TrueHoop: Dwyane Wade

For Wade, a year makes all the difference

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
3:41
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
A year ago in the NBA Finals, Dwyane Wade was coping with a host of health issues. Trainer Tim Grover, who has been closely involved, discusses the hard work Wade has done to be in much better condition this time around.

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The Dwyane Wade dilemma

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
2:42
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
One of the Heat's best players is a questionable shooter, which creates conundrums for Erik Spoelstra's team.

The Miami Heat's season of irrelevance

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
9:44
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Wade & James & BoshAP Photo/Lynne SladkyWith nothing left to prove in the regular season, the Heat's 2013-14 has been a total yawner thus far.
If you’re down on this NBA season, you’re probably blaming the spate of injuries to high-profile players. The injuries are an obvious drag, but there’s a more subtle reason for why these cold months are feeling like the NBA’s winter. After three years as epicenter of basketball drama and intrigue, the ever-riveting Miami Heat are finally giving us an irrelevant season. In Thursday’s loss to the New York Knicks, much of the focus was on how Miami’s mediocre opponent finally benched a wacky role player. The listless Heat performance against a theoretically overmatched team registered as an afterthought.

Right now the Hollinger Playoff Odds have the Indiana Pacers as overwhelming favorites over the Heat. And while that may indeed be the case, few serious NBA observers believe in this disparity.

It’s not that Hollinger’s rater has some grand flaw. It’s just that it can only rely on regular-season data in a season where we can’t trust the Heat’s play. One thing that escapes Hollinger’s formula is Miami’s apathy toward this 82-game prelude. You could see but one example after the Heat's recent loss at home to the Golden State Warriors. A grinning LeBron James regaled media with effusive praise of Stephen Curry as though the two were teammates in victory.

Times have changed. The LeBron of three years ago likely would not have been so magnanimous over eight turnovers and a home loss. The post-Decision maelstrom led to heavy negative scrutiny over the Heat’s 9-8 start. Every game was a referendum on Pat Riley’s experiment and LeBron’s career. The stakes were high and the players were moved to tears by defeat. Now, the players don’t even bother to pretend they’re broken up over losses.

Dwyane Wade made news by playing his first full back-to-back against Toronto on Sunday. He, like James and Chris Bosh, also happens to be averaging almost the fewest minutes played of his career. This isn’t coasting out of convenience, though. The benefits of rest were made clear by the foe that nearly dethroned Miami in last year’s NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs have kept their core fresh with plenty of downtime throughout the slog of the regular season. The Heat have borrowed San Antonio’s wise method, a further suggestion that individual games aren’t life and death.

So much of our analysis of the NBA season is based on the (possibly flawed premise) that we’re learning something about the upcoming postseason. The Heat are well positioned to trash that premise.

First, their conference is laughably weak. For Miami, staying afloat in the East is as simple as not drowning in a puddle. That roster all but guarantees a No. 2 seed at the very least.

Second, precedent encourages coasting. Last season’s team struggled to return to form after expending great effort pursuing a 27-game win streak. It’s doubtful you’ll ever see this team repeat the “mistake” of trying so hard at the wrong time of year.

Finally, the Heat have nothing to prove. They are 27-9 and actually playing quite well compared to some other reigning, resting champions. The 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers notably slipped to 21st on defense after a dominant title run. Of course, the Lakers easily won a repeat title in June 2001 as though the preceding shaky season never happened.

It likely won’t be that easy for the Heat -- those 2000-01 Lakers lost only one playoff game -- but the example stands as a reminder that a title contender’s following season can be deceiving. Rudy Tomjanovich’s memorable, “Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion” declaration might as well been, “Don’t ever be tricked by a title contender’s regular-season cruise control.”

The problem for fans, and the league in general, is that it’s hard to be interested in what doesn’t interest the most prominent team. The Heat were able to stave off viewer boredom with the win streak last season, but in the absence of attainable records, stakes are low.

The Heat are still an enjoyable watch, but much in the same way an All-Star game presents the height of athletic exhibition. That the Heat have gotten boring is no great tragedy, though it represents a void for the league. One that probably lasts until late spring, when the Pacers and Heat are likely to finally test themselves in a competition that actually carries tension and popular anticipation.

How the draft lottery weakens the East

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
1:00
PM ET
Harris By Curtis Harris
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
The current state of the Eastern Conference has been widely panned and rightfully so. As of Friday morning, only three East teams sit above .500, and the conference currently holds an overall win percentage of .442, which puts it on track for 36 wins per team. That’s a historically horrific track to be going down. Just once before has a conference had a lower win percentage -- and that was way back in 1960 when the West won 40 percent of its games.

This year may be the worst-case scenario for the East, but it’s continuing a steady trend. For 15 years dating back to the 1999-00 season, the Western Conference has won an average of 52.5 percent of its games overwhelming the East’s 47.5 percent. But since 2009, the West has held a higher win percentage than the East in every individual season.

There are many reasons for this. One of them that has not been discussed much is that the NBA draft system often unintentionally (but systematically) awards decent West teams slightly better draft picks than similar teams in the East. It's a system designed to help the weak get stronger, but it's rewarding the stronger conference almost every season.

It works like this. The lottery format, of course, semi-randomly assigns the top overall picks -- only twice since the 1999-2000 season has the worst team in the NBA won the top pick. But what matters is who gets into the lottery: specifically, teams that miss the playoffs. In the West, those are typically good teams. In the East, that's not so. So the top draft spots are going to a pool of teams that includes some strong West teams and weaker East ones.

Since 2000, 13 Western Conference teams have been in the lottery despite having one of the 16 best records in the NBA. On the flip side, this means that 13 Eastern Conference teams that did not possess one of the 16 best records in the NBA made the playoffs.

