Tightening up on D key to Miami’s chances

The Miami Heat like to describe their D as "flying around" when it's clicking. If they can take flight again in Game 3, Indy will need a lot from Paul George, whose status remains uncertain. (Photo: Darron Cummings/AP)

Regularly throughout the NBA playoffs, we’ll be checking in with former Raptors head coach Butch Carter for an insider’s perspective on the X’s and O’s that lead to W’s and L’s. Today, Coach Carter breaks down the key adjustments the Miami Heat will need to make Tuesday night to avoid going down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In Game 1 on Sunday, Indiana was able to make passes that allowed them to score behind Miami’s defence. It was one of the few times I’ve seen that happen to Miami. Indiana started their offence at 18 feet, so that when they ran pick-and-roll, the roll man was so close to the basket Miami couldn’t rotate as effectively as we’re used to seeing. Combine the good interior passing of Indiana with their ability to score in the paint and that tells the story of the series after one game.

With that in mind, heading into Game 2 tonight, the Miami coaching staff needs to stress to their players: “Everybody hold your tag.” “Tag” is a term used when the help defender covers the roller in a pick-and-roll scenario. In the NBA, you can normally get away with rotating late on defence because you’re often focused on running outside and denying the three-point shooter a good look. But Indiana made a concerted effort to look to the paint with their passes, and in Game 1 they made more interior passes against the Heat than I can recall any other team doing all season. So as an adjustment tonight, if you’re the “tag” for Miami, you have to at least touch the roller and get a body on him, which is something they weren’t doing effectively in Game 1. They did an OK job of guarding the ball handler in PnR, but tonight they have to be more mindful of the roller.

Another thing that hurt Miami pertains to their double teams on defence. In Game 1, they let the Pacers split the double team with the pass. The double team needs to be strong enough to force the ball out to the perimeter, because that allows your defence to recover. If you look at the film from the first half, you’ll see that Indy was able to get the ball over top or in between the double team, and that’s a death sentence for a defence.

Miami is also normally a very good three-point shooting team, and that wasn’t the case on Sunday. The combination their misses from behind the arc and Chris Bosh’s overall ineffectiveness—as both a rebounder and scorer—made for a tough go against this Indiana team.

I’ve mentioned before that Bosh is the key to this series for Miami. After his lacklustre performance on Sunday, it’s safe to say that tonight will be one of the biggest games at this point of Chris Bosh’s career—he needs to come through. Bosh only had two rebounds in Game 1. Part of that is a result of his role in the Heat’s scheme, but he showed in Toronto that he has the ability to rebound. The reality is that you’re in the playoffs and you’re guarding the other team’s best big. In that Roy Hibbert-Bosh matchup, it’s either going to be a case of “big beats small” or “quick beats big.” If Bosh can’t make sure it’s the latter, Miami is in trouble.

Hibbert’s play has been a roller coaster ride overall in the playoffs, and to figure out where he turned it around, you have to look at both the way Frank Vogel has handled him and what president and GM Larry Bird did by sending Andrew Bynum home for the remainder of the season.

Rarely does a team make a monumental error with their roster and recover in the playoffs, but that’s what’s happening with the Pacers right now. Hibbert’s turnaround is directly related to the team saying goodbye to Bynum. Clearly, Hibbert couldn’t handle another centre competing for minutes on the roster. Indiana let Bynum go on May 7th, after they had already played eight playoff games. Through those first eight games, Hibbert averaged a paltry 4.6 points an outing. In the six games since Bynum left, he’s averaging 15.5.

You can see it in the way he moves, how he accelerates south to north in recent games. He knows there’s nobody else there to take his minutes and that’s what it’s about for him right now because he’s already got the contract—he’s been paid.

When I played in the NBA, there were always guys that you ran into who weren’t very competitive, guys who were talkers first and competitors second. But squaring off against Chris Bosh, I think you can expect Hibbert to continue to be successful, tonight and beyond.

The Lance Stephenson-Dwyane Wade matchup is another important one in this series. Stephenson poked the bear in Game1 and was really fortunate that his clan played better than Wade’s. He got away with one, but I still maintain that Stephenson’s ability to guard Wade will become a significant problem for Indiana in this series if it gets to a sixth or seventh game.

The last really crucial individual matchup heading into this series was between LeBron James and Paul George. But in Game 1, it was when LeBron had to rotate and got stuck on David West that Miami really got hurt. That’s scary for Miami because, generally, LeBron’s ability to make the rotation and still be big and strong enough to get stops has long been one of the Heat’s greatest keys to success.

With Indiana’s offence functioning closer to the basket, West is already in the low post when he’s catching the ball—around eight feet from the hoop—so he’s not trying to beat James with his jump shot. Clearly, West feels as though he can score on LeBron in the post, and in Game 1 he certainly showed just that. You can expect Miami to try to add another layer to their defensive scheme tonight, one in which an additional help defender rotates over to cover West.

Overall, I think Miami will run into the same problems tonight. To win they’ll need a much better outing from Bosh, they’ll need to clean up their double teams and the “tag” guy will need to touch the roller. If they wait for the roll man to get the basketball before laying a body on him, it will be too late.

It certainly was in Game 1.

For more insight and analysis on the NBA playoffs, follow Coach Carter on Twitter @TOButchCarter

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