How the Heat played into the Bulls' hands
May, 16, 2011
By Kevin Arnovitz
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
For LeBron James, encountering multiple Bulls in the paint was a familiar pattern in Game 1.
As bad as the situation was on the defensive glass, the Miami Heat couldn't generate a thing on the offensive end in the second half against the Chicago Bulls' stifling defense.
All that nice-looking stuff they executed against the Boston Celtics -- the pretty weakside actions for LeBron James in Games 4 and 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the reversals to James Jones in Game 1, Dwyane Wade in constant motion within confines of the Heat's elbow sets?
You'll be hard-pressed to find any of that on Miami's Game 1 film, particularly as the game swung in the Bulls' favor after halftime.
What you will uncover are poorly conceived possessions that played directly to Chicago's strengths. Here are three examples from a miserable third quarter, arguably the Heat's worst offensive period of the postseason:
The iso no-go
As they prepared in Miami for Game 1, the Heat acknowledged that they couldn't combat the Bulls' defense with isolation attacks, yet there they were in the third quarter trying to penetrate the half court with ... isolation attacks. Take the possession at the 2:30 mark with the Heat down six. James working at the top of the key, gets a screen from James Jones that yields a mismatch against Taj Gibson -- though Gibson's agility and instincts don't make him much of a downgrade.
Normally, a power driver like James would back out a big man, then take him off the dribble, and that appears to be his initial plan. LeBron makes a little progress against Gibson, but it's a deliberate drive and, before long, Luol Deng has collapsed. We're accustomed to seeing James make a smart kickout when there's a shooter behind him. Deng has helped off Jones, who stands behind the arc at about four o'clock for James. Instead, LeBron forces a left-handed floater that grazes Gibson's fingertips.
Heavy traffic in the lane
Down seven points at the 5:20 mark, James got a high screen from Joel Anthony, then encountered -- quite predictably -- two bodies at the border of the paint. LeBron pitches the ball to Wade, who has been hanging out on the right wing.
In the last series, Wade zipped up from the corner with a vengeance, at full speed. He'd collect the ball on the move, turn the corner and not stop until he found rim. But on Sunday night, he never found that corner and kept running uphill. Even as LeBron throws a body into Keith Bogans -- Wade's defender -- Wade dribbles tentatively to the top of the key where he finds Joakim Noah, who somehow manages to be everywhere at once on the floor.
Wade manages to take a couple of dribbles forward against a backpedaling Noah, but it isn't long before Deng converges. Wade is now in a traffic jam. Realizing he's not going any farther, Wade elevates for a jumper, which is swatted backward by Noah.
Killing too much of the clock
You can take it as an article of faith that, more times than not, the Bulls will eliminate your first option. That means it's imperative to have enough time to run through counters, execute triggers and manufacture secondary options. Against a defense as stingy as Chicago's, you need every second on the shot clock to work through these sequences.
That's why it's odd to see the Heat meandering across the time line at the 1:05 mark of the third quarter, trailing by nine. By the time James steps out to 25 feet to receive the first pass from Mike Bibby, there are only 14 seconds remaining on the shot clock. And by the time Anthony arrives for the angle screen on the right winG, the Heat are down to 10 seconds.
Again, the Heat have accomplished zero before the first action surfaces. Anthony's screen is B to B- work. Deng fights over it as LeBron dribbles left and elevates for a half-hearted shot fake as Deng recovers. James dips a toe inside the arc with :08 on the 24-second clock before stepping right back out. With nowhere to go, he dishes the ball off to Wade, who stands at 35 feet against a locked-in Ronnie Brewer.
So here are the Heat, with five seconds remaining on the shot clock and the ball has yet to cross the 3-point arc. If there's a longer, savvier isolation defender at the shooting guard position in the NBA than Brewer, we're taking nominations. Yet, in a crucial possession with the game slipping away, the Heat have Wade dribbling in place against Brewer with everyone on the floor in a stationary position.
Wade drives, gets as far as the elbow, then realizes the shot clock is about to expire. He tosses up a desperate, fallaway, contested jumper that clanks off the front of the iron.