OKLAHOMA CITY — The Miami Heat are a versatile bunch of players, especially defensively. They have multiple players who can defend multiple positions, starting with MVP LeBron James, who Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has nicknamed “One Through Five,” for his ability to defend point guards, wings and big men.
The Heat’s versatility allows them to switch on screens, which can be important against a team like Oklahoma City. By switching, the Thunder can theoretically keep the ballhandler in front of them and out of the paint.
In Game 1, Miami’s intitial defensive matchups, with James guarding Kendrick Perkins, were based on the idea that James would switch onto Kevin Durant when Perkins set screens.
But no matter what the matchups were, the Heat defense was often too passive. When teams switch, they don’t trap. And the Heat’s defensive success (they were the fourth-best defensive team in the regular season) has been built on its aggressiveness.
The Heat trapped quite a bit in the first half on Tuesday. But then they got beat by Serge Ibaka‘s rolls to the basket a few times, and there were fewer traps after that.
On Wednesday, Spoelstra was asked if all the Game 1 switching took some of the bite out of his defense.
“Possibly. Possibly,” he replied. “We’re an aggressive, disruptive defensive team. Now, I don’t mind it at times. We can be very disruptive when we switch, as well. But it flattened out some of our aggressiveness, which makes us unique.”
One example of that is the following fourth-quarter possession, where James switches onto Russell Westbrook and gives him plenty of space to do whatever he wants to. Westbrook finds an angle he likes and attacks the basket …
Now, James was probably trying to get Westbrook to shoot a jumper. And maybe he gave Westbrook a lane to the middle of the floor because he was trying to help out in the post, where Kevin Durant was matched up with Dwyane Wade as a result of the switch.
Durant and Westbrook combined for 22 field goals in Game 1. Nine of those 22 came in transition or immediately after an offensive rebound, where there was no clear defender on the scorer.
Of the remaining 13 made baskets, seven came after a defensive switch by the Heat. And three of those were switches of the 6-foot-4 Wade onto the 6-foot-9 (or 6-foot-10 or 6-foot-11) Durant.
Here, on a big possession in the fourth quarter, Wade switches onto Durant after a pin-down screen by Westbrook. Durant takes Wade off the dribble and hits a short pull-up …
Later in the fourth, Derek Fisher sets the pin-down screen for Durant, and Shane Battier and Wade seem to get confused about whether they’re switching or not. The result is a wide-open right-wing jumper for Durant.
Of those 13 field goals that Durant and Westbrook had in standard half-court situations, six (three each) came with Wade as the defender. Durant was able to shoot right over Wade, and Westbrook was able to go right around him.
Only one of the 13, the above Westbrook drive, came with James as the defender. So none of Durant’s 12 field goals came against James (though Durant beat James down the floor on this transition and-1).
Spoelstra believes that his team can always be disruptive defensively, whether they’re switching or not.
“[Game 1] was not decided by schematics,” he said. “It was decided by force. It was decided by will. It was decided by energy. Both these teams have that ability. They imposed that on us [Tuesday] night, and that’s the reality.”
But it seems clear that, in Game 2 on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), James needs to be the primary defender on Durant. And whether or not Wade is playing with force and energy, he can’t get caught defending Durant. That’s a matchup the Thunder should be able to take advantage of every time.