Sunday, February 13, 2011
The final possession in Boston
By Kevin Arnovitz
Down three points with 6.3 seconds remaining is about as binary as an NBA situation gets.
The objective is simple: find your best 3-point shooters some space and deliver them the ball.
Sounds simple, but the task is a little like trying to deactivate a bomb. Every movement must be precise and there's virtually no margin for error.
With that goal in mind, Erik Spoelstra inserts a lineup of Eddie House, Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, LeBron James and Chris Bosh -- with Miller as the trigger man on the inbounds. The Heat line up against the Celtics like this:
With more than six seconds -- an eternity in the half court -- the Heat don't necessarily need to inbound the ball to the shooter. But the Heat must get the ball into someone, because they have no timeouts remaining.
The Heat have four potential recipients for Miller inside the lines. Not surprisingly, Spoelstra uses two of those four players to free up the remaining two. House lays a back screen on Paul Pierce, which allows James to dart to the sideline to get the pass from Miller. Simultaneously, Bosh sets a flare screen along the arc, which allows Wade to find space on the far side just in case James can't find daylight:
Accounting for the inbounds passer is one of the cardinal rules of defending a decisive side-out-of-bounds play in basketball. But once Miller gets the ball to James and dashes across the sideline, Glen "Big Baby" Davis gravitates toward James. Rarely can a defender go wrong by lending too much attention to James, but in this case -- up three with about five seconds left on the game clock -- blanketing the Heat's shooters should be the priority. Yet there's Miller alone along the arc.
Although Davis has left Miller with a little too much room, the rest of the Celtics have recovered on the initial action. The Celtics are among the most responsive defenses in the league, so if the Heat want any additional looks, they have to start again. That's why Bosh sets another screen for Wade coming back toward the ball.
We see both Miller and Wade move to get open:
Open space is the most precious commodity on a basketball court, but like most precious goods, it's very hard to preserve. Once James kicks the ball over to a wide-open Miller at the very top of the 3-point line, Wade pancakes Davis, who desperately tries to close out on the man he left open.
The Wade-Davis collision is visually amusing, but it might not have been a laughing matter for Boston had Miller's uncontested look not clanked off the left heel of the basket:
Process versus results is one of the most excruciating realities of sports. Sometimes your team gets exactly what it wants on a possession, yet can't capitalize. Other times, a busted play with zero execution will produce a desperate heave that falls through the net. On Sunday, the Heat bench drew up a well-orchestrated set against a stingy defense. Chances are that if you offered Spoelstra and Miller another open, straightaway 24-footer to tie the game, they'd snatch it.