- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- The Miami Heat squad we just witnessed win the NBA title may have been the best shooting team ever.
Of course, it seems a bit opportunistic to come out and say that now, after 12 Heat 3-pointers splashed through the AmericanAirlines Arena nets during the title-clinching 95-88 Game 7 victory. But we shouldn't be surprised that they were able to pour it on against the San Antonio Spurs in the clincher.
Because the Heat were the most efficient shooting team in NBA history during the regular season. And if this Heat squad leaves a mark in the history books, that should be its legacy above all else.
Sure, we could point to their historic 27-game win streak or the fact that they gave the decorated Spurs team its first-ever exit in the Finals without a title.
But the shooting?
We've never seen anything quite like it.
Let’s put this in perspective. The Heat shot 49.6 percent from the floor, which on its own -- making just about half of their shots their entire season -- seems like an achievement in of itself. But using raw field goal percentage actually understates their historic shooting abilities this season all because of their reliance on the 3-ball.
To illustrate how remarkable the Heat were as a squad, we can call upon effective field goal percentage, which accounts for the simple fact that three points is more than two. The Heat shot 49.6 percent from the floor, but they effectively shot 55.2 percent if we give 3-pointers their proper due.
And that 55.2 percent effective field goal percentage? It’s the top rate in NBA history.
But the most fascinating thing about that record is how they got there: by stealing a page out of the San Antonio Spurs’ book. Namely, by going all-in on corner 3s.
After winning the 2012 title over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat weren't satisfied with their trove of 3-point shooters, although they already employed Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and even the 3-point shooting champion from the All-Star break, James Jones. While most called for the Heat to beef up their thin front line, Heat president Pat Riley instead targeted Ray Allen in free agency and pried him away from the Boston Celtics.
The reason? Allen’s masterful shooting, especially from the corners, could vault the Heat’s offense from just good to historically great.
Years ago, the Spurs’ brass realized that corner 3s not only stretched the opposing defense thin, but also were the most fruitful shot in the game because a design glitch meant that corner 3s were closer than any 3-pointer on the floor. For the past decade, the Spurs have anchored a 3-point specialist in the corner at all times and watched their star trios thrive with the vast space that corner-3 shooters provided.
No, it’s not a coincidence that his past offseason, the Heat decided to double down on the Spurs’ specialty and pluck arguably the NBA’s greatest corner-3 marksman in history in Allen.
And when we think of one singular moment in the 2013 Finals, what will it be? That’s right, a corner 3. That Allen dagger from the right pocket in Game 6 with 5.2 seconds left.
It rescued LeBron James, who had just turned the ball over twice, from an avalanche of pent-up criticism from around the world. Just after Allen and his teammates watched the yellow rope surround the court for the Spurs' potential title, the corner 3 breathed life back into a Heat team that had just about flat-lined.
For the series, the Heat gave the Spurs a taste of their own medicine, making an astounding 29 3-pointers from the corner, more than twice the total of the Spurs (14). It’s the most corner-3 makes in the Finals on record, beating out the -- you guessed it -- San Antonio Spurs in the 2004-05 season (24 makes). All in all, the Heat shot 51.8 percent from there, compared to the Spurs’ 37.5 percent conversion rate. How 'bout them apples?
Of course, the Heat’s torrid shooting campaign in 2012-13 extended beyond the corners. James shot a career-high 56.5 percent from the floor while shooting above 40 percent from downtown for the first time in his career. Both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh set career highs in field goal percentage as well.
“We wanted to be a dual threat,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of his season after Game 7. “The first thing we wanted to do was attack and establish that type of game for our best players. But the pace would create a symbiotic relationship, and it worked great all year.”
And then you have Chris Andersen, whom the Heat picked up off the scrap heap in January. Of the 3,851 instances that a player has shot at least 50 field goal attempts in the playoffs, no one made a higher percentage of them than Andersen. His 80.7 percent conversion crushed the all-time record of 69.6 percent set by Antoine Carr in 1986-87.
But the most memorable shooting performance of Game 7 belongs to Battier, who made six 3-pointers on the night after being benched for his previous Game 7 against the Indiana Pacers due to a spell of cold shooting.
“I believe in the basketball gods,” Battier said at the postgame podium. “I felt they owed me big-time.”
The Heat beat the Spurs, but they also beat them at their own game. In Game 7, the Heat made four of their eight corner 3s, two coming from Finals MVP James and the other from Battier.
The Spurs drew up the blueprint of spreading the floor for a star trio and attacking from the corners. But as we saw in Game 7, and all season long, it was the Heat who perfected it.