BOSTON — The Miami Heat defense ranked fourth in the regular season and No. 1 in the postseason through Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. But in the last two games, against a below-average offensive team, the Heat defense has not been very good.
The Boston Celtics have scored 212 points on about 181 possessions over the last two games, the worst two-game stretch of defense the Heat have played all season. But the Celtics have done that damage in two completely different ways.
In Game 2, the Celtics scored 55 of their 111 points from outside the paint and 40 of those 55 points from mid-range. That’s somewhat typical of Boston, a jump-shooting team. But what wasn’t typical was that Rajon Rondo shot 11-for-13 from outside the paint. And when Rondo does that, you basically have to just tip your cap to the guy and move on.
The way that the Celtics scored in Game 3 wasn’t typical either. But while their Rondo-heavy offense in Game 2 was flukey and not cause for a major adjustment, Boston’s paint-heavy offense in Game 3 was much more concerning to the Heat.
“They were able to get probably the easiest buckets they’ve been able to get all playoffs, and particularly in the paint, at the rim,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. “They were making one-trigger plays to get deep catches in the paint on any situation that they wanted to. It could have been a pick-and-roll, it could have been a post-up, it could have been a catch-and-shoot.
“We allowed a great jump-shooting team to have easy opportunities to get themselves into a terrific offensive flow.”
Kevin Garnett has figured out that he can beat the Heat in the paint and under the basket. So does Miami now make an adjustment? Maybe not, because Spoelstra feels that a lack of effort was his team’s biggest problem defensively.
“Our effort numbers and our activity numbers that we chart were the lowest of the playoffs, tied with Game 3 in Indiana,” he said. “So if we don’t have that, it’s tough to judge how any of the schematic things were working. We weren’t applying or normal type of activity. We have to start with that and then see.”
Improvement has to come both on the perimeter (pressuring the passer) and on the weak side — especially helping on Garnett’s rolls to the rim. The Heat have to remember how suffocating their defense has been at times in these playoffs, using their speed and athleticism to cover more ground than any other team can.
Garnett is bigger than anybody the Heat will put out of the floor, but Spoelstra knows that his team has what it takes to deal with size.
“We’ve dealt with that for a couple of rounds,” he said. “And we feel we can be very disruptive when we’re committed to what we do defensively.”