This odd situation is a quirk of the playoff structure, which takes the eight best teams per conference not the 16 best teams from the whole league. And it’s also a byproduct of the draft which then promises the top 14 picks to the non-playoff teams, not the 14 worst teams in the NBA, recordwise.

The average victories for the should-have-been playoff teams from the West is 43.3 wins. The average for those should-have-been lottery East teams is 39.6 wins. The situation reached its nadir in 2008 when the Golden State Warriors won 48 games, which was the 12th best record in the NBA. Still, they missed the Western Conference playoffs. Meanwhile the 37-win Atlanta Hawks got themselves a spot in the Eastern Conference postseason with the 19th best record in the league.

Other notable misfortunes include:
  • The 43-win Utah Jazz missed the playoffs, but made the lottery, while the 38-win Milwaukee Bucks saw the postseason in 2013.
  • In 2011, the Pacers won just 37 games and made the playoffs, while the Rockets won 43 and got a lottery pick.
  • In 2009, the 46-win Phoenix Suns didn't make the playoffs, but the 39-win Detroit Pistons did.
  • 2005 saw the Timberwolves win 44 and make the lottery, while the Nets won 42 and didn't.
  • In 2004, the 39-win Knicks and 36-win Celtics made the playoffs in the weak East, while the 42-win Jazz and 41-win Trail Blazers drew pingpong balls.
  • In 2001, the 45-win Rockets and 44-win SuperSonics earned spots in the lottery, but the 43-win Orlando Magic and the 41-win Indiana Pacers did not.

Those 42-, 44-, even 48-win Western Conference teams are getting an (admittedly slim) chance at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. More importantly, though, they are absolutely getting a leg up on a better opportunity to collect talent compared to those Eastern teams which are losing three, five, or even 11 more games.

This discrepancy helps to reinforce the power of the Western Conference, while limiting the ability of the Eastern Conference to correct the imbalance.

The 13 West teams that missed the playoffs but got into the lottery received an average draft selection of 12.5 when in a league-wide draw would have been slotted in at around 16.5. That’s an appreciable four pick difference. Meanwhile, those crummy East teams got an average draft slot of 15 when they should have been picking at No. 13.

Obviously, the uppermost part of the draft is where the franchise-changing players are added. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwyane Wade ... they were all taken in the top five picks. However that mid-range in the draft is important for complementing those stars with good role players.

Luckily for the East, the Western Conference has largely bungled its draft choices in this range. The 2008 Warriors with their 14th pick, instead of the 19th that they deserved, took Anthony Randolph ahead of useful players like Robin Lopez and Roy Hibbert.

You can lead a horse to water, but sometimes it’s going to drown in the pool, I suppose.

This quirky situation isn’t the end of the world, and it’s certainly not the cause of the disparity between the East and the West. I don’t think we’ll ever really know why the West is demonstrably better than the East for 15 years running now.

But the point here is that the current, peculiar format of the draft and the playoffs isn’t doing a lot to correct the imbalance and the solution is fairly simple.

This is yet another argument for a HoopIdea that many others have made before: It's time to reconsider the process of allocating talent to teams. At a minimum, it would make sense that the 14-worst teams receive the top 14 picks. The West is already formidable enough.

Heat guards contain Rose in his return

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
1:01
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
ESPN Stats & InformationDerrick Rose played in a regular-season game for the first time since April 25, 2012.
There was no “championship hangover” for the Miami Heat in their opening game against the Chicago Bulls.

The Heat cruised to a 21-point halftime and held on for a 107-95 victory.

Dating back to last season, the Heat have won 38 of their last 40 regular-season games. The Heat and the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks are the only teams in NBA history to win at least 38 games in a 40-game stretch (across seasons), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The return of Derrick Rose
Rose scored 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting (1-of-7 on 3-pointers) in his first regular-season game in more than 18 months.

Rose struggled against guards who defended him:

• Against Mario Chalmers, Rose shot 2-of-5 with four turnovers.
• Against Norris Cole, he missed each of his three field-goal attempts.
• With Dwyane Wade defending him, Rose was 0-for-1.

What did the Heat do well?
The Heat shot 6-of-8 on corner 3-pointers, their most makes in a game against the Bulls over the last four seasons (since LeBron James joined the Heat and Tom Thibodeau took over as Bulls head coach).

The Heat shooting well on corner 3-pointers isn’t a surprise: Last season, they led the NBA in corner 3-pointers made and attempted.

But it is a surprise against the Bulls: Since Thibodeau took over, the Bulls have allowed the fewest makes and attempts on corner 3-pointers in the NBA.

Role players come up big for Heat
The numbers show that the Heat's role players should be the ones credited with the win over the Bulls -- not the "Big 3."

James, Wade and Chris Bosh were outscored by four points in 25 minutes on the court together. But when at least one of them was on the bench, the Heat outscored the Bulls by 16.

With the “Big 3” on the court together, the Heat shot 2-of-7 on 3-pointers and were outrebounded by seven. But with at least one of them on the bench, the Heat shot 9-of-13 on 3-point attempts and had six more boards than the Bulls.

The Miami Heat's championship appeal

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
12:21
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
LeBron James
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsLeBron James: Two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP -- and compelling prime-time antihero.
Even those who find pleasure in witnessing defeat owe a debt of gratitude to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, because never has the prospect of individual and team failure been so compelling to so many. The Heat won a second consecutive title on Thursday night, and James was the undisputed star, but the detractors didn’t lose. They never do with the Heat.

For a third straight spring, the Heat found a way to engage every segment of basketball fans on the planet. Viewers who gravitate to glossy storylines get their prestige drama starring James. As a nation, we’ve come to embrace an antihero driving the plot when we watch a prime-time series, and James’ collection of contradictions serves us in that capacity.

Basketball junkies see James as a visionary, a player that shatters every classification. He’s rendered the power-finesse axis obsolete and can conform his game to any scheme, tempo or situation. Junkies love to watch how James will ply his craft on a given possession, because the options are limitless. Thanks in large part to James, the team has been a leader in redefining positions, another peccadillo of the junkie.

