Indiana Pacers 93, Miami Heat 77
Okay, it's time to panic, reasonably, about the Miami Heat. Two days after losing on the road to the Memphis Grizzlies, they laid an egg in a 16-point home loss to the Indiana Pacers. This was bad. The Heat suffered some pretty awful news earlier in the day when they found out co-captain Udonis Haslem, the team's heart and soul according to the team broadcasters over and over again, would have to have surgery on his left foot. But as much as those same Heat broadcasters wanted to use that as a reason for their awful performance, it can't explain the monstrosity we witnessed last night.
So what does explain Miami's loss? Their offense is a good place to start. It takes a certain kind of incompetence to score 77 points against the Indiana Pacers with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on your team, but somehow, the Heat did it. To explain why, we really have to go back to one of those age-old basketball adages - they don't move without the ball. Everyone pretty much stood around waiting for LeBron James to make a play, and usually, he couldn't. Meanwhile, the Pacers, though they lack top-shelf talent, kept setting screens, making cuts and generally forcing the defense to react. Some of this is coaching -- it's on coaches to a certain extent to facilitate and emphasize player movement. But really, it's on the players to be aware and make instinctual plays when their teammates need help. The Pacers have players used to doing that off the ball. The Heat, meanwhile, have players who are not.
There are a whole number of possessions where I could show you what I mean. I'll choose these two consecutive possessions late in the third quarter because they occurred in transition situations, where player instincts should take over.
First, here's Miami's possession after Danny Granger front-rims a three-point attempt. Apologies for somewhat blurry screenshots.
LeBron James is in the middle with the ball. James Jones is the only player well ahead of him, even though there aren't any Pacers rebounders contesting the shot.
James dribbles it up the floor. Four Pacers are back, so there won't be a fast break regardless. But notice how Chris Bosh and Jamaal Magloire trail the play and are jogging up the court. If they hustled, the Heat could burn Indiana with early offense. Instead, James has no choice but to pull the ball back.
Now, note where Carlos Arroyo and James Jones are right now. Jones is in the right corner, while Arroyo is on the right wing. Also, note how Bosh is still not even at the three-point line. Finally, note how LeBron could set up either Arroyo or Jones for an open three if he simply kicked back to Bosh and they rotated the ball. Instead, this happens.
James dribbles it back to the top of the key. Notice how Arroyo and Jones still haven't moved.
Arroyo and James still haven't moved, and James evidently doesn't feel the need to make the easy pass to Arroyo.
James, naturally, misses this shot. Arroyo is still open. Arroyo and Jones still haven't moved.
Now, check out how the Pacers respond on the ensuing possession. These screenshots will be even blurrier because there's actual movement involved.
T.J. Ford has the ball on the far side of the court around halfcourt. Already, you can see Bosh, at halfcourt, and Jones, right next to him, look confused about who they're guarding. Also, nobody is stopping the ball. Ford sees this and takes advantage of that confusion.
Ford gets the ball up quickly, and still, nobody has stopped ball. Bosh and Jones still have no idea what they're doing. But notice what all the other Pacers are doing. James Posey is under the hoop and is running to the corner. Solomon Jones, in the middle of the floor, is going to set a screen on Arroyo. Mike Dunleavy is on his way to the right corner. All are ready to receive a pass from Ford.
Jones flattens Arroyo on a screen, and now, all those options are there for Ford. He could try and score. He could hit a cutting Dunleavy. He could hit Posey in the corner. He could even kick back to the trailing Danny Granger, though that would be a very difficult pass. Either way, all of this was set up by some alert plays by unheralded Pacers off the ball.
Ford chooses Posey, and Posey knocks down a huge three-pointer to push the lead back to 14.
It's really tough to point the finger at one person if you're Miami. Do you blame James for not trying to make a play? Do you blame Bosh and Magloire for not running up the floor to give James a screen? Do you blame Arroyo or Jones for standing instead of cutting? Do you blame Erik Spoelstra for not practicing transition offense? It's all of the above. And this play didn't even involve Dwyane Wade, who was probably the worst player on the court tonight. Wade was one of 13 from the field, got torched by Brandon Rush of all people on defense and didn't make any sort of cuts off the ball to make life easier for himself. Sure, he had an injured wrist, but that doesn't explain all his problems.
