The Indiana Pacers provided a blueprint that attacks a chink in the armor of the Miami Heat. The Heat are a small ball team–more than likely the best small ball team in NBA history. So trying to counter their small ball with a small ball unit of your own can be described as challenging. But the Warriors figured out a way to do so last night. The Indiana Pacers strategy has a few different concepts to it, but they both involved high ball screening and getting the ball into the paint from different angles.
So Frank Vogel realized that they couldn’t play small against the Heat, and, BOOM! Just like that, he figured out a way to beat them. Instead of playing to the Heat’s strengths, why don’t you play to their weaknesses? EUREKA! And with that in mind, the Pacers brought a team filled with behemoths together. They’re the biggest team in the NBA and that’s at almost every position.
The Pacers developed this team with the thought of rebounding and defense in mind. They were going to attack the Heat at the crux of their scheme, bringing their bigs outside of the paint with high screens and then getting the ball down low by way of swing passing and post entry or rebounding. And, like magic, it’s worked two seasons in a row. Plays like the one shown below really attack the Heat at their weak point.
Becasuse of the Heat’s aggression on defense, Chris Anderson comes from the paint to contest a Luis Scola jump shot. Rashard Lewis also stunts out to the wing, but doesn’t commit fully to the contest and hangs around the rim in order to get a rebound. The problem is, he isn’t in proper rebounding position with Ian Mahinmi and George waiting at the rim.
The Heat’s aggressive scheme can sometimes lead to scrambles on the defensive end. At its best it’s a really chaotic defense that disrupts offensive flow and stops the ball from getting to point A to point B. The Heat are the best in the league when it comes to forcing turnovers–they force 18.9 turnovers per game. You can’t do that without the aggressive style that they play, so it’s essential to their game and they have the personnel to work well within it.
But on some nights, like last night, teams can get the best of them in it. Of course, that doesn’t happen often, but the blueprint provided, in theory, could lead to them being beaten four nights out of seven. And the Golden State Warriors provided us with another way, similar to the one the Pacers employ, in beating the Heat.
To beat the Heat last night, the Warriors used their shooting at nearly every position to provide pressure valves against the Heat. Pressure valves are players that make themselves available via pass if the defense ups the pressure on the ball handler–something that the Heat do quite commonly. They especially did so last night against Stephen Curry, who put up 36 points and 12 assists against the Heat last night.
By doing this, the Warriors shot 56% from the floor last night–some of the best shooting against the Heat in the LeBron James era. Mark Jackson only played Andrew Bogut for 18 minutes last night because of his inability to shoot the ball consistently. Bogut wasn’t in foul trouble, and his rebounding ability would’ve been a plus here, but not as much as the shooting from the Warriors bench was going to be.
Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green took most of Bogut’s minutes. They played 27 minutes and 25 minutes, respectively, providing more spacing and pressure valve opportunity. Even Marreese Speights played 11 minutes last night because of his shooting. With these players on the floor, the Heat would be forced to rotate from difficult recovery areas and they’d get great looks for their shooters. That’s why they ended up shooting 15-29 from deep on the night.
David Lee contributed a bunch to the effort, providing 32 points and 14 rebounds. But where he was the most valuable was in the pick and pop. He consistently slipped screens and popped to the elbows for open looks. You can see that in the video below.
The Heat commit two defenders to Curry in this instance. They’re trying to force turnovers, which they end up doing throughout the game, but it comes at a price. Chris Bosh is stuck between closing out on Lee who is a great passing big or he can suck in to Andrew Bogut who is waiting and ready to pounce on the other side of the rim.
Bogut dives as Lee makes his catch and Bosh can’t get any help from the wings because of their profound shooting at all positions. It’s hard to give up clean rim looks, but giving up the corner three in today’s NBA is a death sentence. The Heat chose to defend the highest shot value instead of percentage here, and with the Warriors ability on the perimeter I can’t really blame them.
The Warriors made each possession difficult to defend with their shooting, but once Bogut was out of the game the decisions became easier on the Warriors players. Take a look at this drive and kick possession from Andre Iguodala.
The Warriors play the high screen game with all five guys outside of the paint. They run a simple pick and roll with David Lee who slips the screen and pops at the top of the eye.
Curry drives and dishes to Iguodala on the outside after LeBron James collapses to try to help on his drive. Once Iguodala makes the catch, LeBron tries to recover and stay in position but Iguodala gets by him off of the dribble.
Because Chris Bosh has to stay with David Lee, there is no one to contest an Iguodala drive. Shane Battier plays the percentages instead of point value and goes to help LeBron contain Iguodala. Noticing this, Iguodala kicks it to Harrison Barnes in the corner for a wide open three.
By providing so much spacing throughout the game, the Warriors turned the Heat’s normally crisp rotations into mashed potatoes. They forced the Heat to collapse on drives while trying to maintain cover on the outside. You’d have to have four LeBron’s and the 2010 version of Dwight Howard if you wanted to defend that perfectly, but seeing as we can’t travel in time, the Heat’s defense was out of luck last night.
Now, look, the Warriors aren’t going to shoot like this on a nightly basis or play by this strategy every night either–although they probably should. Having one big on the floor can hamper your rebounding, but the Warriors are such a good jump shooting team that they’d be able to counteract that. Bogut and Lee could provide some variance offensively when you need rebounding or you need shooting, and the rest would fall into place.
Maybe this is just something that Jackson would like to go to during playoff time? I don’t know. But, if that’s the case, the Warriors are going to be a pretty deadly team come playoff time. Teams are always going to pressure Stephen Curry because of his shooting expertise, but having the pressure valves that he has will prove to be beneficial in the long run.
Keep in mind that it isn’t likely a team will be able to play this way without getting extremely hot shooting the ball from the perimeter. The Warriors, one of the great jump shooting teams in the league, have one of the best shooters of all time in Steph Curry and they’ve got him coupled with a plethora of great penetrating players and shooters. That’s a hard combination to stop and the Warriors roster is unique in that way.
A lot of teams don’t have the same roster structure as the Warriors. And the Dubs are a Western Conference team–they won’t be seeing the Heat in the playoffs unless it’s in the Finals. I doubt that any Eastern Conference team is able to do what they did on a consistent basis. The New York Knicks played a similar way last season except for Chandler was their lone big on the floor often. But they still worked to provide spacing by playing four small players and forcing tough rotations.
In this way, the Heat are being made to fight what they’ve made popular. But what makes it different and effective is the combination of rebounding and shooting that a player like David Lee can give you. So it may not be as insane to copy this strategy, but it has to be done effectively and at your own pace.