Those who need a designated villain found one in James, because if you’re looking to render judgment on someone based on the five to 10 worst moments of his public life, then James is your guy. Pro sports has never featured a team that’s a more satisfying foil than the Heat for those who put contempt for a world-class athlete before appreciation.

In that same spirit, purists who want the boundaries of the game fixed in tradition loathe the Heat as the barbarians at the gate, a team etched by young stars instead of wise men. The Heat were boastful before they ever built anything, and play without a traditional post presence and sometimes without even a point guard.

Front-runners who like a winner have a team that joins the pantheon of NBA champions with back-to-back titles, and a player almost unanimously regarded as the world’s best. So do those who check in on the NBA in search of an athletic exhibition or the most alluring talent show.

Over the past three years, the Heat have found the sweet spot that lies at the center of the fan universe. This is an achievement, because rarely does a product penetrate every corner of the market, meet every need and appeal to almost every point on the emotional spectrum. The Heat manage to produce a heightened sense of intensity for the viewer, even when they lack intensity themselves. In the process, the Heat have displaced the Los Angeles Lakers as the league’s most indispensable team and James is now the NBA’s most important player.

This would be true with or without a second championship, but another banner means the Heat have something lasting that defines them apart from all the cultural markers. Legacies, narratives, symbolism and mythology are easily revised, but rings aren’t subject to revision. They’re placed in shadowboxes, protected from the noise.

The second title didn’t come as easy as the first, but that’s because the game is hard, no matter how diligent the preparation, or how easy James makes it appear at times, or how many consecutive wins the Heat run off in February and March.

We tend to forget this when we kill a team or player for a lack of effort, assertiveness or execution. It’s not just the hysterics who chirp. Almost all of us participate, even if our critiques are shrouded in the language of rational analysis. We show our work and couch our statements with qualifiers, but we still have trouble remembering that the game is hard is the most common reason for failure, even for James and the Heat.

Attacking the basket is hard when the defense’s sole mission is to deny access to the paint. Drawing contact is hard, because accelerating at full speed then voluntarily initiating a collision with another very big guy moving just as fast is traumatic.

It’s impossibly hard to backpedal at full speed from the paint to a spot behind the 3-point arc in the far corner without looking down while your team is down to its final seconds of life in an elimination Game 6, and that’s before being asked to catch a ball while your momentum is sending you backwards, then set your feet before rising up for a pinpoint-accurate shot against a fast-approaching person with his arms in the air blocking your view of the target.

Doing it night in and night out for nine months is hard. The talent, money, fame and perks don’t change what a player’s body can tolerate physically or the natural limitations of his skill set. Nobody is at his best all the time. Performance isn’t consistent, which is why we have highlights.

Somewhere along the way, the Heat’s desire to come together as a team was mistaken for a claim that it isn’t hard. That misperception was put to rest during the final two games in Miami. The Heat and James commanded our attention for the entire season, but in the end it was all about the work.

Should Heat play LeBron, Wade separately?

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
12:25
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsThe LeBron-Wade combo has not been working for the Heat in the NBA Finals.
Fifteen down, one to go. Both the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have 15 victories this postseason but in order to win a NBA title, you need to reach that win number 16.

We’ve already taken you through the historical storylines and the coaching adjustments made so far in the first six games.

Now let’s take a closer look at the question that has everyone buzzing after LeBron James took over in the fourth quarter of Game 6 with Dwyane Wade on the bench:

Should Miami should play LeBron and Wade separately?

James was more aggressive without Wade on the court on Tuesday night, with seven of his nine field goal attempts coming inside five feet, a trend that has been present the entire NBA Finals.

As you can see in the chart to the right, James is scoring much more efficiently with Wade on the bench, especially on shots close to the basket.

However, in the 194 minutes played this series with LeBron and Wade both on the court, the Heat have been outscored by 56 points.

No other two-man tandem on the Heat has been outscored by more points in this series than the James-Wade combo.

To be fair, Wade has had similar success without LeBron James. Wade has shot 63 percent from the floor without James in the NBA Finals, compared to 44 percent with James on the floor.

In Wade’s breakout Game 4, he was 5-of-7 shooting with 10 points in seven minutes with James off the court, and 9-of-18 shooting with 22 points in 33 minutes with James on the court.

Another key difference for LeBron without Wade is how the Heat have performed off his drives.

In the second quarter of Game 6, LeBron drove to the basket and Danny Green, who was playing off Wade at the three-point line, was able to stop LeBron and block his shot near the basket.

Then late in the fourth quarter with Wade on the bench and three shooters plus Chris Bosh on the floor, James was isolated on Boris Diaw and blew by him on a driving layup to the basket with no help from the other Spurs’ defenders.

During the regular season the Heat outscored its opponents by 14 points per 48 minutes with both Wade and James on the court together, but that chemistry doesn’t seem to be working against the Spurs.

Will Erik Spoelstra make yet another coaching move in this back-and-forth NBA Finals to keep Wade and James on the court at different times in Game 7?

A series of adjustments: What's next?

June, 19, 2013
6/19/13
3:59
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Getty ImagesThe head coaches for both teams have made the right moves throughout this series.
Game 7 won’t just come down to the players on the court. The two coaching staffs in the NBA Finals have each made adjustments throughout the series that have paid off significantly.

Let’s run through what they’ve done so far:

Game 2: Heat go to Chalmers-James pick-and-roll
After the Heat went 0-for-4 on Mario Chalmers/LeBron James pick-and rolls in Game 1, Erik Spoelstra had faith his team would fare better.

The Heat went to this combo often during Game 2's most pivotal run.

The Heat made 6-of-7 shots and scored 16 points on pick-and-roll plays with Chalmers handling and James screening during a 33-5 run in the Heat’s series-evening win.

