The Miami Heat's offense was stuck in neutral in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls on Monday. It was anything but in Game 2 on Wednesday. Miami scored 115 points, shattering the vaunted Bulls' defense in order to tie the series at one game apiece.
We know Miami is capable of doing that against anybody, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise that it happened against the Bulls. But what could possibly explain the huge difference in the Heat's offense between Games 1 and 2?
There's a lot that goes into it, but here are five things that jumped out at me.
WELL-TIMED, SIMULTANEOUS CUTS
Miami's offense has thrived using misdirection all season, but didn't use it effectively in Game 1. The ball was caught on one side of the floor too often without player movement, as Andrew Garrison discussed. This allowed Chicago to load up their defense to stop the ball without worrying about the other players as much.
To combat that, the Heat were much more purposeful in their cutting. Here are a few examples of Miami sending two cutters through simultaneously, confusing Chicago's defense and leading to open shots.
The play at the 47-second mark is my favorite. The Heat run a side pick-and-roll between Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and the Bulls' defense, as it always does, loads up to defend the play.
There's one point where all five Bulls have their eyes on that side pick-and-roll. That's exactly what Miami wants, because it allows them to unleash two cutters to attack Chicago's distracted defense.
First, James attacks the middle of the floor. Multiple Bulls players react to that cut, because it's James, but that's what Miami wants. Suddenly, nobody is available to pick up Chalmers, who has immediately followed James' cut down the lane with one of his own.
Chicago's defense is compromised from James' cut and the initial side pick-and-roll, and Chalmers gets a layup.
The Heat will need to continue timing its weakside cuts well. There are openings to seize, but only if they figure out ways to distract Chicago's defense while doing so.
Back in March, I pointed out the Bulls' strategy of dropping several players back after they shoot to prevent the Heat from pushing the tempo. Rather than pushing for offensive rebounds, the Bulls asked as many as three players to begin running back on defense before the Bulls' shot even hit the rim. It was an excellent strategy because it forced Miami to score exclusively in half-court situations. A similar strategy was pursued in Game 1, with much success.
But the Bulls committed a number of transition breakdowns in Game 2, several of which came because they extended too much trying to get offensive rebounds. When the ball didn't bounce Chicago's way, Miami was able to get on the break and use its athleticism. Here's a video compilation of a few of those breakdowns.
We'll look closer at the play that begins at the 19-second mark. The video shows how it ended, but this is how it began. The Bulls launch a perimeter jumper, but rather than drop back, they send three players to the offensive glass.
This is fine if the Bulls grab the offensive rebound, but it's an uncharacteristic gamble. Chicago is a good rebounding team, but only because they pick their spots well. In this case, the Heat grab the rebound, notice four Bulls players on their side of halfcourt and go off to the races.
Things really go haywire when James, predictably, races past Butler, his man.
Nate Robinson ultimately picks James up, but this creates more problems. Butler ends up running back to James even though Robinson is there, yielding an open lane for Cole to run down the lane. As Cole makes his cut, Wade sneaks behind Carlos Boozer on the baseline.
Boozer can't cover two people (he covers none in the end), and Wade gets an easy layup.
The Bulls' lack of discipline in transition was surprising and troubling. They must clean that up before Game 3.
4-1 PICK AND ROLL
In an attempt to pick on Robinson's defense, the Heat ran a number of plays where their point guard screened for James in an inverted pick-and-roll. These plays are so hard to defend. The Bulls can't switch, because Robinson on James is a disaster, but they also have difficulty trapping because Robinson can't really hold up a James drive with his lack of length.
The Heat had a lot of success generating good shots with these plays. A couple of these plays didn't end up with points because of missed layups or bad turnovers, but the Heat will take these sequences any day.
Here's a closer look at the final play in the video. Cole screens for James, and you can see how slowly Robinson reacts in trying to prevent James from turning the corner.
That Robinson swipe is not even close to adequate. James turns the corner, Butler is momentarily held up by Cole's brush screen and Joakim Noah must step up. This leaves Chris Andersen open and James, predictably, finds him.
The Bulls need to figure out a solution to this set. Perhaps they go under the point guard's screen. Perhaps they send a third defender in advance to anticipate James' drive. Neither of these are optimal, though.
THE SPREAD SET
Something random I found interesting: look how far back James (both plays) and Chalmers (first play) and Haslem (second play) are in this video as Miami runs its primary play.
This is a funky way to generate better floor spacing. The players defending James, Chalmers and Haslem are pulled a little bit further from the basket, creating what essentially is a three-on-three situation. It's a lot like Denver's trick of stationing players out of bounds.
At the end of the day, though, one of the biggest differences between Games 1 and 2 was very simple: shots went in. Look at this Deadspin video of open shots clanked in Game 1. If the Heat make more of those, this would be a 2-0 series.
This point is driven home nicely by Hot Hot Hoops as well. Miami's shot distribution was about the same in Game 1 as in Game 2, but more of those shots actually went in the hoop.
All in all, Game 2 was a combination of solid Heat adjustments, Bulls breakdowns and more plays being finished. For Chicago to win Game 3, they must clean up their transition defense, be more accountable to weakside cutters and figure out a solution to the 4-1 pick-and-roll. All tall orders, but that's what you get when you play the NBA's best team.