VIDEO: Dwyane Wade scores 28 points as the Heat defeat the Thunder.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Miami Heat got their best win of the season on Thursday, edging the Oklahoma City Thunder 97-95 in a back-and-forth affair.
It was a matchup of the league’s No. 2 offense (Oklahoma City) against the No. 3 defense (Miami). And the No. 3 defense won out, holding the Thunder to barely a point per possession.
Did the Thunder help them out, though? Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the most potent offensive pairing in the league, but the Oklahoma City offense can sometimes rely too much on their talent and get stuck when the primary options aren’t available.
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry went back and forth after the game, discussing the Thunder offense, what works and what doesn’t.
Schuhmann: The Thunder are a team that defies the idea that a great offense has to have great ball movement. They’re No. 2 in offensive efficiency, even though they rank last in passes per game and 25th in assist rate. But it always feels like their inability to move the ball comes back to bite them on critical possessions where their one-on-one stuff results in contested jumpers off the dribble.
Barry: They’re really sporadic in involving players other than Durant and Westbrook. The way that those guys get their offense doesn’t necessarily come out of execution to get them shots in spots where they can be most effective. It’s just that they end up getting shots because … they got shots.
It’s very unpredictable as to how and when they’re going to get involved in the offense, which is a testament to those guys being ready to shoot.
One of the things that was evident is how unsettling some possessions are for their defensive balance. They give up a lot of transition opportunities because the floor isn’t balanced. Even though their offensive numbers are great, the way that they’re scoring is unsettling their defense for 10-15 possessions a game.
Schuhmann: Turnovers is a part of that, but also the way that Westbrook attacks.
Barry: Unpredictable attacks, shots off of actions where guys might be on the weak side doing something and they’re really not noticing that the shot has gone up. And a longer shot often produces a longer rebound, which can give the other team a head start.
Miami exposed that a little, but we know that Miami doesn’t want to play fast. If they can do that, you got to think that against Western Conference teams that can really go – the Clippers, the Warriors – that’s a little bit dangerous.
Note: Miami’s 15 fast break points on Thursday was their fourth highest mark of the season, but just one less than their season high.
Schuhmann: While the Thunder offense is functioning mostly from the talent of two guys, they’re not just giving the ball to Durant and Westbrook and saying “Go to work.” There are some some really devastating plays and actions that they run … a Westbrook/Durant pick-and-roll, a Westbrook/Ibaka pick-and-roll where Durant’s defender is responsible for tagging Serge Ibaka on his roll to the basket.
Barry: Billy Donovan is probably stressing to them to make the extra pass, but there’s not a lot of outlets for them. I wrote down a couple of plays…
Early second quarter, Durant has an offensive possession where he’s posted up. You want KD in iso, but there’s no outlet for him.
- NBA.com/stats video: Watch Durant in the post vs. Justise Winslow
The very next possession, you’ll see Dion Waiters moving around in space where there’s nobody to be the release valve for him.
- NBA.com/stats video: Watch Waiters play pick-and-roll
Then on Miami’s side, there’s a play where Bosh scores on a pick-and-roll, because he’s the outlet for Dragic. I’m watching Miami and where it is that they have guys spaced for the ball-handler so, if he gets into trouble, he has parachutes on either side. He can pull the ripcord and he’s got guys to go to.
In OKC’s offense, some of their possessions just leave guys out on islands where they have to take difficult shots. They’re put in positions where there’s nowhere else to go.
Schuhmann: That’s partly on them, though. Durant and Westbrook clearly like to stop the ball and play one-on-one.
Barry: I’m OK with those guys, but if you play deeper into the clock and the ball ends up in the hands of someone else … if it’s Anthony Morrow and he doesn’t have an open three, you have to give him some place to go. If it’s Waiters, instead of inviting for him to take the shot all the time, sometimes you have to provide the option where you can go back and say, “Dion, you got to make that next pass.”
There was a great play later in the second quarter where Enes Kanter sets a pin-down screen for Durant, who comes up and flips the high screen-and-roll. Westbrook blows by his defender, the big has to step up, and he drops it off for Kanter.
- NBA.com/stats video: Watch Westbrook’s drive and dish
That kind of possession? Money, because there’s a guy in the corner for Russ and he’s got Durant drawing attention, so there’s less help. That kind of initial thrust is good. It’s just a one-pass possession, but a good one.
The most difficult possessions to guard are when, if you don’t get something off your initial thrust, the ball moves from one side of the floor to the other. Strong side to weak side. This is everything the Warriors predicate their offense on. This is what San Antonio does. This is the way the Triangle worked for years.
You’re asking five guys to defend five guys. If you explore, you’re going to find two guys that are not willing to play defense for 24 seconds. Great teams will do that, but within the first 12 seconds of the shot clock, going side to side, you can expose one or two defenders who aren’t willing to respond. Maybe they don’t want to put in the effort or maybe they’re just out of position because the ball moved and bodies moved, and they’re susceptible to the next action.
Obviously, with Durant and Westbrook, OKC is a dangerous team, and they’re still working on things.
Schuhmann: How do you defend the Westbrook/Durant pick-and-roll?
Barry: The biggest thing you have to do, as Durant’s defender, is get that screen pushed up as high as possible, because your best chance in guarding Westbrook is to slide under that Durant pick.
If I’m Durant’s defender, I want to come up with him and be physical with him up to the screen. And at the point of the screen, I want to give him a push, release and step back. That gives Westbrook’s defender room to slide in between, so that he can catch Russell on the penetration.
You’re trying to avoid the switch, so you don’t have Westbrook isolated against your three man or Durant in the post against a smaller guard.
- NBA.com/stats video: Watch Durant take advantage of a switch
Now other question is, if Russell are Kevin are involved on the strong side, who are you fearing on the weak side? If you do end up switching, you can front KD in the post and bring help from the back side, especially if Andre Roberson is in the game. He’s not an offensive threat.
They’re still learning how to execute this play to be very effective at it. And it changes on a nightly basis, depending on who’s defending them.