Friday, April 22, 2011
Heat at Sixers, Game 3: Five things we saw
By Kevin Arnovitz and Tom Haberstroh
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
After being harassed by Philly in Game 2, Dwyane Wade turned his game on by playing off the ball.
Miami Heat put away Philadelphia 76ers on putbacks
“All I have to say is 20 offensive rebounds,” Doug Collins said after Thursday's loss to the Heat. “That’s the end of the story. We can sit here and dance around it all we want. That’s the game.”
The Heat set a franchise playoff high with 20 offensive rebounds on Thursday, bludgeoning the Sixers’ thin frontline for the entire 48 minutes. The Sixers defended well in the half court, holding the Heat to 45.6 percent shooting, but Philadelphia hung themselves by surrendering a litany of second-chance opportunities. The Heat earned 24 points off of their offensive boards.
So how did the Heat sneak in for 20 offensive boards?
The Heat’s big three demand so much attention and warrant extra bodies to keep them bottled up in the half court. It’s a distraction that spreads the opposing defense thin once the ball goes up, inviting other Heat players to slide into the paint from the weakside. Standing at 7-foot-3, Zydrunas Ilgauskas grabbed eight offensive rebounds simply by positioning himself in the pockets under the basket and playing volleyball near the rim.
“Z probably jumps two inches off the ground,” Heat center Chris Bosh said after the game. “But he has such long arms and his tip game is great. We just wanted to give ourselves second chances.”
Ilgauskas wasn’t the only one crashing the boards. Dwyane Wade collected four offensive rebounds himself, swooping in from the perimeter and slamming the ball home after the defense flocked to LeBron James and Bosh. By doing that, Wade gambled and won. The Heat don’t like to send in five guys for offensive rebounds since it leaves the transition defense exposed on the other end of the court. The aggressive rebounding strategy is especially risky considering the Sixers rank as the best transition team not based in South Florida. Wade usually runs back on defense to stop the fast break, but this time he chose his spots and the gambles paid off.
Will we see this again in Game 4? The Sixers will probably make adjustments and make sure to put bodies on everyone once the ball goes up. But it’s a balancing act. Do they choose to guard the big three one-on-one or do they continue smothering the trio with extras? We'll find out on Sunday.
The Dwyane Wade adjustment
When one of your offensive catalysts is being trapped, double-teamed and generally harassed when he has the ball, what do you do? If you're Erik Spoelstra, you situate him off the ball, then run stuff that gets him on the move in the half court. For Wade, who'd been the primary target of the Sixers' defense for two games, that formula jump-started his game.
We saw it from the very outset, on Wade's first field goal. The Heat ran their bread-and-butter elbow "double" set, with Wade and LeBron James set up in the corners, and Ilgauskas and Bosh at the elbows. The ball went into Bosh, while Big Z set a pin-down for James, who streaked up from the corner to receive the pass from Bosh. Once that happened, Bosh set a similar pindown for Wade, who came curling around the screen like he was shot out of a cannon. Jrue Holiday tried to meet Wade in the paint, but with Wade moving at full speed, the Sixers' guard didn't have a chance -- an easy layup at the cup for Wade.
Just before halftime, we saw James reward Wade for working off the ball. Looking for a two-for-one with about 35 seconds to go in the half, James rumbled down the floor and into the paint. Wade manned the left corner. The Sixers' defense almost seemed to expect the Heat to deliberately move into a half-court set, but James never stopped moving. He drove down the left edge of the paint, drawing Wade's man, Jrue Holiday, in the process. At that instant, Wade cut along the baseline, caught a laser beam from James and finished with a reverse layup and-1.
When Wade wasn't curling in those elbow sets and wreaking havoc along the baseline, he leaked out in transition -- a surefire way to avoid a trap or double-team. He also took advantage of a few of those 20 Miami offensive rebounds where he could work against a Sixers' defense that hadn't fully recovered. Take a possession at the 2:20 mark of third quarter. Mike Bibby collected a missed James Jones 3-pointer. Realizing the Sixers' defense was scrambled, Wade immediately darted to the block where he could post up Jodie Meeks. James punched it in and Wade went to work quickly before the Sixers could send help. Wade attacked the rim, where he got fouled by Spencer Hawes.
By yielding ball-handling responsibilities to his point guards and, later, James, Wade was able to rev up his engine off the ball, get help in the form of down screens, then attack without having two guys on him.
A different kind of night for Bosh
Bosh entered Game 3 as the Heat's unofficial MVP over the first two games. In some sense, this series was tailor-made for Bosh. Philadelphia's front-court rotation doesn't feature a lot of brawn, and Bosh rightly took advantage of the space inside in Miami.
