HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Miami Heat were not a very good defensive team in the dog days of the season. They ranked 27th in defensive efficiency between Jan. 1 and the All-Star break, a stretch that included a game against the Warriors when they got picked apart by David Lee, a game against the Knicks when they clearly weren’t engaged all game, and a game against the Thunder when OKC shot 16-for-27 from 3-point range.
Coming out of the break, the Heat won in Dallas, but allowed 106 points on about 94 possessions. It was an offensive win in which the Heat shot 57 percent.
Thursday, however, was one of those nights when the Heat turned it on defensively. They held the Thunder to 81 points on 95 possessions, forcing 20 turnovers (nine in the first quarter) and holding OKC to just 2-for-20 from 3-point range.
And this wasn’t just a bad shooting night. The turnovers had a lot to do with Russell Westbrook playing his first game in almost two months, but the missed shots were about the Heat defense imposing its will on the Thunder.
All you have to do is look at the contested and uncontested shots from the Thunder in the two games, which you can now find in the Player Tracking tab in our NBA.com/stats boxscores, thanks to SportVU.
In the Jan. 29 meeting, the Heat contested 37 (46 percent) of the Thunder’s 80 shots. On Thursday, the Heat contested 48 (65 percent) of the Thunder’s 74 shots.
That’s a big difference. And the difference is bigger when you look at just the Thunder’s jump shots.
According to SportVU, on Jan. 29, only 13 (25 percent) of the Thunder’s 52 jumpers were contested. On Thursday, 18 (51 percent) of their 35 jumpers were contested.
Looking at just 3-point attempts… Only seven of the 27 were uncontested on Jan. 29, while nine of the 20 were contested on Thursday.
Here are some examples of the Heat being on point defensively…
First, we have a quick-hitting dribble hand-off play from Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant, in which Shane Battier and LeBron James trap Durant and Chris Bosh rotates over from the weak side to force Ibaka into a rushed jumper …
Here’s a long possession in which the Heat successfully defend a Reggie Jackson/Ibaka pick-and-roll, an Ibaka post-up, and a Westbrook isolation. The result is Bosh again contesting Ibaka’s shot …
Throughout the game, Dwyane Wade was particularly engaged. The Heat are at their best defensively when he’s healthy and active. They’ve allowed just 101.9 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would rank eighth in the league) in the games he’s played and 105.8 (a rate which would rank 23rd) in the games he’s missed.
But the Thunder brought some of their problems on themselves on Thursday. Here’s Derek Fisher not doing much with Perry Jones‘ screen and taking a contested, pull-up 3-pointer with 11 seconds left on the shot clock…
And here’s Fisher again, not making the extra pass and taking another contested 3-pointer with 10 seconds left on the clock …
The Thunder rank seventh in offensive efficiency, but 26th in assist rate, assisting only 55 percent of their field goals. They’re not a team that moves the ball that much and, with the talent they have in Durant and Westbrook, usually don’t have to. If you get Westbrook out in the open floor and get Durant some catches at the elbow, you’re going to put the ball in the basket at a pretty good rate.
There is no correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency. There are great offensive teams with low assist rates (like Houston and Oklahoma City) and bad offensive teams with high assist rates (like Chicago and the Lakers).
However, there is a decent correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency against the Heat. With Miami’s aggressive, trapping defense, the teams that have success are usually the ones that move the ball quickly and find open shooters on the weak side. And the open shot is usually more than one pass away.
The Thunder had success against the Heat in January, but this time Miami was engaged defensively. That’ll probably be the case again if these teams met in June, so Oklahoma City will have to do a better job of making the extra pass and finding more uncontested shots.