The Miami Heat closed out Indiana with their most brutally frank offensive gameplan of the postseason. For all the talk about how Miami needs to develop proper ball and player movement — when isn’t there too much standing around and holding of the ball — Game 6 showed us that sometimes, keeping it simple is the right solution.
Erik Spoelstra ran virtually every single Game 6 possession through James or Wade. There were none of those curious Mario Chalmers possessions or wild shots from Norris Cole. One got the sense that if Spoelstra could have scripted the game to give Wade or James every shot — and why not? — that’s what he would have done.
But that isn’t to say Spoelstra just handed the keys to the offense to James and Wade and backed away. Rather, the efficiency of their performance was made possible by his work under the hood, tinkering with spacing and teaching the Heat’s big men how to become the most relentless and effective ball screen corps in the NBA. And as dominant (of the ball and of the game) as the Heat stars were, they did so in perfectly prescribed positions on the court — Wade in isolations on the left side of the court, James in the midpost from either side, and both in a constant barrage of pick-and-rolls.
When the play called for Wade or James to receive the ball in the post, the Heat used simple but effective actions to help them establish position. For James, this usually meant a cross screen from Mario Chalmers. Switching a point guard on a player who routinely outmuscles power forwards is not an option, so Chalmers could peel away James’ defender, allowing James to set up shop with a defender on his back.
Wade’s preferred method of getting post position was even more rudimentary — he simply started away from the ball and cut hard to the block. “Shuffle cuts” — where Wade would come from the opposite wing or high post and slice down the strong side of the lane — were particularly effective.
From both of these positions, the Heat simply trusted the two best players on the court to dominate, and they did. We thought that the Pacers might wear the Heat down inside, but really the opposite came true. Wade and LeBron used their chiseled shoulders and powerful legs to punish their defenders relentlessly, laying claim to the paint. As a team, the Heat have height issues, but they were able to effectively exploit their own size advantages throughout the final 10 quarters of the series.
However this series was won with the pick-and-roll, and the Heat’s fantastic execution of this basic set requires plenty of intricate timing and training. It starts with the screener, who almost always comes from an awkward angle, making prescriptive defensive gameplanning a nightmare. Even better, the Heat often bring their screener from as far away as possible and on a dead sprint.
Joel Anthony might be the fastest center in the NBA, and while he has hands of stone, that fact alone makes him an excellent screener. Watch as he gallops away from his defender, making a beeline for the target of his screen. The room he and the other Heat ballscreeners create with that speed gives James and Wade the chance to turn the corner unmolested and gather a head of steam before meeting the second defender.
With Bosh and Haslem out, the Heat’s screeners were largely non-threats as roll men, but they were still fantastic weapons because they were able to spring Wade and James into space, where they’re both at their devastating best.
A big part of that effectiveness is the chemistry between Wade, James and those Heat’s screeners. Guys like Joel Anthony and even Shane Battier have become excellent at waiting until the last possible moment to set the angle of the screen. This makes it nearly impossible for the on-ball defender to force to the ballhandler one way or another, because the Heat big man will come up and set a flat screen, (meaning his back is parallel to the baseline) then, when the defender chooses to one side or the other, turn and set an angled screen, leaving the defender hopelessly out of position.
James and Wade have perfected this intricate dance with their less skilled counterparts, who enthusiastically sacrifice their bodies possession after possession to give their stars, and team, a better chance to succeed.
Over the last two and a half games, Erik Spoelstra did away with everything inessential in the Heat’s offense. They ran only a handful of sets all game, and the complementary players aggressively filled their roles — 17 of the 28 shots taken by Heat players other than James and Wade were 3-pointers (they made 41 percent of them).
When this kind of straightforward attack leaves Spoelstra open to immense criticism if the Heat stars can’t take advantage of mismatches and the kind of half-chances Wade converted into ludicrous bank shots in Game 6.
However the simplicity and the gameplan also seemed to give the Heat a great focus — there was no mystery about how they were going to win. And, once the final horn sounded, it was no suprise that they did.
Just find ways to give it to LeBron and Wade in the places they can be most effective. It was the same “your turn, my turn” style that had been scrutinized endlessly before, but without a trace of discomfort from the two stars. Rather, they each showed the patience to wait for multiple screen and rolls rather than settling for isos from poor angles.
They never veered from this plan, and it came together how everyone in Miami must have hoped it would at the start of the year.
When Roy Hibbert tipped in a Pacers miss to cut the Heat lead to six with more than two minutes remaning, the Heat pulled out a play that must have been burning a hole in Spoelstra’s pocket. LeBron flew up the left side of the lane and set a ballscreen to bring Wade middle. Wade took a hard dribble toward the freethrow line then swung it back to LeBron, suddenly in all kinds of space on the left side. James made a beeline for the rim, beating the Pacers to the punch for an easy layup.
The next trip down, the Heat identified a mismatch for James against Paul George and fed him on the right mid post. With his back to the basket, James gave a hard shake to the baseline then lowered his shoulder and wheeled middle past George as though the superb defender wasn’t even there. As James elevated, he drifted to his left and crashed into David West then flipped in a right-handed shot that essentially sealed the game.
Just how they drew it up.