Miami’s Secret To Game 2 Victory: Less Pressure is Sometimes More
USA Today Sports
In many ways, the Miami Heat owe their victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals over the Indiana Pacers to a simple defensive adjustment: by being slightly less aggressive in chasing the ball they were able to apply more pressure to Indiana’s ball-handlers.
Over the history of this burgeoning rivalry, one of the key factors in the outcome of many of the games has been which team has “won” Indiana’s pick-and-roll. In Game One of the Eastern finals, Indiana scored 29 points on 27 pick-and-roll plays (an average of 1.07), per Synergy Sports. Of special importance, Indiana only had 3 turnovers in the pick-and-roll, a rate of 11.1% Meanwhile, in Game 2, Indiana turned it over on 5 of 19 such possessions, a rate of 26.3%. Unsurprisingly, the Pacers will less effective scoring in these plays, managing only 15 points on those 19 possessions (.79 points per possession). The difference between the Game 1 and 2 performance tracks an interesting trend in Miami-Indy match-ups.
Including Game 2, over the last two years, regular season and playoffs each team has won 8 times. In the 8 Indiana wins, the rate of pick-and-roll turnovers has been 18.8% and the Pacers have scored .84 points per possession in the pick-and-roll. Meanwhile, in the 8 Miami wins this turnover rate has risen to 26.2% and while Indiana’s scoring drops to .68 points per possession. Pick-and-roll effectiveness certainly isn’t the only thing determining victory or defeat, as Indiana has won some a few games despite high turnovers and Miamis has won a few without forcing quite so many. But these comparisons are instructive.
During the James/Wade/Bosh era, Miami has proven very effective at forcing turnovers with a very aggressive scheme, trapping the ball-handler with both his defender and the man guarding the screener. This method has bee especially proficient at garnering steals, which lead to fast breaks and LeBron dunks, followed by the obligatory annoying renditions of “Seven Nation Army” during the ensuing timeout.
This “blitzing” strategy forces turnovers either by stripping the ball-handler or forcing an errant pass out of the trap:
As the rest of the league has had time to watch and study this tactic, many teams, Indiana most definitely included, have started to combat the blitz by “short rolling” the screener. Instead cutting all the way to the basket, the roll man drops into the space vacated by trapping defender. Meanwhile the ball-handler avoids dribbling directly into the trap. Executed properly, this essentially provides the offense with a 4-on-3 situation:
In Game 1, the Pacers short-rolled Miami to death. Especially when Lance Stephenson handled the ball, Indiana avoided dribbling into the trap, and instead drew the defenders further out onto the floor. Lance was then able to drop the basketball equivalent of a screen pass behind the defense:
Here James and Mario Chalmers pursue Stephenson to the perimeter, creating space for the easy drop off to David West:
However, in Game 2, Miami appeared to make a slight adjustment. The trapping defender did not chase quite as far onto the perimeter, choosing to meet the Indiana ball-handler at or just below the three-point arc rather than chase past the screener:
While Miami is still trapping the ball-handler with Norris Cole and Chris Andersen, the Heat are doing so deeper on the floor. Roy Hibbert has no space to receive the ball on a short roll without multiple defenders having plays on the ball. In this manner, the Heat were continually able to put a high degree of pressure on Indiana’s ball-handlers by allowing them this small amount of progress towards the basket before slapping on the trap:
By letting Paul George dribble into the trap instead of chasing him above the arc, Ray Allen was able to stay attached to George’s hip. Allen could then keep his hands in the passing lane to West, resulting in the steal:
As the series continues, it will be fascinating to see which team is actually trapping which. Will Indiana be able to goad Miami defenders into chasing all over the floor, or will the Heat lure Pacer’s guards into a web of long-arms and quick feet? The answer to that question will go a long way to determining the eventual Eastern Conference champion.