GAME 4: Mike Miller inserted into the starting lineup
The Heat used a lineup with one traditional big man for all of Game 4 after doing so 65 percent of the time in Games 1-3.

This opened up driving lanes. The Heat shot 11-of-15 off drives by James and Dwyane Wade, with Wade hitting all six of his field goals off his drives.

GAME 5: Manu Ginobili starts for first time since June 6, 2012
Spurs use Boris Diaw extensively on LeBron James

Gregg Popovich inserted a slumping Manu Ginobili into the starting lineup and Ginobili responded in a huge way. He scored a season-high 24 points, including 14 on drives to the basket. His nine points on drives during the Spurs 19-1 fourth-quarter run helped put the game away.

Popovich and crew also gave Boris Diaw an extended look against LeBron James.

James was 1-for-8 shooting against Diaw for the game.

GAME 6: LeBron James attacks with Wade on the bench
The Heat were outscored by 15 points with Dwyane Wade on the court in Game 6, the worst +/- among any Miami player.

Wade was subbed out with 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter with the Heat down 12 in Game 6. When he returned with 3:48 left in the fourth, Miami had a 3-point lead.

James was given more space to drive after Dwyane Wade sat on the bench for the first 8:12 of the fourth quarter, going 3-of-4 on drives in the fourth quarter/overtime.

James was the ball handler on the pick and roll 15 times in Game 6, nearly twice as often as his usage on those plays the first five games of the series.

The Heat shot 7-of-9 on pick and rolls when James was the ball handler in Game 6 (10-of-30 in Games 1-5).

Will this carry over to Game 7? Therein lies some interesting discussions for potential adjustments.

In the series, Miami has been outscored by 56 points with James and Wade on the court together (+48 when James is on the court without Wade)

James is shooting 13-of-14 inside five feet with Wade out of the game in this series, and just over 50 percent on such shots with Wade on the floor.

Better duo: Jordan/Pippen or James/Wade?

June, 14, 2013
6/14/13
4:23
PM ET
By Ryan Feldman
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive
Getty ImagesLeBron James and Dwyane Wade could be on the verge of their second NBA title together, but that doesn’t compare to the six rings for Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Fifteen years ago today, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led the Chicago Bulls to their third straight NBA Championship and sixth title in an eight-year span.

Jordan's game-winning shot over Bryon Russell signaled the end of the Bulls dynasty.

Fifteen years later, another dynamic duo -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- is potentially on the verge of a second straight NBA Championship while competing in its third straight NBA Finals.

Which is the better duo: Jordan/Pippen or James/Wade? Let's compare their three-year playoff runs.

Jordan and Pippen were the better scoring duo but James and Wade have scored more efficiently than the Bulls duo did from 1996-98. During that run, Jordan and Pippen shot just 44 percent overall and 29 percent on 3-pointers, while James and Wade have shot 48 percent overall and 31 percent on 3-pointers over the last three postseasons.

The Heat duo has also trumped the Bulls duo from 1996-98 in rebounds, assists and blocks per game.

However, the 1991-93 Jordan-Pippen combo has outdone James and Wade in virtually every category. They totaled more points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks with a better field goal percentage and 3-point percentage than the Heat duo.

Which duo is more clutch?

The biggest difference between the duos is their performance on the biggest stage -- the NBA Finals -- in clutch time -- the last five minutes with the score within five points.

In the 1998 NBA Finals, the Bulls scored 60 points in clutch time. In the last three NBA Finals, the Heat have scored a combined 63 points in clutch time.

Jordan alone scored 30 points in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, the most by any player in an NBA Finals series since 1997. Jordan didn't commit a single turnover in clutch time in that series.

Jordan and Pippen combined to score 38 points in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, the same amount of points James and Wade have scored in clutch time combined in the last three NBA Finals series.

The Bulls scored 0.98 points per play in clutch time in the 1998 NBA Finals, compared to the 0.78 points per play in clutch time for the Heat over the last three NBA Finals.

James is shooting 4-for-15 from the field (27%), including 1-for-9 on 3-pointers (11%), in clutch time over the last three NBA Finals series.

If James, Wade and the Heat are going to close out the Spurs, there's a good chance it will come down to clutch time. If it does, the Spurs will be prepared. In their five NBA Finals series, the Spurs have outscored their opponents by 40 points (124-84) in clutch time. They've done so by scoring a point per play and shooting 48 percent on 3-point attempts.

Wade inside, LeBron outside works out well

June, 14, 2013
6/14/13
12:57
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Each team has its shooting strengths and weaknesses through two games.

Dwyane Wade came up with a vintage performance, the kind that the San Antonio Spurs had no answer for, and exactly the kind the Miami Heat needed to even the NBA Finals.

Chris Bosh came through too, with a 20-10 game. And all LeBron James did was score a personal-Finals high 33 points.

The Heat improved to 6-0 this postseason following a loss, and have won 12 straight games following a loss dating back to the regular season.

The Spurs' two losses in this series equaled their total from the first three rounds, in which they went 12-2.

Let’s take a look at some of the statistical highlights from today’s game.

Wade at his best
Wade finished with 32 points and six steals, the first player to hit those benchmarks in an NBA Finals game since Isiah Thomas for the Detroit Pistons in an epic Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers (43 points, six steals).

Tweak the numbers a little bit and you net a list of the five players with 30 points, five rebounds and five steals in an NBA Finals game, via the Elias Sports Bureau.

It puts Wade in pretty good company.

Wade was 9-for-11 in the paint and scored on all six of his drives to the basket. He was averaging nine points in the paint on 58 percent shooting through the first three games of the series.

James is king from outside the paint

LeBron James has a history of shooting struggles from outside the paint in NBA Finals games against the Spurs. He had made only 15 of 77 shots prior to Game 4.

