Dwyane Wade missed a game-tying layup, but it was LeBron James’s fault the Heat lost. That was the sentiment inside the TNT studios where Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith debated how Miami should have apportioned its final shots.
I think there’s a debate over whether the very last shot, a fading Mario Chalmers 3-pointer, was a good play. Not because Chalmers isn’t a good shooter, or because only a star should shoot the last shot, but because shots in that scenario are almost all doomed to be a contested, and LeBron James has the ability to elevate and get a clean look better than anyone else on the Heat.
But in that situation it’s nearly impossible to get a great shot, so let’s go back to the previous possession, when the Heat needed two points at 75-77, and had a full shotclock to work with.
When we break it down, we see that Miami not only used a smart play to attack one of Indiana’s worst defenders, but the Heat players made savvy reads after the initial action fell apart.
It begins with Wade on top, waiting for a ball screen from Battier, who himself is coming off a screen from LeBron James.
The idea is that James can delay Battier’s defender, David West, which will leave West out of position to help when Wade turns the corner off Battier’s screen.
As planned, the Pacers switch and Wade is face to face with David West, all alone in the middle of the court. This is a play Wade has finished hundreds of times by crossing over, splitting the defenders and finishing.
But for some reason Wade doesn’t like the look and, after missing Battier rolling to the rim, he passes out to LeBron James. Wade then dives to the low post, where he has a mismatch against George Hill.
This is where things get tricky on LeBron’s end. The called play is dead. It’s time to improvise, time to rely on instincts and make the high percentage play. If he’s going to put his head down and drive, this is the moment to do so.
So LeBron looks toward the rim and sees Wade with a much smaller play 5 feet from the hoop. With 15 seconds left on the shot clock, there’s plenty of time to jam the ball inside, so he gives to Shane Battier in the corner, who has a better angle for the post entry.
No dice, George Hill is fighting hard.
The ball comes back to James and before he can make a move, or really a decision of any kind, Wide flashes to the high post, looking to abuse Hill inside and essentially negating LeBron’s opportunity to attack the rim (unless Wade continued his route and set a high screen for James).
James hits Wade, who has Hill pinned on his back 12 feet from the rim in the middle of the court. As it is nearly impossible for any Pacer to help, this is an extremely good scenario for the Heat.
Wade feels Hill with his back then dips a shoulder to Hill’s hip and slips by and to the rim — where he incredibly bricks the bunny.
It’s not my intention to defend LeBron James, he had an opportunity to drive and it’s certainly would have been a smart play to do so. But he also didn’t panic, and his patience, and the patience of Battier and Wade, resulted a fantastic shot for the Heat.
How many times to teams get a faintly contested layup in the last 10 seconds of a playoff game?
It was a good initial play, and the Heat did a nice job of maintaining poise and spacing when it fell through.
All that was missing was the finish.
Thanks to James Herbert for help with the video!