Posts Tagged ‘Norris Cole’

Film Study: When The Heat Aren’t Engaged


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks handle the Heat at MSG

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.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade’s pick-and-roll defense leaves much to be desired

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.


VIDEO: Andrea Bargnani easily drives on the Heat defense

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.


VIDEO: Norris Cole, Rashard Lewis fail to rotate on defense

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.


VIDEO: Chris Andersen throws a careless pass to Norris Cole

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.


VIDEO: Dwyane Wade takes the contested shot rather than pressure the Knicks’ defense

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.

Legacies Truly On The Line In Game 7





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A champion will be crowned after the dust has settled on tonight’s winner-take-all Game 7 of The Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Legacies also are on the line for the coaches and main players on both sides. Heat star and four-time MVP LeBron James might have the most riding on the outcome of this game, but he’s certainly not the only one with a reputation to continue building.

The basics:
Game 7 tips off Thursday night at 9 ET on ABC.

The Heat have plenty of numbers on their side, courtesy of home-court advantage. The home team is 14-3 in Games 7s in Finals history, the last road team to win was Washington over Seattle in 1978. They need whatever they can get after coming within seconds of not even making it to a Game 7, trailing by five points with 28 seconds to play in regulation of Game 6 before Ray Allen forced overtime with a clutch 3-pointer from the corner. The Heat are trying to repeat as champions, becoming the first team since the Los Angeles Lakers did it in 2009 and 2010. That 2010 title was secured with a Game 7 win over Allen and the Boston Celtics at Staples Center.

The Spurs are attempting to become just the fourth team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road. And they’ll have to shake off the stench of blowing their chance to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy in Game 6. The trophy was being wheeled out to the court for the championship ceremony as the Spurs fumbled away their lead in the final seconds. The Spurs are chasing title No. 5, for Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, No. 4 for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. So they are playing the legacy game, too.

The Heat haven’t won back-to-back games since the end of the conference semifinals and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, while the Spurs haven’t lost back-to-back games with their Big 3 in the lineup since December. Something has to give tonight.

The narrative:
James, headband free, had to dig down in his deep reserves to find the energy to change the tempo in Game 6 and the put the Heat in a position to even have a chance to come back. So what does he have left for Game 7 with so much at stake? It needs to be a lot, because Dwyane Wade is operating on two busted knees and could be limited in Game 7 the way he was in Game 6. Chris Bosh came through with some clutch rebounds and a block at the end of Game 6, but he also has to play much better. The Heat need their Big 3 to show up again the way they did in Game 4, when they combined for 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 steals, nine assists and five blocks.

Role players from each side have stepped up tremendously throughout the first six games of this series, but Game 7 is about the superstars showing up and assuming their designed roles. If the Spurs get another 30-point, 17-rebound effort out of Duncan and Parker shoots it better than he did in Game 6 and Ginobili cuts his turnovers in half and produces like he did in Game 5, the Spurs’ Big 3 will have done their part.

And that leaves the always important wild card position open for Allen or Mike Miller for the Heat and for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for the Spurs. If any one of those guys goes off the grid and plays out of his mind in this setting, he could swing the momentum of this game in his team’s favor.

The subplots:
Popovich took a beating for his late-game rotations that did not include, for at least a stretch of the fourth quarter, Duncan and Parker on the floor with the Spurs trying to hold a lead. He didn’t take a timeout with seconds to play, allowing Ginobili to dribble the ball up the court at a critical time while Parker sat on the bench. And when the Spurs needed to rebound the ball in those final 28 seconds, Duncan was not on the floor as the Heat scrambled to tie the game. Not that he cares, but all eyes will be on him if things are tight down the stretch.

So much has been made about the Spurs’ mental and emotional recovery from Game 6, which was aided by a late-night,  clear-the-air team dinner and the realization that they have one more chance to finish what they started in Game 6. But what about the emotional recovery for a Heat team that was floored by the reality that they were seconds away from watching a team celebrate a championship on their home floor for the second time in three years? They have to come back to earth after that game as well.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decides to do if Wade clearly doesn’t have the bounce and energy needed to impact the game in the way we’ve seen him do it earlier in this series? The Heat’s fourth-quarter rally in Game 6 came with James attacking the rim with sharpshooters Allen and Miller spreading the floor and the Spurs’ defense out. With Wade on the floor James doesn’t have the same room to operate and the Spurs can pack the lane. Spoelstra might have to make a choice between benching Wade and trying to do the impossible with him on the floor.

Xs and Os:
There will be plenty of opportunities for both coaches to tweak their teams in this game, but only once the action starts. After six games against each other, there are no surprises left. All of the punching and counterpunching we’ve seen — from the altered starting lineups and the insertion of certain role players at ideal times in the series — Game 7 should not come down to a modification from either Popovich or Spoelstra.

This is a game that the players will decide with their energy, effort and execution of the same game plans that have been in place since the start of Game 1.

The Spurs want to play at their pace, keep the Heat off-balance in transition and impose their will inside with Duncan and make sure Parker is attacking and his shooters are in place to take advantage of the inside-out game when the Spurs pick-and-roll game is in a groove.

The Heat want to play at their breakneck pace, with James and Wade in attack mode and the floor spread just enough to keep those driving lanes open and keep the Spurs guessing about where the next strike is coming from. And if Spoelstra is determined to stick with Wade and James on the floor together, one of them has to be prepared to play in the post to keep the floor spaced properly.

