The resurrection of the Heat's Big Five
February, 6, 2012
By Tom Haberstroh
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
After hiding for months, the Heat's Big Five lineup made its 2011-12 debut over the weekend.
MIAMI -- We're about 17 months into the Miami Heat experiment and we've only seen flashes of Pat Riley's vision. By that I mean we haven't seen much of the Heat's "Big Five" lineup which features each member of Riley's famous summer of 2010 free agent haul: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem.
But if you've been paying close attention to Erik Spoelstra's crunchtime lineups, you might have noticed that all five of those players have taken the court together recently. And you also might have noticed that the lineup has pummeled the opposition down the stretch.
Here's the scoreboard during nine minutes of action since the Big Five made it's season debut on Friday:
Heat 25, Opponents 9.
Yes, that's nine points allowed in nine minutes of play. This seems like a dicey demonstration of small sample size theatre, but the suffocation on the defensive end really isn't anything new. If we scale back and include the unit's debut in last season's playoffs, we find that the scoreboard looks just as lopsided. Here's the score with the Big Five on the floor in 45 minutes of action:
Heat 94, Opponents 59.
Yes, that's 59 points allowed in just about a full game's worth of time. And most of those minutes have come in crunchtime when opponents deploy their finest players on the court. And still, the Heat's Big Five has strangled their offensive attack.
"Defensively, I think there's a pretty good feel already," Spoelstra said after Sunday's win over Toronto.
"It's a good lineup, I guess," Bosh said.
"It's a good lineup for us," LeBron echoed.
"We like the lineup to close games," Wade said.
Yes, the term "closer" has crossed into the basketball vernacular from the baseball world and as an extension, the Heat's Big Five lineup has been tagged as their "closing" lineup. It's true, Spoelstra has saved this lineup almost exclusively for close-and-late situations, much like the job of the closer in baseball. In fact, 44 of the 45 minutes that the Big Five have played together has come in the final frame -- whether that's in the fourth quarter or overtime. Closing lineup, indeed.
The lineup is as unconventional as it is unrelenting on the defensive end. There's no traditional point guard and there's no traditional center. However, what the Heat lack in convention they gain in versatility.
How? The pick-and-roll is a crunchtime staple for any offense because it usually creates a mismatch on the ball-handler. Not so with the Heat. The interchangeable parts allow the Heat to squash mismatch opportunities before they happen.
For example, in the 76ers rout, Haslem, who spotlights as the lineup's center at times, regularly guarded Andre Iguodala after switches while LeBron defended the 76ers bigs. What transpired after those switches were airballs and 24-second violations by a Philly offense desperate for crunchtime scoring. Before the Sixers fans knew what happened, the Heat went on a 15-0 run with their Big Five and the game was over.
Some might bill the Big Five as an offensive juggernaut lineup, but the magic happens on the opposite end of the court. (Sidenote: the Heat have yet to take a 3-pointer this season with the Big Five on the floor).
The numbers are stunning. Over the past two seasons, the Heat have normally allowed 97.2 points per 100 possessions, a defensive rating that ranks among the very best in the league. What's the Big Five lineup's defensive rating? A shockingly-low 69.2 points per 100 possessions, which has been by far the most stingy five-man unit at Spoelstra's disposal. That's the third-stingiest unit among the 588 lineups that have logged 45 minutes over the past two seasons (two bench lineups for Chicago and Portland have been slightly more suffocating this season).
Considering the outrageous results, it's a wonder why Spoelstra kept it buried in his backpocket until Friday. The five-man unit experienced some success in the playoffs last season even with Haslem and Miller barely at 50 percent health.
Now, they're healed and ready. The question becomes whether the rest of the league will be ready for them.