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LeBron, defense lead Heat in Game 2

6/9/2014 - NBA

Here are my observations from Game 2:


James, Heat clutch

In the NBA, crunch time is defined as the last five minutes of a game (fourth quarter or overtime) when teams are within five or fewer points of each other. But in Game 2, San Antonio and Miami were never more than five points apart since eight minutes were left in the second quarter. So one could argue that LeBron James scored 33 of his 35 points on the knife's edge.

James had three points and an assist during the game's final minutes. When San Antonio took away his strong hand, he calmly scored stepping to his left; when the Spurs let him drive, he sucked in their defense.

Miami outplayed San Antonio throughout the fourth quarter when Boris Diaw missed a layup, Manu Ginóbili missed a few 3-pointers and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker missed four straight free throws. The same Miami team that forced San Antonio to shoot 24 percent from the field in the second quarter is adept at finishing games, too.


Allen's will and skill

Ray Allen was supposed to be the weak defensive link for the Heat in this series, a player who was so easily exploitable on defense that he would cost Miami more than he could offer from behind the 3-point line. On Sunday night, though, he embodied the skill and will that make this franchise stand out in the NBA.

Allen was tenacious in precisely the categories he is most underrated: He passed his way into five assists, attacked the basket on a hesitation move from nearly half court, harassed Ginóbili on defense, fearlessly ventured into Brobdingnag to garner two offensive rebounds, boxed out well in the paint and, my favorite highlight, helped out in the paint and recovered in time to block Danny Green's 3-point attempt in the fourth quarter. The 38-year-old is playing on his last legs, but he displayed the kind of determination in Game 2 that led his team to a series-tying win.


Strongside overload

When Allen joined the Boston Celtics, he was schooled in the strongside overload defense Tom Thibodeau installed as a Doc Rivers assistant. In this scheme, every defender, regardless of how far he is from the ball -- or the strong side of a play -- essentially faces the ball handler. To a player on offense, it looks somewhat like playing against a zone defense.

The most vulnerable part of this scheme is if the team with the ball can reverse sides quickly; what was an advantage on the strong side becomes a disadvantage on the weak side. A way to reduce the risk is to make the ball handler pass the ball over a wall of defenders; to avoid the pass from being tipped or stolen, the ball has to be floated. So at the very least, this gives the defense a few more fractions of a second to recover or close on shooters.

Miami did this exceptionally well on Sunday night. Coach Erik Spoelstra had to choose between taking away San Antonio's interior offense or its perimeter scoring, because Miami allowed both in Game 1. Coach Spo chose to pack players in, rotate and close hard toward the paint, creating a wall so the passer would have to loft the ball to the perimeter again. That allowed the Heat time to recover and close. Thus, the Allen block.