The Miami Heat were down to their last chance as they traveled to face the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals. Miami had dropped the last two games of the series in decisive fashion, and their next loss would end their season. The Heat had to try to gain every edge possible to win in Boston and force a Game 7, and apparently that went so far as to include having their bench play defense.
Miami beat the Celtics, 111-103, in Game 6 mostly thanks to a masterful performance from Jimmy Butler. Butler had been hobbled by knee pain since Game 3, but after a few dud performances because of the injury, he roared back to finish with 47 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists to power his team to the win.
Three-point shooting variance was also a swing factor in Game 6. The Heat went 15-of-35 (43 percent) from deep while Boston went 11-of-33 (33.3 percent) on the night. Maybe that’s because on several occasions the Heat had players on their bench stepping onto the court to harass Boston shooters in the corner.
The Heat were up 104-99 with 1:30 left when Marcus Smart attempted this three in front of the Miami bench. Heat guard Kyle Lowry had already fouled out, but he still found a way to defend this shot:
nba tracking data will show kyle lowry was the primary defender of al horford on this shot pic.twitter.com/X8YYQpb46R— Dan Favale (@danfavale) May 28, 2022
Here’s another example from earlier in the game. Smart somehow made this shot for the four-point play opportunity, but the Heat pretty clearly had multiple bench players standing inbounds on the catch as a way to try to intimidate the shooter.
Markieff Morris had both feet on the court on this corner pass. pic.twitter.com/axoF3hCeiy— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) May 28, 2022
The bench close out is of course nothing new, but it’s easier to notice in a huge playoff game. The NBA has rules against bench players standing too close to the floor. The Dallas Mavericks were hit with multiple fines totaling $175K during these playoffs for violating “bench decorum.”
Apparently shooting in front of the opposing bench doesn’t lead to a meaningful difference in shooting percentage, but still! The NBA needs to get the “bench closeout” under control.
FWIW, when I’ve looked at it, have found no detectable difference in 3-point shooting in front of the opposition bench compared to other spots. That said, I hate the bench closeout too.— Anchorage Man (@SethPartnow) May 28, 2022
Game 7 is Sunday night in Miami. Don’t be surprised if either team resorts to more shenanigans with a spot in the 2022 NBA Finals on the line.