But in this game, he was in can’t-miss mode, netting eight baskets on 11 shots from outside the paint.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that James and Wade are the first teammates to each score 30 points in an NBA Finals road win since Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant did it once in 2001 and once in 2002.

James actually had his fewest touches of the basketball in this series, with 63. Wade (58) and Bosh (38) each had their most in any game in this series.

Bosh brings it

Bosh finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and two blocks, making him the first Heat player to hit those plateaus in an NBA Finals game.

The only player in the last 25 years to reach those numbers in a road Finals win was Shaquille O'Neal in the 2000 Finals at the Pacers.

Key to the game: Spurs pick-and-roll comes to halt
The Spurs scored a series-high 29 points on Tony Parker drives, but only eight in the second half after running Parker off fewer screens.

Parker ran off nine screens in the second half and those led to 3-for-8 Spurs shooting, and eight points.

The Spurs scored 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting in the first half, running Parker off 31 screens.

Looking ahead

When an NBA Finals series is tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner has gone on to win seven of 10 series under the 2-3-2 format that began in 1985.

This is the third time the Spurs have been tied 2-2 in an NBA Finals. They won the previous two against the Nets in 2003 and Pistons in 2005.

The Heat have won three of four series in the James/Wade/Bosh era when the series was tied 2-2, with the loss coming to the Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals.

Spurs use new big three for big win

June, 12, 2013
6/12/13
12:52
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive

Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports
Danny Green (left) and Gary Neal both broke a franchise record in the Spurs' big win.
The San Antonio Spurs rode the performance of their big three to a dominating win over the Miami Heat in Game 3. their 36-point victory is the third-largest margin in NBA Finals history and the second-largest in Spurs postseason history.

Danny Green (7-for-9) and Gary Neal (6-for-10) both broke the Spurs franchise record for 3-pointers in an NBA Finals game (five) and Green was one shy of the NBA record (Ray Allen in 2010). Green has made 16 3-pointers through three games, already the most in an NBA Finals series in team history and easily the most of any player through the first three games of an NBA Finals series.

As a team, the Spurs' 16 3-pointers are a new NBA Finals record.

The New Big Three
The big three came through for San Antonio, but it might not be the names you’re accustomed to.

Green, Neal and Kawhi Leonard combined to score 65 points on 50 percent shooting, including 15-for-22 from 3-point range.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to score just 43 points on 18-for-46 shooting (39.1 percent).

The Spurs' typical big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for just 25 points, but Duncan pulled down 14 rebounds and the latter two combined for 14 assists.

Green has scored 56 points in this series to lead all players, six more than LeBron James and 15 more than any of his teammates.

Key to the Game: Spurs shut down the pick-and-roll
Defensively, the Spurs bottled up the James-Mario Chalmers pick-and-roll. In Game 2, the Heat shot 7-for-9 with no turnovers off that pick-and-roll combo, but in Game 3 it netted them no field-goal attempts and three turnovers.

James has been held under 20 points in all three games in the series, only the second time that’s happened to him in his career (he’s played 134 playoff games). The other time it happened was in Games 3-5 of the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, the only postseason series Miami has lost since James joined the team.

He was -32 in this game, the worst plus/minus of his NBA career. He’s played three NBA Finals games in San Antonio (two with Cleveland in 2007), posting a negative plus/minus in all three games and shooting 34.5 percent in the three games combined.

Stat of the Night
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili registered their 100th playoff win together, the second trio in NBA history to reach 100 (Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper won 110).

The Spurs have played 25 NBA Finals games in franchise history and have yet to trail in the series. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the most NBA Finals games played before trailing in NBA history.

Looking Ahead
The Heat are 4-5 in their past nine games after going 46-3 in their previous 49 games dating to the regular season. Since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985, the Game 3 winner of a tied NBA Finals series has gone on to win the series almost 93 percent of the time (12-1).

Spurs-Heat Game 2 takeaways

June, 10, 2013
6/10/13
12:23
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
When things looked precarious for the Miami Heat in the second quarter and LeBron James’ stat line looked pedestrian by anyone’s standards, it became throwback night:

What was going on? Was he being too deferential? Not sufficiently assertive? And was this lack of assertiveness actually a lack of resolve and the symptom of a deep character flaw?

How we miss you, 2011 C.E.

A combination of factors were at work, but to the extent there was a problem, it was far more rhythm than resolve. Unsatisfying as it sounds, there were a lot of possessions that simply didn’t end up in LeBron’s hands.

The defense of Kawhi Leonard also has to be cited, as it clearly bothered LeBron more than occasionally. The best example came toward the end of the third quarter, when Leonard recovered from a Mario Chalmers screen and quickly caught a driving James and deflected his pass for a turnover. He played on LeBron’s right shoulder fearlessly all night. When James held the ball, Leonard gave him a little space but was hyper-alert to potential closeouts.

But there were plenty of good opportunities all around for Miami, and the Heat -- often James himself -- frequently chose the one that happened not to be LeBron.

Dwyane Wade and James orchestrated a pick-and-roll with just less than four minutes to go in the first half, right about the moment of the game when LeBron’s limited level of involvement in the offense went from a peripheral plot point to a major storyline. Together, they forced a defensive switch by San Antonio.

The immediate expectation would be to empower James, who was eight feet in front of the basket one-on-one against Danny Green. But just when it seemed like Wade blew it by not finding LeBron, Wade bounced into the lane against Leonard, rose and flicked the ball at the rim over Leonard.

It was an obvious opportunity for LeBron, but there’s no faulting Wade for not giving it up.

James drew Green again on a switch the very next possession, and James shot a 17-footer directly over Green. It was a shot he hits at a decent clip but didn’t fall.