I know it's just 14 games, but this is bad. Bad in the sense that the Heat lack players who understand how to stay engaged when the ball is not in their hands. This is a malaise that plagues their big guns, and it appears that it's a malaise that plagues all their role players too. The one guy who could play off the ball best is Haslem, and he's hurt. Now, the Heat are down to Zydrunas Ilgauskas in terms of good off-ball players, and Z is very one-dimensional. Miami's best hope, save for a coaching change of course, is that one of the Big 3 establishes himself as the facilitator, and the other two work their butts off to be better off-ball players. If I'm coaching Miami, I make James the facilitator and tell Wade to change his game, but it's a really tough call.
Oh, and Miami played poor defense and still lacks an interior presence. Yeah, there are problems here. They will win games and be a contender, but this doesn't bode well for the playoffs.
Indiana played well, but they didn't do anything that was particularly special. They always try to create confusion with random pick and rolls and lots of player movement. Most teams figure out how to deal with that movement. Miami couldn't.
Play of the Game: Enjoy the meltdown as it happens.
San Antonio Spurs 106, Orlando Magic 97
By contrast, this was an outstanding game. The Spurs ended up coming out on top, but the Magic have nothing to be ashamed about. They played very well, and they are a very good team. The Spurs just had a little bit more at the end.
To me, the difference was guard play. With Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have it in spades. That means they don't waste possessions down the stretch. The Magic, on the other hand, are a little weak here. Jameer Nelson is a fine player, but smart teams like the Spurs are able to take him away at the end by funneling him into their big men and using his lack of size against him. As it turned out, Nelson had two crucial turnovers at the end, so the Spurs executed the game-plan well. Orlando can't even blame Vince Carter, because he went out with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. On second thought, maybe they can blame Vince Carter for that.
It really feels like Tim Duncan has entered his Bill Russell circa 1969 phase. He's too worn down to be a top post threat, and he is beat defensively far more than in the past. But he's so smart that he's still able to be effective. He's become a great screener, a wonderful high-post passer and a smart defender that knows players' tendencies. He had just 15 points and two rebounds, but still impacted the game. To extend the analogy here, Ginobili is Sam Jones, Parker is John Havlicek, Jefferson is Bailey Howell and Matt Bonner is Don Nelson. I know many of these don't fit (though the Ginobili/Jones one is pretty on point if you think about it), but work with me here.
Dwight Howard had 26 points and 18 rebounds, but the Spurs lived with that production because it allowed them to single-cover him a lot, which limited others. Save for a stretch in the third quarter where the Magic got their transition game going, they were ineffective offensively.
Play of the Game: This was a pretty amazing sequence by Ginobili. But watch Duncan for a second. Notice how Duncan goes to set a screen, then pulls away once he seen Mickael Pietrus is significantly overplaying Ginobili's left hand. Pietrus is assuming the screen is coming, so he's cheating. He never seen Duncan pulling away. Ginobili responds by going right for the score. Brilliant, brilliant play by Tim.
From the blogs: Orlando Pinstriped Post writes that there's not much to be upset about if you're a Magic fan.
Late last night, a Twitter debate emerged over Chris Paul's decision on New Orleans' final possession. Paul committed a costly turnover when his pass to David West underneath the basket bounced off West's fingertips out of bounds, ruining New Orleans' final chance to tie. I went back and looked at the play, and took this screenshot that shows Paul missing a wide-open Marco Belinelli beyond the three-point line.
My argument is that the passing lane to West was shut off well by Ryan Gomes and that, down two, you go for the win on the road. However, several others, most notably SB Nation's Hornets blog At the Hive, said the passing lane to West was far more open than it appears here, and that you trust Paul to make the pass most of the time. He just happened to miss it here. It's a tough one, so I'll let you decide.
Otherwise, the Clippers were bound to win a close game one of these days, even if they nearly gave it away with 17 missed free throws. Eric Gordon had 27, Blake Griffin had 24 and 13 and rookie Al-Farouq Aminu is growing into a nice player, dropping 16. Brian Cook had six points off the bench, including a dunk, which never happens to Brian Cook. It prompted this reaction from DeAndre Jordan.
