Can I be honest with you for a second? I’m a novice at watching game tape and gleaning anything. No one ever formally taught me, save for my high school basketball coach. I quit the team because I was stricken with brain-locked terror whenever he asked me to run a simple play. So I come at this with more curiosity than wisdom, with the naive hope that one will lead to the other. The goal is not to tell you what a coach did wrong, but instead to test concepts out and gain some facility with a world so murky that it even darkens the invisible lenses on Dwyane Wade’s glasses frames.
I still have opinions, though, even as a stranger in a strange land. Right now, I’m of the belief that the unstoppable Kevin Durant pin-down sets might be more stoppable if opposing coaches stopped trying to stop them. Teams have devoted much effort and focus to harassing Durant as he gets a screen, and the Thunder keep rolling, unperturbed. In the regular season, Miami would sometimes show hard with the screener’s man (in the below clip, this would be Chris Bosh). The problem is that KD has become adept at immediately swinging the ball to his abandoned teammate. In this regular season clip, Chris Bosh shows hard, and it leads to an easy layup for Bosh’s marker, Serge Ibaka.
This just would not do, at least not so frequently. So Erik Spoelstra embarked on a Game 1 strategy of switching whenever the pin-down screen came. This was a fantastic adjustment whenever Battier’s man or LeBron’s man screened Durant’s marker. Obviously, Miami can live with those two players getting switched onto Durant. The problem is that Dwyane Wade was hopeless at guarding KD after the switch. Below, he tries valiantly, only to look like a lilliputian without his rope.
Not only was Dwyane Wade troubled upon getting switched onto KD, there was miscommunication on at least one switch. Here, Fisher (Wade’s man) sets a screen for Durant, prompting both Wade and Battier to follow KD. This leaves Fisher wide-open, and also leaves open the question as to whom Dwyane is actually guarding. Wade doesn’t seem to know because he runs back towards Fisher, only to reverse course and chase at the guy actually holding the ball. Too late. Two points.
There is just no magic tonic for guarding Kevin Durant. As the great Tony Allen told Zach Lowe, it’s a matter of poison picking. But I wonder if the Heat are perhaps a bit too afraid of Durant off the screen, and if they are picking the worse poison because of that. KD rarely turns these pin-down screens into three point attempts, as they are set below the free throw line. In that buffer territory between “at-rim” and the arc, Durant shoots a merely good 43%. He lobbed .1 more attempt than LeBron James this year, and LeBron was nearly as good at 42%. I doubt LeBron receives the same kind of off-screen attention, even though the two produced similar numbers, and James actually shot better in the buffer than Durant did the year before.
So perhaps Miami players should just be going under these screens–so as to prevent a rim run–and chasing Durant. He’s a wonderful shooter from beyond the arc, but he has yet to demonstrate a killer efficiency level in the buffer. More importantly, this would be an odd look for the Thunder to handle. Much of their offense is predicated on the idea that teams will overcompensate to blanket Durant on the magic pin-down set. His teammates get clean shots off this action, because their defenders flee to flail scarecrow arms at Durant.
So maybe playing the guy like you would an average opponent has the potential to throw a wrench in the gears. I’m reminded of when the 2011 Hawks matched Dwight Howard straight up with Jason Collins, no double team. The Magic weren’t sure how to function as an organism without the assurance of a double-teamed Dwight.
They say “don’t overreact to Game 1.” I want to know if Miami was overreacting all throughout Game 1. Sometimes, the cure is worse than the disease.