A couple of possessions later, James ran directly at Gary Neal in transition off a Spurs miss. He bullied Neal into the lane just beneath the basket and established position. But Wade either didn’t feel like he could lob a pass inside that would have cleared Tim Duncan, who stood between Wade and James, or felt he had some real-estate opportunities of his own to exploit. Either way, Wade drove the lane, lured Tony Parker away from Chalmers on the strong side perimeter, then dished to a wide-open Chalmers for the 3-pointer.

Just as James made his approach to the paint while leading a break in the third quarter, he kicked the ball out to the arc and rang up the hockey assist on Ray Allen’s trailing 3-pointer.

A minute later, James jump-stopped in the paint on a drive, saw Mike Miller wide open and gave it up again for a teammate’s open 3. Then followed a James laser to a cutting Wade for an easy layup and a dish to Wade again on the break when Wade settled for an awkward runner. The Heat went to a successful Wade-Chris Bosh pick-and-roll off a subsequent inbound.

In the Heat’s final possession of the third quarter, James’ sturdy screen for Chalmers took Parker out of the play, allowing Chalmers to drive to within five feet of the basket for the floater and the foul. A pass of medium difficulty to James would have resulted in a high-percentage shot but probably not one better than Chalmers’.

And the Heat first mounted a 15-point lead after James took control of the left block against Manu Ginobili, got the pass, saw an immediate double-team and whipped a pass along the baseline that landed in Miller’s hands in the right corner for an open 3-pointer.

Time and again, James hunted mismatches and dragged the unsuspecting victim into the post, and there was a classic example of how quirky the game was for LeBron as he tried to get on track down low.

With a little less than five minutes left in the third, James dragged Green onto the low left block and got an entry pass from the left sideline. This is one of Miami’s corner-post sets run for James at the spot on the floor that best allows him to be a true triple threat. But just as he started to go to work, Duncan was whistled for defensive three-seconds.

So, yes, by both conventional and LeBron standards, he had an unremarkable first three quarters. There were definitely uncharacteristic moments. Having his shot blocked at the rim by Green wasn’t one for the reel, and he failed to convert on the break after Green performed the aerial version of pulling the chair out (opening the door to the plane?) on LeBron, throwing the shot attempt off.

But LeBron’s results over the first three quarters weren’t worrisome or a betrayal of his powers. And assertive can mean different things. His team was performing efficiently overall, and, by a combination of chance, the appetite of his teammates and some pretty strong defense by Leonard, the individual production wasn’t there until late. It happens, especially against disciplined defenses that plug the lane before James can find a seam.




Chalmers is one of those players we rarely look at with a long telescope. It’s easy to forget he was a second-rounder out of Kansas in 2008. As the draft drifted toward the end of the first round, he was one of those potential draft-night steals, a guy who might surprise and become an effective backup NBA point guard.

Chalmers' career has exceeded those projections. He isn’t a perfect solution, but he’s one that’s been far more than adequate holding down a very serious responsibility for an elite team and doing it during the nuttiest of environments in which the people he works with yell at him a lot. He’s essentially the long, spot-up threat, the stretchiest guy in the starting lineup for a team featuring James in his prime.

In Game 2, Chalmers led the Heat in scoring and drained a big 3-pointer that re-established the lead for Miami 90 seconds before halftime. We saw in Game 1 that he can be an effective weapon if he can clear the corner on the screens from James and Udonis Haslem. Leonard can’t do much to help since he’s on James, which means if Chalmers can pick up a little speed around that turn, life becomes more difficult for Duncan or whomever is waiting.

The defense has gotten inordinately smarter, even if there are occasional groaners. The staff gave him a directive to run under screens for Parker and work with his big men to make sure they nailed the timing of the recoveries. He shined in those capacities as well in Game 2.




In Game 1, the Spurs found quality looks inside for their big men against smaller Heat defenders, the guys who have to rotate from the wing when the Heat blitzed pick-and-rolls. The Heat still ran a few blitzes on Sunday night (early), and we saw Tiago Splitter as the beneficiary when he drew Miller as the rotator. Splitter scored an easy bucket at close range to settle the Heat’s first-half run.

Blitzing the pick-and-roll is a tough full-time strategy for the Heat because they’re already pretty small behind a trap on the ball handler. Combine that with Parker’s speed, which requires the big man to hang around longer, and the Heat’s defense can get destabilized pretty quickly when that happens (as it did in Game 1).

With that in mind, the Heat began to switch some pick-and-rolls. Ideally, this strategy is less likely to put a defense into rotations, which is death against the Spurs. Initially, Miami’s switches came almost exclusively in late shot clock situations. If Parker or another guard can make a play from 25 feet with five seconds left, then so be it.

Sometimes, the Spurs did, as when Parker in the first quarter zipped past a screen from Boris Diaw just in front of the left sideline and flipped up a teardrop over a backpedaling Bosh with the shot clock expiring. Green sank his third 3-pointer of the game when Splitter gave him a screen that bought Green enough space to step back and launch an uncontested look from beyond the arc.

But the Heat accomplished much of what they wanted defensively with the switch (credit them for getting into late shot clock situations by defending for 18 seconds). Duncan missed a 20-footer over Wade with the shot clock expiring. Bosh, Haslem and James handled Parker and the guards sufficiently. The Heat were still put into their share of rotations -- many of them the result of Spurs cutters and divers -- but distances were shorter because nobody was more than a few feet from their assignment to trap Parker or pick up Duncan on the roll.

Whether it was the switch or something else, the Heat desperately needed some variance in their pick-and-roll coverage coming into Game 2. And throughout the second half, we saw the Heat’s big men give Parker a long show with Chalmers taking the long way under the Duncan screen.

A team has to mix up its pitches against San Antonio. If the new plan is a disaster, you can always ditch it, but sometimes, a competitive series demands trial and error. You have to know when to abandon the experiment (and/or be willing to cut bait early), but even the remote possibility that you can win a few possessions makes it a worthwhile gamble.

