The Heat have developed an unsettling pattern of allowing teams to come out of the locker room at AmericanAirlines Arena after intermission and claw back into the game. We saw it in the instant classic against Utah. A few days later, the Heat coasted against Toronto after a dominant first half, keeping an inferior Raptors team in the game long after they should've been extinguished. And after trailing the Heat 56-37 at the half, Charlotte outscored Miami 45-24 over the first 19 minutes of the second half on Friday night to take a fourth quarter lead.
Seven telling moments during that quarter and a half for the Heat's Saturday film session:
[3rd quarter, 11:25] Boris Diaw might eventually eat his way out of the league, but until they wheel him away, he's still one of the craftiest playmaking big men in basketball -- and excels in particular in the high-low game. D.J. Augustin pushes the ball up after a Miami miss, which triggers the Heat's transition defense. Chris Bosh sprints back to protect the paint, but this means he's quite a distance away from his man, Diaw, as Charlotte puts on the breaks and settles into its half-court offense. When Bosh sees Diaw dribbling the ball at the top of the circle, Bosh races toward him for a potential close-out. That's precisely when Diaw puts the ball on the floor, and rumbles past Bosh, who's going the other way. Diaw's incursion into the lane forces Zydrunas Ilgauskas to step up from the baseline to meet Diaw.
That's all Diaw needs to dish a pinpoint pass to Big Z's man, Nazr Mohammad, who's been left unattended. LeBron James' rotation is late -- and he never really has a chance -- but he ends up fouling Mohammad on the layup nonetheless.On the very next possession, the Bobcats execute a beautiful set. It's a side screen-and-roll with Augustin and Mohammad that draws a switch. This forces Bosh to pick up a rolling Mohammad, as Ilgauskas finds himself staying in front of the tiny Bobcat point guard. The pass goes to Diaw, who has flashed to the foul stripe. But Diaw, a master of the touch pass, quickly delivers the ball on the bounce to Mohammad, who has sealed the baseline, giving Bosh no real chance to contest.
Diaw was permitted to be a playmaker on far too many occasions Friday night. He finished with seven assists -- five of those seven on nifty interior passes that resulted in field goals in the paint. Bosh didn't apply enough pressure on Diaw, who has terrific vision and the dexterity to thread the needle in traffic. Having a slow-footed Ilgauskas be the man responsible for contesting those shots inside didn't work, as he was often two steps away from the play.
[3rd quarter, 9:05] The Bobcats have good success in the second half initiating their offense with the side screen-and-roll. Here, Augustin dances with Diaw on the left side, drawing a trap from Arroyo and Bosh. Charlotte has spread the floor with its other three guys. Mohammad has been lifted, while Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson stake out the weak side perimeter. This stretches the Miami defense (the trap is probably not the smartest coverage here, as the help defenders have too far to travel for the rotations). Sure enough, Wade (guarding Wallace, who's way over in the left corner) has to pick up Diaw on the far side, leaving Z up top on Mohammad, but James left to play 1-on-2 on the perimeter. Diaw earns another assist here when he zips a skip pass to Jackson, who is all alone way up top. His 3-pointer swishes through.
Why trap Augustin with the floor spread so thin and two wings on the weak side who can hurt you in space, either with a 3-point shot (Jackson) or a baseline explosion (Wallace)?
[3rd quarter, 8:30] Bosh sank eight of nine shots from between 16 and 23 feet on Wednesday, an unsustainable number. Many of those shots were uncontested. This one isn't. Wade and he run a pick-and-roll near the left elbow. Had Wade delivered the ball behind him to Bosh immediately, the power forward would have had a Phoenix-style freebie, but Wade dribbles into the teeth of the double-team in the left corner. Only then, does he shuttle the ball to Bosh, and by that time Wallace has rotated onto Bosh, denying him the open space for the jumper. The Heat reverse the ball to the far side -- first to James, then in the far corner to Arroyo, who drives, hits traffic, then kicks it out to Bosh at the top of the circle. With Wallace's hand in his face, Bosh clanks the shot off the front of the rim.
Timing is everything. On Wednesday, the ball was moving and decisive passes like the one Wade should've zipped to Bosh directly off the screen resulted in open looks. But not on Friday. In the NBA, the difference between a wide open shot and a hand in the face is a split second.
[3rd quarter, 4:58] Impatience has been a hallmark of Miami's droughts this season, and Charlotte's tight defense on this sequence invites that. James tries to lure Derrick Brown into the air with a shot fake, but Brown won't bite, at which point James and Bosh initiate a pick-and-roll at the right elbow -- something they've had success doing together. This time Brown and Diaw defend it well. As James dribbles right, Brown walls off the paint and LeBron is never able to make forward progress toward the hole. James passes it back to Bosh, who promptly returns the ball to James at the same spot. With :07 left on the shot clock and nowhere to go against Brown, James steps back for an awkward 21-footer that's nowhere close.
[3rd quarter, 2:04] Defensive roving can be dangerous. If the man being ignored makes smart reads behind the action, he can burn the defense. LeBron, like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and several other intuitive perimeter superstars, loves to hunt potential defensive plays in the half court.
But on this possession, Shaun Livingston and Brown run a side screen-roll along the left sideline. It doesn't result in much, as James drops back while House stays with Livingston. James now creeps over to the paint, monitoring Livingston, but has forgotten all about Brown on the wing. When Livingston makes a spin move in the lane to elude House, James is caught ball-watching. This allows Brown to slip behind James and cut undeterred along the baseline. Livingston skids a pass to Brown through traffic, and Brown finished the play with a flush.
[4th quarter, 10:41] In a span of about 15 seconds, Bosh delivers two bad passes to Brown, who converts them into five points. The first is a lazy outlet pass that Brown snags. He then attacks Udonis Haslem en route to the hole, drawing a couple of free throws.
The second is equally lackadaisical, this time in the Miami half court. The plan is for Bosh to deliver a handoff to James at the right elbow, but as James tries to rub Brown off Bosh, Brown simply helps himself to the ball, as Bosh is guarding it carelessly. Brown takes it the other way, explodes toward the hole, drawing a foul on House before slamming it home.
[4th, 5:10] The Bobcats have had success during this run burning the Heat on traps. Here, the Bobcats don't generate much on their initial action on the right side of the floor with a Livingston/Tyrus Thomas slip screen, so they reverse the ball to the opposite side. Over there, Diaw starts with the ball. He hands it off behind him to Brown, then moves low. Bosh shades Diaw, but as Brown drives toward the baseline, Bosh falls off Diaw and, with James, traps Brown.
This destabilizes Miami's entire defense. When Brown returns the ball to Diaw along the perimeter, Haslem rotates up to close -- but Bosh moves in that direction, as well. When Haslem leaves Thomas to close on Diaw, Thomas does the smart thing -- he dives to the hole. Now it's James Jones' turn to rotate, and he immediately moves from the weak side, where he's been accounting for Jackson.
So the last man standing for Miami is Wade. He now is responsible for the entire weak side, whose inhabitants are Livingston and Jackson. Charlotte reverses again -- Diaw to Livingston to Jackson wide open in the corner, as Wade has closed toward Livingston. Jackson drills the 3-pointer and the Bobcats take the lead.
Charlotte's lead is short-lived. Miami gradually finds its bearings, begins to anticipate the action, foregoes the long 2s in favor of basket attacks, and plays just assertively enough in the half court to manufacture some badly-needed points at the line. Still, there's a lot the Heat can learn from the sequences, from how to improve their pick-and-roll coverage to better timing in their own half court.