NBA Playoffs 2013: Heat's off-ball defense is key for Game 4


If defense wins championships, then Miami's defense looks like it's prepared to cost them one. After giving up an NBA Finals record 16 three-point field goals, the Heat's defense is the key for them to even the series in Game 4.

The San Antonio Spurs launched an assault on the Miami Heat's perimeter defense in Game 3, making 16 of their 32 three-point field goal attempts and setting an NBA Finals record for made threes. Yes, the Spurs' shooters were incredibly hot throughout the night, but the Heat gave up open looks and failed to make sound defensive decisions. Those two factors combined made for a historic night for San Antonio.

To prevent another barrage from deep, the Heat need to make better off-ball defensive decisions and do a better job of shifting as their defense tries to contain the Spurs' ball-handlers.

Miami continued to close off Tony Parker's passing lanes out of the pick and roll (a trend that was established in Game 2), but Parker adjusted. Here, instead of trying to squeeze his pass between defenders, Parker keeps his dribble alive and drives to the rim. Four of Miami's five defenders are either in the paint, or are a step away. San Antonio has both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green on the perimeter if Parker is able to kick out.


As Parker drives, LeBron James shifts over to pick up Tiago Splitter, but was that necessary? Miami now has three players committed to taking Splitter out of the play, as Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers are disrupting the passing lane to him in addition to James. That spreads Miami's defense thin and leaves Dwyane Wade to cover both perimeter palyers.


Making matters worse for Miami, Parker's drive draws the attention of Wade too. This is a critical mistake that cannot happen. James is directly under the rim to defend the shot and Bosh is in a good defensive position to defend Parker or rotate to Splitter. Wade is not in position to challenge Parker's shot, doesn't stop his drive and puts himself too deep into the paint to recover. Parker kicks out to Leonard who sinks the open look.



San Antonio did not settle for challenged shots and pulled the defense to their ball-handlers so they could kick out to the open man all night.

Here, Gary Neal drives against Shane Battier. Both Wade and Bosh position themselves to help stop Neal's dribble penetration, allowing Green to slide open to the corner.


Battier is able to make the defensive stop on his own but Wade is fully committed to helping, leaving Green alone in the corner. Neal makes the right play by passing and Green drains the shot.



This was another poor decision from Wade. Wade should have kept track of Green on the perimeter, but instead was caught ball-watching again.

It wasn't just Wade's ball-watching that hurt Miami, though. Poor defensive decisions from other players, like Ray Allen and Norris Cole, also created wide open looks.

Here, Leonard drives to the rim. Both Wade and Bosh are in position to contain him off the dribble, but Allen decides to rotate off his man to protect the rim. This was unnecessary, because Wade is able to stay with Leonard himself as he drives. James is now stuck covering two players on the perimeter.



Leonard feeds Neal and James must move to challenge him. Neal reads the Heat's defense and immediately finds a wide-open Green. Allen tries to move back out to the perimeter to challenge the shot, but is too far away to recover.



Allen should have just stayed on the perimeter in the first place instead of helping on the ball-handler. If he had stayed near Neal, James would not have needed to rotate and the Heat's defense would have been in position to stop the play.


Miami's risky strategy to trap pick and roll and rely on precise rotations from their off-ball defenders was also exposed by San Antonio's ball movement.

Here, Manu Ginobili handles the ball after Tim Duncan slips the screen. Duncan is going to roll toward Mike Miller, forcing Miller to pick him up. Millers man' is Neal and there are no other defenders near him. The Heat successfully stop Ginobili off the dribbile, but Norris Cole fails to shift after Miller rotated.



Ginobili passes out of the trap and gets the ball into Neal's hands at the top of the arc. Miller and Cole are unable to recover and Neal drains the shot.



Cole should have positioned himself closer to the elbow. There is no need for him to be next to James, and had he shifted, he would have been close enough to challenge Neal while maintaining his ability to recover to Cory Joseph.


When the Heat trap out of the pick-and-roll, it forces their defense to react and re-position itself. San Antonio's systematic ball movement is a direct counter to the aggressive traps Miami rely on.


Another helpful adjustment for Miami is a simple one: defend three-point shooters in transition. Here, in the fourth quarter, James doesn't even bother stepping up to Green in transition even though he was on fire.


Bad job, bad effort.


Even with these mistakes, the Spurs deserve credit for making the right passes and executing at a high level. Take this out of bounds play, for example:

Nevertheless, Miami's defense did not perform at a championship level and the Spurs took advantage of the open looks they were allowed. The easy baskets they gave up on top of looks San Antonio created through their offensive execution were too much for Miami to overcome.

If Miami is going to even up the series, they need to make much better defensive decisions and rotations. Otherwise, they will find themselves one game from elimination.

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