Game 2 key: Pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick

June, 9, 2013
6/09/13
11:02
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

The Heat were almost perfect from the field for an eight-minute stretch.

It took one quick basketball blitz by the Miami Heat to even up the NBA Finals.

The Heat's run in the closing minutes of the third and fourth quarters was the knockout moment they missed out on in Game 1.

They've now won their last 11 games following a loss, including all five they’ve played this postseason. They are 4-0 in Game 2s following a Game 1 loss in the “Big 3” era.

The loss snapped the Spurs’ six-game NBA Finals winning streak.

Only two teams have had that long of a winning streak in the Finals—the Los Angeles Lakers (8) from 2001 to 2002 and the Houston Rockets (6) from 1994 to 1995.

Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from the series evener.

Keys to the win
It was a 33-5 Heat run over a span of just under eight minutes beginning late in the third quarter that was the difference in the game.

In that spurt, the Heat made 12-of-13 shots, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

The Spurs were 2-for-10 with six turnovers over that same time period.

The Heat had two things going for them in this contest: success with drives-and-kicks early, and then pick-and-rolls in the latter part of the game.

The Heat scored 15 first-half points on drives that led to kickouts, more than twice as many points as they had on those plays in Game 1.

The Heat did particularly well when Dwyane Wade drove to the basket, as noted in the chart on the right.

The pick-and-roll worked to perfection during the big run. Over the final 1:50 of the third quarter and the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, Miami made five of six shots off pick and rolls, netting 13 points.

James was 5-for-5 for 11 points during the run, and also had a major impact on the defensive end with the night’s most impressive blocked shot.

The Mario Chalmers-James pick-and-roll combo netted 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in Game 2 after going scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting in Game 1.

James was held to four first-half points, tying his NBA Finals low for points in a half (done once against the Spurs in 2007 and once against the Mavericks in 2011). James’ career-low for points in the first half of a playoff game is two, done earlier this postseason against the Bulls.

This was more about how he finished though. He had four baskets in the fourth quarter after making only three in the first three.

Bosh brings needed support
Chris Bosh was 6-for-10 from the field, and finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The Heat have now won 30 straight games in which Bosh shot 50 percent from the field or better.

Duncan a non-factor
Tim Duncan was held to 3-for-13 shooting from the field, including 0-for-5 from the left side, just outside the lane. This marked his worst shooting game in the NBA Finals in his career.

This was Duncan’s 206th career playoff game. He’s only shot worse from the field than his 23 percent on five other occasions.

As a team, the Spurs struggled with their shooting.

The Spurs were 10-of-23 inside five feet Sunday, their second-worst shooting performance from that distance of the postseason. By comparison, the Heat shot 15-of-21 inside 5 feet in Game 2, and are shooting 64 percent on such shots in the series.

Looking ahead
Since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985, the Game 3 winner of a tied NBA Finals series goes on to win the series 92.3 percent of the time (12-1).

5 stats to know: Struggles of Wade & Bosh

June, 8, 2013
6/08/13
4:15
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

Dwyane Wade has not performed at the same level in the postseason as he did in the regular season.
As the NBA Finals heads to Game 2, let's take a closer look at the postseason struggles of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, which figure to be a key storyline in the rest of this series.

1. During the regular season, Wade and Bosh shot a combined 61 percent from inside the paint.

In the postseason, as their shot charts show, they are a combined 52 percent from the field.

2. LeBron James made three of four shots in the paint in the second half against the Spurs. His teammates were a combined 4-for-13, including 2-for-8 from Bosh and Wade.

3. Bosh is 14-for-50 from the field in his past five games, including 3-for-16 in the paint. He was one for four in the paint in Game 1 against the Spurs.

Of the 85 shots Bosh has taken this postseason, 49 have been from at least 15 feet out, including 12 of the 16 he took in game 1.

Here's a look at his shot chart, comparing his regular season with his postseason.




4. Wade is averaging 2.3 points per game in the fourth quarter this postseason. He was held scoreless in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Wade is a respectable 12-for-20 when shooting from inside the paint but has one basket outside the paint in the fourth quarter or overtime this entire postseason. He averaged 5.8 points and had 37 hoops from outside the paint in the 63 games in which he played the fourth quarter or overtime in the regular season.

5. Wade has shot 50 percent or better from the field in six games this postseason. The Heat have won all six of them. The Heat are 44-5 this season (regular season and playoffs combined) when Wade makes at least half of his shots.

Likewise, the Heat are 9-0 in games in which Bosh makes at least half of his shots this postseason. They’ve won the past 29 games in which Bosh shoots 50 percent or better.

Spurs-Heat Game 1 takeaways

June, 7, 2013
6/07/13
1:19
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive


The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat did basketball proud on Thursday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The series opener was a nice composite of the most likeable qualities of two really good basketball teams. Neither San Antonio nor Miami was the very best version of itself, but that wasn’t the result of selfishness or poor execution or anything other than the fact that the game is challenging when you’re playing the best competition.

A good number of missed shots came off well-executed actions, and some of the best shots -- in fact, the best shot -- were scored against incredible defensive efforts. Tony Parker’s improbable, leaning bank job came a second after he was literally on one knee against the Heat’s best pressure defense of the night.

When Parker put the Spurs up by six points earlier with three and a half minutes to go in regulation, the bucket was the result of the nastiest of crossover dribbles against a pesky Mario Chalmers. Parker skidded left, rose with the ball and nailed the well-contested jumper.

And when the Spurs went up seven on Danny Green’s big 3-pointer just before the 2:00 mark, it was after a series of passes when the ball went side-to-side and back again in a span of two seconds.

We didn’t see any transcendent individual performances in Game 1. Parker led all scorers with 21 points, and none of the high-volume guys on either side shot better than 50 percent from the field. But we saw Parker square off against LeBron James in the game’s final minutes, the Heat go point-less down the stretch and, of course, Parker’s bank shot, which will occupy a place in the constellation of bright NBA Finals moments.

