HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat entered Thursday’s game in Miami as top 10 defenses. Neither looked like one during a 123-114 victory for the Warriors, their seventh straight victory.
The Dubs got 36 points and some ridiculous shots from Stephen Curry. They also got 32 points and 14 rebounds from David Lee.
Lee had just three assists, but it was his ability to handle the ball out of the pick-and-roll that was a big key to chewing up the Heat’s aggressive defense to the tune of of 123 points on 101 possessions.
For the most part, Miami’s big men would stay with Curry as he came off Lee’s screens, and when Curry’s defender recovered, they had Curry trapped. Lee acted as a release valve for his point guard, and when he got the ball, the Warriors typically had a three-on-two situation on the weak side of the floor.
Here’s Lee with the ball on the Warriors’ fifth possession of the game …
Shane Battier has chased Curry out to the left sideline and Mario Chalmers has recovered to his man, leaving Chris Bosh and LeBron James on the weak side to cover Lee, Andrew Bogut (in the paint) and Andre Iguodala (in the corner).
It seems pretty simple, but the key is having a big man who can provide a passing lane for his point guard, and then handle the ball well enough to make the Heat pay for their aggressiveness.
Over the course of 48 minutes, the Heat switched up their coverages and the Warriors ran different wrinkles to keep Miami on its toes.
Here are six different pick-and-roll plays from Thursday night, all involving Lee and all resulting in a Golden State basket …
Play 1 – Attacking the 3-on-2
This is the play from the image above. Lee attacks that three-on-two situation and gets help from Bogut, who holds off Bosh.
Lee was 8-for-10 in the restricted area on Thursday.
Play 2 – Weak-side flash
Here, the Warriors run a Curry/Lee pick-and-roll from the side of the floor. When Battier and Chalmers trap Curry, it’s Bogut who acts as the release valve, flashing to the foul line from the weak-side block. The trap up top forced Bosh to try to defend both bigs, and he gets caught in the middle.
Play 3 – Taking the Heat off their game
At this point in the game, Lee had 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting. The threat of the roll forces Bosh to make an adjustment on the high pick-and-roll, leaving Curry a lot earlier than usual in order to stay with his man. But Norris Cole doesn’t recover in time and Curry beats him to the basket.
Play 4 – Empty strong side
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Warriors run a pick-and-roll with nobody on the strong side of the floor. Bosh is back to blitzing Curry, who gets the ball back to Lee at the top of the key. As Lee attacks the paint, Curry doesn’t stop moving, leaving both Bosh and Cole in the dust. They have a two-on-one against Dwyane Wade‘s weak-side help and Curry gets a layup.
Play 5 – Curry off the ball
With about three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Curry wasn’t getting open for any free looks from the perimeter. So the Warriors took him off the ball and had Iguodala run the pick-and-roll with Lee, who attacks the paint and kicks the ball out to the perimeter, where Chalmers is caught between Klay Thompson on the wing and Curry on the perimeter. How would you like your dagger, Mr. Chalmers?
Play 6 – Mouse in the house
On the next possession, we have another Iguodala/Lee pick-and-roll. Instead of trapping it and falling victim to another three-on-two situation, the Heat switch it. The Warriors see the mismatch, get the ball to Lee at the high post, and he makes quick work of Wade.
The key against the Heat’s pick-and-roll defense is to get rid of the ball quickly. The easiest way to do that is for the screener to stay high and give the ball-handler a passing lane. But for most teams, having a big man with the ball 20 feet from the basket isn’t necessarily a good thing. If the screener isn’t adept at both passing and handling the ball himself, Miami can recover back and/or force turnovers.
The Warriors did commit 20 turnovers on Thursday and they have the league’s worst turnover rate. But they also forced the Heat to make adjustments defensively, because they got the ball to Lee quickly and he made the right decisions with it.
Lee has his issues on defense, but he’s one of the most skilled bigs in the league. And there’s not a better passing frontline in the league than Iguodala, Lee and Bogut. With Curry and Thompson (and Iguodala) providing the perimeter shooting, the Golden State starters have been the best offensive lineup in the league (minimum 100 minutes played).
The issue, of course, is their depth. While the starters have scored 117.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Golden State lineups have scored just 99.8.
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The Warriors have a top-five defense and an offense that has played at a top-10 level when both Curry and Iguodala have been healthy (they’re 16-3 in those games), but they need one more guard to keep them afloat when the starters keep them off the floor. Their turnover ratio is higher with Curry off the floor (19.9 per 100 possessions) that it is with him on (16.2).
Still, for one night, while their defense struggled against the second best offense in the league, the skills of their starting lineup had enough to pick up their seventh straight win.