- Oklahoma City has been absolutely dominant in the postseason offensively, and that continued in game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Thunder thrashed the Heat for an offensive efficiency of 118.5, a full eight points better than their league-leading playoff average. On the surface it didn’t look like they would based on the game’s first 16 minutes or so, Miami’s constant switching and aggressive traps seemingly frustrating OKC into rushed shots and shoddy decision-making. Even then the Thunder were rolling, though, shooting over 55% in the first half and figuring out how to best dissect the Heat defense as it ended. The Heat switched strategies a bit in the second half, opting to not to trap the pick and roll ballhandler, instead outright switching screens. Sebastian Pruiti breaks it down more thoroughly over at Grantland, noting that the Heat ceased their normal aggressive nature by altering their coverage from half to half. And while that’s true with regard to ball screens and it ended up one of the game’s deciding factors, the Heat would be best off abandoning the aggressiveness they showed throughout the game by switching screens of any kind. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are offensive savants, each combining rare physical talent with elite skill, but the Thunder can struggle on offense when either of them settles for jumpers or dribbles late into the shot clock. With Miami switching – yielding small creases off of screens but physical advantages too much for the second defender to overcome – they were in constant attack mode, fully confident they could beat their new man one-on-one whenever they wanted. They were right, too, Durant simply shooting over Dwyane Wade’s outstretched arms on several occasions and Westbrook blowing by any challenger at will. This was made even more problematic for Miami the countless times in the second half players seemed unsure of whether or not they were switching, often giving OKC clean looks at the rim while the defense scrambled into the correct position. We wrote about it in our player breakdowns and it certainly merits mention again here: if anyone is capable of keeping Durant in check it’s James, but in game 1 Erik Spoelstra used LeBron as a rover as opposed to having him attached to Durant at the hip. That made sense given the Heat’s stated preference to switch ball screens and also to conserve James’ energy, but Durant’s incredibly efficient game 1 made it clear that Wade and Shane Battier just don’t have the chops to bother him on defense. So look for the Heat to play a more traditional style in game 2, with James chasing Durant around the floor and Miami reverting back to their long-held style of trapping the dribbler on ball screens. That won’t stop the locomotive that is the Thunder offense, but it could very well slow them down enough for the Heat to have a chance.
- Bosh was nearly invisible in game 1, scoring 10 points on 4-11 from the floor and grabbing just five rebounds. Given is awesome performance to close out the Celtics in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this was surprising, as was Miami’s reluctance to feature him as a scorer like they have so often throughout this group’s time together. The Heat didn’t go to Bosh in the post at all on Monday and didn’t utilize him as a threat in ball screens much, either, instead relegating him to a stand-still spot-up shooter. He took just one shot at the rim in game 1 and eight from 16′ and beyond, an unacceptable number for a player with Bosh’s size and touch in the paint. Miami would be well served by trying to establish his presence early in game 2, giving him the ball in his preferred spot of the pinch-post and letting him work or initiating the offense through him with the elbow sets they loved so much during the regular season. They can play the two-man game with James/Wade and Bosh on the side from there, an action that yields many options on its own even before whichever wing standing on the weak-side makes an aggressive cut to the ball. That’s just a couple options the Heat have with Bosh, but his inclusion as a focal point of Miami’s attack should open the floor and keep OKC from paying so much attention to James and Wade, vital factors to their offensive success.
Bring the ball up the floor with more urgency
- Wade was Miami’s main initiator of the offense in the second half of game 1, a plot point that Spoelstra has received some criticism for over the last 48 hours. Though Wade is best-served in his current state as a cutter and finisher in the half-court as opposed to playmaker, that’s not the takeaway from this that hurt the Heat the most. Instead it was Wade’s insistence on walking the ball through the backcourt and getting Miami into their sets with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. Often in the game’s final half the Heat didn’t even get the ball moving until the clock showed 10 seconds, as OKC was overplaying passes to James and Bosh at the elbow extended. The Heat need to rely on quick hitters and motion for sustained offensive success, and pointlessly dribbling two thirds or more off the shot-clock makes such action that much harder. Wade as de facto point guard is a decision that merits questioning, but it can’t be properly examined or criticized until he gets Miami into their offense with proper urgency.
- This is as much on the Heat’s two best players as it is Spoelstra, but James, Wade, and their coaches can do a much better job of finding them easier scoring opportunities. The best way to do that speaks to the last point, as Miami needs to push the pace off of long Thunder misses and try to score in secondary transition. Both James and Wade have shown a willingness to sprint down the floor and establish deep post position before play catches up to them in the past, something that we didn’t see in game 1. OKC’s athleticism is matched by their hustle, so this won’t be as easy for James and Wade as it was so often during the regular season and throughout the postseason’s first three rounds. But it’s no doubt something they’ll be able to get if they make continuous effort to do so. Along those same lines is James or Wade pushing the ball off defensive rebounds and going coast-to-coast off the dribble by themselves. James did this on a few occasions in game 1 and the Thunder, puzzlingly, elected not to challenge him before he crossed the three-point line, resulting in easy finishes at the rim. Running with Oklahoma City is a dangerous proposition, but this is the type of controlled transition that players like James and Wade are capable of capitalizing on individually, not compromising much on defense as a result. The last thing the Heat can do to manufacture easy offense is simple and totally absent in game 1 – cut aggressively off the ball and run baseline cross screens in the halfcourt so James/Wade can catch on the move or low block. They each have tremendous post-games and showed improved off-ball movement this season, but James and Wade each seemed far too content to stand outside the three-point line and wait for the ball on Monday as opposed to trying to score without it. This means instinctive cuts from the weak-side when the defense reacts to action on the other as well as quick sets involving screens that free them near the block for a fast catch and score. Easy baskets are huge against a team as offensively proficient as the Thunder, and those were conspicuously missing for the Heat in game 1. Look for Miami to try and change that through these ways and others in game 2.