Let’s play seven.
 

Pick-and-rolls with Parker and Tim Duncan are mainstays of the Spurs’ offense, but certain risks arise when the Heat blitz Parker (or any ballhandler when Duncan is the screener) while playing small. By doing so, the Heat effectively put one of their perimeter players in a rotation to pick up Duncan, and that can be dangerous for Miami.

At the two-minute mark of the first half, Shane Battier didn’t stand a chance as Duncan rolled hard to the basket after Chalmers and Joel Anthony trapped Parker off a pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor. Battier tried to station himself between Duncan and the basket, but Duncan was too big and too deep and drained an easy hook shot from about 5 feet out.

Tony Parker
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsTony Parker dropped 21 points in San Antonio's Game 1 win.


This represents a huge opportunity for San Antonio in the series. If the Spurs can keep the Heat scrambling in defensive rotations during small-ball, Duncan should have some stellar looks at the basket against much smaller defenders, so long as Parker can make the pass out of the trap. This might once have been an issue for Parker, but it has been years since he couldn’t move the ball against pressure.

The Spurs weren’t successful on every possession -- Mike Miller was ready and waiting for Duncan when the Heat blitzed Ginobili on an angle pick-and-roll with about 4 minutes to go in the third quarter -- but they generated a number of good chances for Duncan, both for himself and as a playmaker, and on the offensive glass.

Why blitz, then? Because laying back means Parker is looking at open jumpers from 18 feet. In theory, it’s a shot Miami can live with, but when Parker is hitting from the floor or has an unobstructed view of the entire floor with options everywhere, it can debilitate and demoralize a defense. Trapping also produces the brand of chaos that fuels the Heat's break. That said, at some point, the Heat might want to mix in a few defensive calls that diverge from their primary coverages.
 

Had the Spurs guards hit a few of the wide open 3-point attempts, we might be speaking more poetically about the Spurs’ offensive performance, and with good reason. A bad possession was a rare event for San Antonio, per usual. A primary reason all their stuff works even without conventional athleticism or explosiveness are the ball skills and speedy decision-making of Duncan.

On the game’s fourth possession, Duncan caught a pass at the top of the circle from Parker on his right soon after Parker attacked off Duncan’s high pick. Nothing fancy or unusual or overly aggressive, just basic work in the half court. The ball doesn’t stay in Duncan’s hand, not even for a second. He instantly moves it along to Danny Green on the weak side, far too quickly for Wade to close on Green effectively.

It’s the sort of possession that makes the game look so easy, because the tasks appear so simple -- short pass, short pass, long shot. And they are simple. Most teams at any level can follow that sequence, but how many of them can beat the Spurs’ time? Wade was even cheating that far off Green, but that’s why the speed at which Duncan operates as a decision-maker is so important. The margin between Green being pressured and Green being wide open is determined in the time it takes Duncan to act.

Boris Diaw works well in this capacity, too. In the second quarter, he found Green in the corner out of a baseline trap. A little later, Diaw drove from the right corner along the baseline immediately off a swing pass when he saw Chris Bosh trying to close at an awkward angle from higher up the floor -- another quick decision that yielded a couple of points.

Most big men in the game take a split second, some longer than others. Duncan and Diaw take almost zero time, one reason the Spurs can get shooters wide-open looks with half the shot clock still remaining.
 

Most matchups have pretty obvious implications with regard to pace. It’s generally easy to say, “Team A wants to get out and run, while Team B wants a slow-it-down, grind-it-out affair.”

But how fast does San Antonio really want to play? The Spurs generally benefit from a jolt of speed in the game, but the Heat’s fast-and-early game is a different animal than anything else in the league, and that’s where the Spurs can get hurt, and did several times in the first half, when Miami moved into its stuff at a brisk speed.

The best example came with about 3:35 remaining in the second quarter. Wade caught the ball on the move in a half-court set on a corner cut off a down screen from LeBron. Wade collected, dribbled, stepped and soared, the result very close to an and-1 when Green fouled Wade at the rim. The pace was crucial for Wade in the first half because he didn’t have to score against a set half-court offense every trip down, something he had trouble doing against Indiana.

The biggest beneficiary of the Heat’s first-half focus on early offense was James. How did James catch Duncan out on an island midway through the first quarter? Merely by pushing the ball off a miss. The Spurs’ transition defense is as attentive as any in the league, but it’s not always easy to find your man when the stream is running.

LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesLeBron and the Heat kept up the pace early in Game 1, but the Spurs adjusted after halftime.


A few minutes later, LeBron did the exact same thing to Diaw. Off a long miss by Ginobili, James rushed the ball up and keyed in on Diaw like a predator. James pulled up, slowed down the action so he could let Diaw marinate a little longer in isolation. This is LeBron at his very best: Single-handedly controlling everything from the speed at which nine other guys are going to move and even the pitch of the crowd. Once James had Diaw alone, LeBron backed up virtually all the way to half court before revving the engine, then bulldozing left. The layup at close range missed, in no small part because Duncan disrupted the shot near the rim, but the Heat would gladly simulate that possession 23 times and call it a quarter.

LeBron is looking to do this off the ball in early situations, too. Off a Duncan miss late in the first quarter, James found himself out on the perimeter and a short jog back down the court. He immediately found Diaw, who was back guarding the paint, and posted him up 12 feet from the basket. James caught the entry from Ray Allen, turned, drove, met Duncan again at the rim, but this time James drew the foul, Duncan’s second of the quarter.

“We’re going to miss some shots,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said during a huddle in the second quarter. “I don’t care. But I care about the transition, all right?”

Had the Heat gotten the same number of opportunities in transition after halftime as before, they probably would’ve won Game 1. Instead, things tightened up and the game became a skills competition. Advantage, San Antonio.

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