If Wade was "it" during the first two games, Bosh assumed that role in Game 3. Bosh missed a slew of shots early that he normally hits at a decent clip. But when he began to attack off the dribble -- which he frequently does when he's struggling with his midrange jumper, the 76ers met him with multiple bodies. We saw this when the Heat struggled in the first quarter. The Heat fed Bosh at the elbow, where Elton Brand played him close. Having missed his first couple of jumpers and fully aware he's quicker than Brand, Bosh rightly put the ball on the floor. But once Bosh drove right, Tony Battie was waiting for him. Bosh switched to his left hand, then fired up an awkward runner.
The Sixers also sent help when Bosh worked in the pick-and-roll. In the third quarter, Bosh set a baseline ball screen for Wade. As the Sixers trapped Wade as he dribbled uphill, he threaded the needle with a pass to Bosh along the baseline. Bosh was met immediately by Spencer Hawes then a recovering Elton Brand. Bosh got pinned beneath the hoop and hurled an awkward layup attempt toward the glass. Fortunately for Bosh, the disproportionate attention meant that Ilgauskas could set up shop on the weakside glass for the tip-in.
In fact, a number of Ilgauskas' eight offensive rebounds materialized because the Sixers eagerly slid a weakside help defender along the baseline to challenge Bosh. In the process of containing the Heat's power forward, the 76ers left themselves vulnerable on the glass.
Over the course of the night, Bosh gradually became more comfortable and even managed to score off the dribble on one occasion against a collapsing Philadelphia defense. After the slow start, Bosh finished with 19 points on a respectable, if below par, 8-for-19 shooting from the floor.
Has Joel Anthony outgrown the reserve role?
So here’s the thing: even with Ilgauskas’ barrage of putbacks, the Heat were far better with Joel Anthony on the floor. On the night, the Heat outscore the Sixers by 15 points when the backup center was on the floor, upping Anthony’s series plus-minus to plus-37.
This was one of the classic cases in which statistics confirm what we see on the court. Anthony stifles the Philly defense by covering so much ground and corralling the Sixers into low-percentage areas on the floor. Spoelstra likes to say that Anthony’s energy is contagious when he comes into the game and the third quarter in Thursday night’s game provided Exhibit A.
Anthony subbed in for Ilgauskas at the 5:22 mark with the Heat down 60-68 and his insertion seemed to flip a light switch on the defensive end. The Heat provoked three straight turnovers as soon as Anthony came into the game and the steals led to three consecutive easy buckets on the other end, including two baskets in transition. Ninety seconds after he came into the game, the Heat closed the gap to two points.
Despite Anthony’s electric play, Spoelstra doesn’t want to become overly dependent on him.
“I don’t want our team to rely on Joel Anthony to spark our energy,” Spoelstra said. “He does that naturally but I want us to commit to that energy in the beginning with all our combinations playing that way.”
Anthony fits perfectly in a series like this because both teams like to play small. Spencer Hawes represents Philly’s only capable big man over 6-foot-8, and once Hawes leaves with foul trouble (like he often does) it opens the door for Anthony to blanket the opposing offense. Expect Anthony to continue his superb pick-and-roll coverage and stifling his opponent again with big minutes in Game 4. When the Heat ride their defense to victory, it’s Anthony who mans the wheel. With the impact he's having, it's becoming harder and harder to justify Ilgauskas' starter label.
The point guard’s vanishing act
Did you notice something odd about the Heat’s crunch-time lineup?
Yep, no point guard.
Spoelstra elected to go with a combination of Dwyane Wade, James Jones, LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony at the 6:57 mark with the Heat up by just three points, and he let that lineup finish out the game (Bibby subbed in for a random possession). The Heat pulled out the win with this unit on the floor, potentially adding a new weapon to Spoelstra’s arsenal. Before Thursday's game, that lineup had only played nine minutes together in 2010-11, despite being mostly healthy all season.
The “point-less” lineup is a detachment from Spoelstra’s season-long insistence to handcuff a ball-handler next to the big three at all times. But Mike Bibby's and Mario Chalmers’ complete ineffectiveness on Thursday night warranted the unconventional move. The two point guards combined for three points, three assists and two turnovers on 1-for-8 shooting in 44 minutes of action.
That’s as unproductive as it gets.
The success of the switch may yield some longstanding effects. At his best, Bibby provides ballhandling and 3-point shooting on the offensive end, but needs to be hidden on defense. With a quick point guard like Jrue Holiday on the floor, Spoelstra sacrificed Bibby’s ballhandling skills in return for Jones’ length on defense. As 3-point shooters, it’s a wash. When it matters most, the Heat can slide Wade or LeBron on the opposing point guard and replace Bibby’s floor-spacing with Jones. Will Spoelstra use a point-less lineup more often? It worked on Friday night as the Heat clamped down on defense without skipping a beat on the other end.
The interesting thing is that Mike Miller was supposed to be the wild card that would spur lineup creativity, but the Heat may have had their guy all along. With Miller battered head-to-toe, the Heat can get just as much contribution from Jones, who makes a third of Miller’s salary.