Friday, April 22, 2011
Dwyane Wade's elbow grease
By Kevin Arnovitz
The Heat needed to make an adjustment ahead of Game 3, because Dwyane Wade spent most of Game 2 on Monday night running uphill.
The Sixers, determined to get the ball out of Wade's hands, threw everything at Wade. They ran traps at him on pick-and-rolls and met him in the paint with extra bodies. Wade wasn't rendered completely ineffective and the Heat still managed to score a very respectable 94 points in 88 possessions, but the win was largely a function of Chris Bosh's proficiency from midrange and LeBron James' willingness to attack the rim.
On Wednesday, Erik Spoelstra praised Wade's performance as an "aggressive decoy," and undoubtedly that disproportionate attention Philadelphia devoted to Wade made life a bit easier for his teammates. But a coach never wants to capitulate to an opponent's strategy, even if that strategy proves to be a zero-sum game.
So what do you do if your star slasher is being met with that kind of resistance when he has the ball in his hands?
Put him off the ball and create opportunities for him on the move.
It's important to note that nothing the Heat did on Thursday night to accomplish that objective was new. Yes, the Heat had been using Wade in more traditional high and angle pick-and-roll sets with Bosh lately, but many of the plays that produced dividends for Wade in Game 3 were from dog-eared pages of the team's playbook.
Here's a prime example, one of the Heat's signature "elbow" sets. You're virtually guaranteed to see some variation of this play in the first 90 seconds of any Heat game.
The Heat start out in a "horns" formation. That means the point guard brings the ball up the middle of the floor. The two big men stake out the elbows and the two wing players situate themselves in the respective corners. Schematic symmetry at its finest.
In this version of the set, which occurred at about the 4:00 mark of the first quarter, Mike Bibby initiates the offense with a pass to Bosh at the right elbow, then he clears to the left corner to set a pin-down to free up James. Zydrunas Ilgauskas also lends his 7-foot-3 frame, creating another obstacle for Andre Iguodala to step around while chasing James upcourt.
After James darts around those stagger-screens from Bibby and Z, he receives the pass from Bosh:
Iguodala reads actions as well as any perimeter defender in the league (other standouts: Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Shane Battier, Ronnie Brewer and, lately I've noticed, Wilson Chandler), so he affords James very little room once he has the ball.
There are worse offensive situations than a spread floor with the ball in LeBron's hands, a knockdown shooter to his left and a couple of bigs in front of him who can drill a 17-footer (to say nothing of Wade on the weak side), but nothing meaningful has materialized for the Heat ... yet.
The Heat need another trigger, which is why Bosh -- once he passes the ball off to LeBron -- sets a down screen for Wade.
On this particular possession, Bosh doesn't give Wade a Kevin Garnett-quality screen, so much as he provides a big body off which Wade can rub Jrue Holiday. Like Iguodala, Holiday is a very intuitive defender. The Sixers point guard anticipates that Wade is going to curl, then turn the corner. Holiday figures he's far better off meeting Wade in the paint, rather than trailing him.
Though it's a very peripheral element of the play, notice Ilgauskas creeping toward the baseline to position himself beneath the weakside glass. This gives you an idea of how a guy with a two-inch vertical can collect eight offensive rebounds in a game.
As Wade flies by Bosh, he catches a pass on the move from James:
At the point Wade catches the ball at the top of the key, he takes a single dribble with his left, then bursts down the lane for a simple lay-in at the cup.
Holiday does about everything he can do on the play -- most notably shoot the gap to avoid lagging behind Wade -- but gets little help from his big men. Elton Brand offers no resistance at the basket. Meanwhile, Tony Battie has started the work of boxing out Ilgauskas to prevent either a duck-in or a potential offensive rebound and probably can't stop Wade at the rim even if he was inclined to:
Again, there's nothing new about this scheme and the Heat feature several different wrinkles. Sometimes, Bibby will stay on the move after he sets that initial pin-down, then spot up back where he started. At other times, Wade will cut baseline rather than curl. In some instances, James will play the man on the move. And against iffier defensive teams, that stagger screen will often give James or Wade enough room to attack without the aid of an additional trigger.
The set might not be novel, but the level of refinement with which the Heat run it is. When much of this stuff was installed, it was gummy and staggered. James and Wade would hold the ball rather than move it -- or break off the set and iso.
The Heat are no longer just tolerating the play calls -- they're maximizing them.