According to Synergy Sports Technology, the 2011 NBA Finals matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat features the two best half court teams in the playoffs in terms of points per possession. The Mavericks have scored 1299 points in 1320 possessions (0.984 PPP), while the Heat have scored 1212 points in 1322 possessions (0.917 PPP). This means that we are going to see very efficient half-court offenses with a lot of interesting and effective sets from both teams. In addition to half-court offense, scoring from set inbounds plays (both from the side and from the baseline) is also very important.
Here, we are going to take a look at a set in each situation that you will probably see run during these NBA Finals:
Miami's Double High Post Sets
Miami's most-used offense besides the simple pick and roll or isolation is a set where the Heat set up their two bigs at each elbow. This set is all about spacing:
James makes the entry pass to the big on the same side with Wade. After making the pass, James cuts through the middle and then heads towards Wade to set a screen for him.
Wade uses James' screen by cutting over it towards the middle. After Wade uses the screen, James flashes to the basketball to get it from Joel Anthony.
Once he gets the basketball, look at what is set up. The Heat now run a pick and roll with Anthony setting the screen for James. What all that action away from the basketball has done is clear out the whole strong side, giving James plenty of room to work with off the screen.
In this particular instance, James comes off of the screen and knocks down the jumper over his defender. Here is the play in real time:
Notice that Wade coming off of the screen is more or less a decoy in this situation. I am sure if Wade was open, the ball would go to him, but how often is he going to be open in this situation? Probably not many. This is why Miami usually always runs this play through to its second option, which is the pick and roll.
A nice twist that Miami likes to make to this set is putting LeBron James in the high post instead of the ball-handler. Otherwise, it's the same play:
Having James setting up on the elbow forces the defense to have to pay attention to him. The result is open opportunities for others. In the first clip, James makes the catch at the elbow and the weakside defense collapses in the paint to try and prevent dribble penetration. This opens up Mike Miller on a pindown screen on the weakside, and he knocks down the three. In the second clip, the Heat run the play the whole way though, and now you have James setting a ball screen for Mario Chalmers. The defense is hesitant to help off of James, and it gives Chalmers a lane to drive through.
Dallas' Foul Line Pick And Roll
While the Heat have had success with their double high sets, the Dallas Mavericks' most effective set involves a pick and roll. However, unlike their late-game offense that involves a pick and roll with Dirk Nowitzki as the screener, this pick and roll involves Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion in a unusual location at the foul line:
Here, Marion makes the catch at the foul line and gets a ball screen from Chandler. Because Marion is a threat in the midrange, both defenders involved in the pick and roll are forced to step up to him. With the screen set at the foul line, this creates a shorter distance between Chandler and the rim, allowing him to roll quickly and catch the lob.
The set forces the defense to make a decision quickly. Taking a closer look, you notice the defense can either stay with the shooters or sink in to prevent the lob. Either way, the Mavericks are able to get a good look out of it.
The play starts with J.J. Barea setting a pindown screen for Marion as Jason Kidd brings the basketball up. Marion uses the screen to curl to the elbow and wait for the ball.
As Marion is getting to his spot, Chandler sets a cross screen for Peja Stojakovic, allowing Stojakovic to sprint to the ball side corner.
Once Marion gets the basketball, Barea rotates over to the wing as Stojakovic gets to the corner to give proper spacing. As this happens, Chandler comes over and sets a screen for Marion, who uses the screen to take the ball to the foul line.
After setting the screen, Chandler rolls to the rim. What is interesting about running this pick and roll at the elbow is that Chandler has a much shorter path to the rim, making him more of a threat to catch the lob. Because of that threat, Thabo Sefolosha is forced to sink in the middle and help on Chandler's roll.
This leaves Stojakovic wide open in the corner, and Marion does a great job of spotting him and making the pass.
Stojakovic makes the catch and fires the three before Sefolosha can get back to close out on him. Here is the play in real time:
As you can see, it is a lose-lose situation for the defense. This is why sets with multiple options make sense. If the defense takes something away, something else is open.
An Interesting Similarity
While watching each teams half-court possessions, I noticed an interesting similarity between the two offenses. This similarity takes place in delayed transition opportunities where the teams aren't really in transition, but they aren't running their offense as well. When both teams are in delayed transition opportunities, they like to set a screen with a trailing big man. However, despite the fact that both teams run pick and rolls in delayed transition situations, they are looking for different things out of it.
When the Miami Heat set their screen in delayed transition, it is usually a screen for James. With the defense not set, this screen is designed to free up James and allow him to create.
Meanwhile Dallas likes to have Nowitzki setting their screens. As you can probably expect, the Mavericks are looking to try and get Nowitzki open using the pick and pop (again, with the defense not set).
Sideline Out Of Bounds Plays
In the playoffs, teams don't really run much set plays in sideline out of bounds situations. Unless it is a late game situation, offenses usually settle for getting the ball in and just running their standard half court defense. However, if Miami or Dallas are looking to get a quick score from the side, these are the plays that they may run.
