NEW YORK – This week’s Film Study could look a lot like last week’s. For the second straight Thursday night, a team picked apart the Miami Heat’s pick-and-roll defense.
The New York Knicks only scored 102 points (compared to the Warriors’ 123 last week) in their victory on Thursday, but it was a very slow-paced game. The Knicks had the ball just 86 times, so, in terms of efficiency, they were on par with what the Warriors did against the Heat in a much faster game a week earlier.
New York actually scored less than a point per possession (43/47) in the first half. But in the final 24 minutes, they scored a remarkable 59 points on just 39 possessions.
Like the Warriors, they executed well. The Knicks got the Heat defense moving with pick-and-roll, they moved the ball to the open man, and they made shots, hitting nine of their 16 mid-range jumpers and seven of their 18 above-the-break threes.
Having a healthy point guard helps. Raymond Felton racked up 14 assists on Thursday, while committing just two turnovers. He’s been in and out of the lineup this season, and not very effective when he’s been (relatively) healthy.
But last season, the No. 3 offense in the league was at its best when Felton was on the floor. A healthy dosage of pick-and-rolls keeps the Knicks from getting too iso-heavy and allows Carmelo Anthony to shoot off the catch, instead of off the dribble. Though Anthony led the league in usage rate last season, Felton had the ball in his hands about 70 percent more (5:40 per game vs. 3:21 per game, according to SportVU).
So, going forward, the Knicks will be better if Felton is healthy and they’re moving the ball. They’re most efficient when they’re picking and rolling, which was the game plan on Thursday. They knew that the Heat could be beat and open shots could be had with quick passes and ball reversals. And they took care of the ball against the team that has forced more turnovers per 100 possessions than any team in the last 15 seasons.
The Heat can be the best defensive team in the league when they want to be. But they generally don’t want to be during the regular season. Their disruptive defensive scheme requires a lot of energy, more than they can come up with over 82 games.
And while the Knicks deserve a ton of credit for their offensive execution, the Heat were clearly not at their best defensively. Here are some examples from a stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters when the Knicks turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point lead …
Play 1 – Ole!
With the Heat up three late in the third quarter, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire ran a side pick-and-roll. Dwyane Wade came to help from the weak side, but, instead of putting himself between Stoudemire and the basket, he just swiped at the ball as he ran by. And that’s not going to get it done.
Play 2 – Ole! Part II
A couple of possessions later, the ball was swung to Andrea Bargnani, who was being defended by Chris Bosh, who bought on a pump fake from a guy who has shot 30 percent from 3-point range over the last three seasons. Wade again comes over to help and again just takes a swipe at the ball. The result is an and-one and a lead the Knicks would never relinquish.
Play 3 – Amar’e all alone
Two possessions after that, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis double-teamed Anthony in the corner. After the ball was swung around the perimeter, Stoudemire was wide open under the basket, because neither Cole nor Lewis rotated.
The Heat’s semi-lackluster play spilled over to the offensive end of the floor. As the Knicks were making their run, Miami scored just two points (against a bottom-10 defensive team) over 10 possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters. They weren’t attacking and they often settled for a decent shot when a better one could have been had with a little more work.
Play 4 – Carelessness
This is just a careless pass by Chris Andersen as Cole curls out from the baseline. Andersen takes one hand off the ball and doesn’t wait until Cole has created any separation from Felton.
Play 5 – Settling
Here, Wade settles for a contested, mid-range jumper early in the shot clock instead of running the offense and putting pressure on the Knicks’ D.
The Heat have had their moments this season, but there have been a lot of games/halves/quarters/possessions when they’ve been disengaged. The same was true early last season and they went on to win 27 straight games and their second straight championship. But even in the playoffs, they seemed to turn their defense on and off, failing to win consecutive games against the Pacers or Spurs until they pulled out Games 6 and 7 in The Finals.
They still have LeBron James and they’re still the favorite to win another title. But in the middle of the season, you’re going to see teams take advantage of their indifference.