If at first you don’t succeed: the importance secondary action against the Bulls defense

As Joey Whalen points out in his excellent analysis of the Heat’s mid-range game, one of the big keys for tonight’s contest will be how Miami improves their offensive efficiency. It would seem strange to focus on offense after being worked like a speedbag on the boards in Game 1, but the Heat’s rebounding woes are something that will never entirely go away this series.

Miami fans should instead hope that Erik Spoelstra spent his valuable practice time emphasizing the value of ball reversal to his charges. This is a do or die game for the Heat, and the souls of isolation attempts against a Thibodeau-coached defense soon find themselves ferried across the River Styx towards the baseline, past Basketball Cerberus, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Loul Deng, to be forever locked in the netherworld of contested long 2’s.

As we implored the Spurs to do against Memphis in Round 1, the Heat need to focus on changing sides of the floor with the ball and running multiple actions in each possession. One play (that was hopefully shown in one of Miami’s film sessions) illustrates the effect this has against Thibodeau’s strong-side blitz schemes.

Early in the 3rd quarter, the Heat come down in a “Horns High” set where both their bigs come up from the elbows to give point guard Mike Bibby the option to come off a screen and roll to either side. Bibby goes left off Joel Anthony, who dives toward the rim as Chris Bosh ‘pops’ near the top of the key. Bibby reverses the ball to Bosh who immediately swings the ball to Wade and follows his pass into a side pick and roll. The result is a rare lane for Wade to drive to the rim.

Because Chicago is initially forced to react to the Bibby pick and roll on the opposite side of the floor, when the ball is reversed through the top to Wade. Neither Keith Bogans nor Noah are able to get in position to “Down” the side ballscreen (force the ball handler to the baseline), a principle that has helped make Thibodeau’s scheme so successful because it keeps the ball out of the middle of the floor and severely limits the ball handler’s options. The combination of the help still recovering from the previous ballscreen between Bibby and Anthony and Wade getting middle allows for the easy rim attack.

The concepts in this possession are the key to Miami’s offensive success for the rest of the series. But while that particular set has proven effect, the Heat shouldn’t become overly enamored in using it, given that LeBron James and his prodigious talents are simply asked to space the floor in the corner.

Spoelstra could try to integrate actions that put James and Wade on opposite sides of the floor while allowing both of them to be heavily involved in the play. Here is a possible idea the Heat could look to integrate tonight or as the series progresses.

The play starts with James engaging in a side pick and roll with Chris Bosh. Chicago will counter this by having James’ defender (X3) get on his top shoulder and force him baseline where he will be corralled by Bosh’s defender (X4). Bosh, who was so effective in Game 1 from this range, will react by popping his toward the elbow, forcing X1 to creep in and play halfway between Bosh and Mike Bibby.

James will react to this coverage by passing out to Bosh near the elbow. In Thibodeau’s schemes, his defenders are trained to “stunt and recover” rather than fully rotate over in most scramble situations. A “stunt” simply requires the help defender to arrive at the offensive player on the airtime of the pass halting any immediate move to the basket while his original defender recovers back to him. The “stunter” then recovers back to his original defensive assignment. As we see here, Bosh will make the catch and try to defeat the properly executed stunt by swinging the ball opposite to Bibby.

With the defense entering scramble mode, Bibby will immediately dribble the ball toward Wade sprinting up from the corner and perform a dribble hand off (DHO).

As the handoff occurs, Joel Anthony will sprint up from the block and immediately look to set a ballscreen for Wade. James and Bosh will interchange and space on the opposite side of the floor, while Bibby clears to the corner. This combination of actions will make it virtually impossible for the Bulls to “Down” this second pick and roll and allow the help on the opposite side to be occupied.

One of the reads for Wade in this action could be to look for Bibby (or any other three point marksman on Miami) filling behind him to the wing. Because this play forces Chicago into a traditional hedge and recover action on the ball screen, X1 must jam Anthony rolling to the rim to prevent an easy basket before X5 recovers.  With Bibby lifting to the wing, this creates more than enough distance between him and his defender to squeeze off an uncontested three on any pass back from Wade.

If X3 of X4 is forced to help contain Flash coming off the pick and roll, Wade can either play the drive and kick game with James (who in turn can look to attack a closeout with the dribble…yikes) or kick towards the short corner to Bosh for a wide open 15-18ft jumper. Keep in mind, just to force these options, the Bulls must successful defending the explosive Wade coming off the pick and roll going middle, a task that is quite daunting in itself.

Erik Spoelstra must act as Orpheus and play the melody that implores his team to execute in the half-court if they want to experience consistent offensive success against the suffocating Bulls defense. Reversing the ball and getting to the secondary and tertiary actions will be the way the Heat sooth the savage Basketball Cerberus and restore the soul of their offense: attacks to the rim.

Twitter: @Bkoremenos

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