Backscreen For Wade
What makes Miami's offense so hard to stop is that you have two to three players who you really have to focus on while they have the basketball. If Miami is running their stuff and spacing correctly, they usually put the defense in situations where it is difficult to pay attention to both. In sideline situations, Miami uses spacing to get easy looks for Wade.
On this play, you have James inbounding the basketball to a big out by the three-point line. With the defense paying attention to James after he makes the pass, this creates a lane at the rim, one that allows Wade to come off of a backscreen for the lob. Even when the lob isn't there, with James on the opposite side of the court, it gives Wade the space and the time to post up his man and still get an easy look out of it.
Backscreen For Chandler
Sideline Out Of Bounds situations are very important for the Dallas Mavericks because Miami's defense is very good. The more easy buckets that you can get from dead-ball situations, the more pressure that it takes off of your half-court offense. If Dallas wants to get Chandler a few easy buckets during the series, they could run this play:
This is where having Nowitzki on your team really helps the offense. Here, Nowitzki sets a pindown screen for Marion and then gets in position to set another screen for Jason Terry. With the defense so focused on Nowitzki, nobody sees Terry setting a backscreen for Chandler. This allows Chandler to get in the paint unguarded, where he is able to finish at the rim easily.
Baseline Out Of Bounds
Much like Sideline Out Of Bounds situations, Baseline Out Of Bounds situations are really tough to score on. Most of the time, teams settle for getting the ball out to a guard up top and running an offense. he team that can get easy looks from the baseline may have the advantage in this series.
Once again, in a dead-ball situation, the Heat like to use of of their big three players (in this case Wade) to draw the defense in and set up something else:
The play starts with the Heat getting in a box formation, but instead of starting the bottom players on the blocks, they are up towards the elbow. As the ball goes to the trigger man, James, Miller uses a screen set by Udonis Haslem to get to the corner. Because Miller was knocking his shot down this game, this action really draws the attention of the defense. Not only does Derrick Rose trails Miller over the top of the screen, but Carlos Boozer strays away from Haslem to beat Miller to the corner and take the pass away.
Once Miller gets to the corner, Wade flashes straight to the basketball. No screen, no jab step in the other direction, just a straight sprint to the basketball. This is another action designed to draw help defense. In addition to Ronnie Brewer trailing Wade, Joakim Noah gets sucked in to help on the cutting action.
These two flashes to the basketball draw the defense to the basket. All five Bulls' defenders are below the restricted area if you extend it along the width of the court. This allows Haslem to set up a screen in the middle for Bosh, who flares behind it.
The screen set by Haslem wasn't to free Bosh up (he was already open). Instead, it was designed to knock Bosh's man off of his path as he closes out on him. That is exactly what happens, as Bosh makes the catch and knocks down the wide open jumper, extending the Heat's lead to four points Here is the play in real time:
After the game where Miami ran this play, Tom Haberstroh (one of the fantastic writers from ESPN's Heat Index) said on Twitter that the Heat run this play at every shootaround, yet they have only ran it about six times the entire season. The NBA Finals seems like a good time to run it again.
Setting Up Nowitzki
One of the ways we have seen defenses try to defend Nowitzki this postseason is by taking away his space (or "airspace" as everyone seems to be calling it now), being physical with him and getting into his body. Dallas' favorite Baseline Out Of Bounds set is designed to get Nowitzki's defender off him, allowing him to make the catch in space.
For this set, the Mavericks are set up in a three-man stack, with Nowitzki on an island by himself at the foul line. As the ball goes to the trigger man, Chandler and Terry split with Chandler diving in the paint and Terry shooting out to the three-point line.
As this is happening, Kidd simply turns around and sets a screen for Nowitzki. Nowitzki uses the screen and flashes in the lane created by Terry's and Chandler's split.
This creates a passing lane for Nowitzki, allowing him to make the catch with his defender trailing him rather than being up against him or into his body.
We have seen all postseason that all Nowitzki needs is a little bit of space. In this particular case, he is able to rise up and knock down the jumper. Here is the play in real time:
In my opinion, Mavericks' coach Rick Carlisle does a great job of knowing how to get Nowitzki the basketball in positions where he can score. He knows that he doesn't need to get Nowitzki wide open. He just needs to give him a little bit of space where he can get a shot off, whether it is contested or not. With that being said, this Baseline Out Of Bounds set can create open opportunities at the rim for Nowitzki.
In this instance, there is an even bigger lane here created by the split, and this allows Nowitzki to flash all the way to the rim. He gets the pass and finishes easily.
While Dallas' zone and Miami's man to man defense could frustrate their opposition at times, in my opinion, this series hinges on offensive execution in the half court. Whichever team runs their sets better will have the upper hand in this series.