because of LeBron’s hounding once the ball was put in the corner. In this way he went from playing Marc Gasol’s role as a shot challenger to Tony Allen with ball pressure.

What played a huge role in breaking the game open for Miami were plays like this and more going into the second half. The turnovers that San Antonio committed were essential for Miami to build this type of lead on the Spurs.

James was making sound defensive plays all night long. Though he went 7-17 from the field–which is poor–he impacted the game in so many other areas. Below is one of my favorite plays of the night from either side. Lets take a look:

This is a great play by not only James, but the Miami Heat defense. Once Gary Neal makes the catch in the corner, Mike Miller does an excellent job of giving him the baseline. Notice how Chris Anderson sits back and waits in case he has to contest a shot in the paint. Neal really has no way out here unless there’s a strongside cut, but the Heat did a great job of taking away all passing lanes–not just the easy ones.

As the play continues, LeBron is also sitting in the passing lanes in order to force a turnover. Instead of watching his man, Leonard, James is turned around and following Gary Neal’s eyes as he tries to get rid of the ball.

James follows Leonard’s exact steps as he tries to free himself from James’ defensive grasp. However, Gary Neal gives the the pass away with his eyes and ends up throwing it to James who mirrors Leonard’s movement as if he were his shadow. This is another turnover forced by the Heat to fuel their run.

Turnovers will jumpstart any team’s offense and James desperately needed that last night. His play on the defensive end got him going as he made his last five shots–a couple of which were a dunk and a lay up off of a turnover.

San Antonio was clearly not prepared for this adjustment in coverage from the Heat. And once again, the Heat played a nearly perfect defensive game. This time, they got San Antonio to commit 16 turnovers–four times more than what they had in game 1.

The Spurs should have an adjustment come game two.  I don’t doubt that Gregg Popovich will come up with a fix for this at all. This series has lived up to every expectation I’ve had so far. This is just great basketball being played on both ends.

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