Don't worry, DeAndre. We were all surprised too.
Play of the Game: Fast forward to the 2:04 mark. You can see what Paul was trying to do with that pass. He ball-faked to Belinelli and chose to pass to West. Of course, I still think he should have just passed to Belinelli.
Speaking of bad decisions in key moments, Michael Beasley made a horrible one with under a minute to go and his team down two. Beasley drove into four Thunder defenders and decided to completely ignore Kevin Love wide open underneath the hoop.
This is the bad side of the Michael Beasley package. The kid is extremely gifted as a scorer, but shoots too much, doesn't get to the free-throw line and forces things. He had 15 points, but needed 20 shots to get there and had just three free throws. He really hurt Minnesota's offensive flow when he checked in midway through the fourth quarter, and it cost them. So far, Beasley's shown no ability to improve this part of his game.
For the Thunder, it's the same story. When Serge Ibaka plays, he makes a huge difference. Ibaka checked in for Nenad Kristic at the 6:41 mark of the fourth quarter with Minnesota up 101-95. From that point on, the Timberwolves shot just 3-13 from the field, had three turnovers and were outscored 22-7. Ibaka shut down Darko Milcic, who was somehow killing the Thunder. And yet, Ibaka only got 19 minutes in the game. Why? I'll keep beating this drum until coach Scott Brooks gets it right.
Kevin Durant's shooting woes continue, though he got to the line enough to score efficiently. The Thunder need to have him shoot coming off screens more often instead of in isolation situations, because Durant has trouble getting a burst of speed sometimes due to his high dribble. This is yet another reason Ibaka should play: he actually sets good picks, unlike starting "power" forward Jeff Green.
Play of the Game: Corey Brewer finally discovered a way to make shots.
From the blogs: Canis Hoopus writes that the Thunder are the "big brother" version of the Timberwolves.
Boston Celtics 99, Atlanta Hawks 76
Before the game started, I heard the Hawks' sideline reporter talking about how the Atlanta coaching staff was actually concerned about Nate Robinson replacing an injured Rajon Rondo because Robinson's scoring ability made it difficult for the Hawks to switch when Robinson runs pick and roll. Coaches tend to worry about everything, so maybe I'm making too much of this, but this still felt like -- and I'm not sugercoating here -- a losers mentality. The Hawks were supposed to have shed their switch-everything defense. Clearly, they hadn't. When it gets to the point where you wish Rajon Rondo, arguably the best point guard other than Chris Paul in the league this year, was in so you could bring the switch defense back, you're in trouble.
The Hawks played defense like a team that hadn't practiced traditional pick and roll defense in ages. Boston kept running it, and Atlanta could never stop it. The defense in the first quarter was awful, and Boston ended up rolling to the blowout win.
Seventeen and 11 for Kevin Garnett, and 13 and 11 for Shaquille O'Neal. Meanwhile, their counterparts, Al Horford and Josh Smith, had just eight points and seven rebounds combined. This gives Andrew Sharp some good evidence for why he feels like Horford shrinks against bigger players.
I think this face by Joe Johnson sums it all up.
Play of the Game: At least Al Horford did one good thing.
From the blogs: Peachtree Hoops writes that the effort wasn't there, while Celtics Blog writes that the Celtics silenced their critics.
GAMES I DIDN'T SEE
- Phoenix Suns 123, Houston Rockets 116: About the score I expected. SB Nation Arizona thinks the Suns' limitations showed even in victory, and I tend to agree.
- Utah Jazz 94, Sacramento Kings 83: Tyreke Evans line: 11 points on 12 shots, four assists, four rebounds, three turnovers, -16. There's something very wrong with him.
- Denver Nuggets 106, Golden State Warriors 89: One team was 12-21 from three-point range because they got open looks. The other was 6-26 because those were the only looks they could create. You can guess which one won.
Way to pull together in times of adversity, guys. You guys are a true team in every sense of the word.
And of course, how can we forget about your amazing fanbase that supports you until the very end.