Who’s hot?
Allen scored just nine points in Game 6, but all nine of them came in the fourth quarter and overtime, the most critical times in the game for the Heat. Experienced in the clutch, he has more Game 7 minutes on his resume, by far, than anyone else in this game.

He’s been in the Spurs’ shoes before, trying to win a Game 7 on the road, and that experience will serve him and the Heat well in an environment that should be as wild as anything we’ve seen in the NBA this season.

“As a competitor you love it, because you know you have an opportunity and it’s up to you,” Allen said. “We have a chance in our building to make something great. All of our legacies are tied to this moment, this game. It’s something our kids will be able to talk about that they were a part of. Forever will remember these moments, so we want to not live and have any regrets.”

Whatever happened to…
Green went from the favorite to win Finals MVP before Game 6 to a complete non-factor by the end of Game 6. He shot just 1-for-7 from the floor and managed just three points in a game where, as Bosh promised, he did not see as many open looks as he had previously.

If the Spurs are moving the ball well to make space for their shooters, Green’s opportunities should increase dramatically in Game 7. And that should allow him to add to his already impressive Finals record for 3-pointers made.

Bottom line:

Throw out the trends of this series and the teams alternating wins and neither one of them being able to come up with back-to-back exemplary performances, and strap yourself in for what should be a wild 48-minute (or more) ride with two heavyweight contenders swinging until one of them drops.

“You know what, it’s all about just winning the title. It’s not about situation or what has led up to it,” Duncan said. “It’s a great story for everybody else, but we’re here for one reason, one reason only: It’s to try to win this game. We have had a very good season thus far, and I think we just want to get to the game more than anything. We just want to see what happens and be able to leave everything out there.”

Film Study: Spurs Go Iso In Game 5

SAN ANTONIO – From an Xs and Os standpoint, these Finals were billed as the San Antonio Spurs’ pick-and-roll game vs. the Miami Heat’s traps. Then came Game 5, when the Spurs switched things up and put themselves on the brink of their fifth championship with isolation basketball.

More isolations were not necessarily a part of the Spurs’ game plan. In many ways, the opportunities presented themselves, beginning with when Norris Cole checked into the game.

Cole replaced Mario Chalmers with 4:32 to go in the first quarter. And on four of the Spurs’ next five possessions, Tony Parker went right at him, getting two buckets in the paint and drawing two fouls. Parker again blew by Cole on the final possession of the first half, going about 55 feet in 4.1 seconds …

On that first possession, while his teammates were running a play, Parker just went straight at Cole. On two others, he didn’t bother using Tim Duncan‘s screen, instead backing out so he could get Cole one-on-one. And in the middle, he went straight at Cole in transition.

Both Parker and Cole checked out after that and the play before the half was Parker’s next chance to go at him. It was a matchup that Parker obviously wanted to exploit, and he did it for nine points on five possessions in the first half.

Cole played just 2:21 of non-garbage time in the second half, entering the game when Parker was taking a rest. But Parker found other matchups he liked, taking advantage of the Heat’s switches on pick-and-rolls to attack Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Dwyane Wade and Miller again …

On each of those possessions, Parker was initially guarded by LeBron James. But on pick-and-rolls involving two non-bigs, the Heat were switching. (Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem, conversely, would step out, wait for Parker’s defender to get back to him, and then recover to their own man.)

Switching takes some of the bite out of the Heat’s aggressive defense, keeps that second defender *out of Parker’s vision, and allows him to pick which defender he wants to attack. If the Heat are switching and Miller or Ray Allen is on the floor, it should almost be automatic that their man sets a screen for Parker.

* Go back to the Game 2 Film Study and check the screenshot with Chris Andersen keeping Parker from making a penetrating pass.

Parker led all scorers with 26 points and was a perfect 10-for-10 from within 10 feet of the basket on Sunday (James and Wade were each 5-for-14, by the way). Seven of those buckets came via isolations, another two came when he attacked Miller or Chalmers in transition, and the last came when he went away from the screen against James.

So none of the 10 baskets were a result of Parker going with the screen, which has been the bread and butter of the Spurs’ offense for the last few years. Teams make adjustments in a playoff series, and Parker picked a good time to throw a wrench in the Heat’s defensive game plan.

Manu Ginobili also picked a good time to play his best game of the season, scoring 24 points and dishing out 10 assists. He too did a lot of damage in one-on-one situations …

The Heat will have to rethink their switching scheme for Game 6 on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC). They may need to trap all screens (small-big or small-small) to get the ball out of Parker’s hands, force his teammates to make plays, and avoid the one-on-one matchups that he exploited on Sunday.

“They just absolutely outplayed us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 5. “At times, they were just picking one guy out at a time and going mano-a-mano. That will change.”

Film Study: Birdman’s Smart Defense Puts Spurs’ Parker In A Game 2 Cage

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MIAMI – Even before the Miami Heat went on a 33-5 run spanning the third and fourth quarters of Game 2 on Sunday, they were enjoying a much more efficient game than they played three nights earlier. Game 2 was played at a glacial pace, keeping the score looking more like a game played in the mid-90s than one played in the mid-80s. But it was a better offensive game than it may have seemed.

Miami’s 50 first-half points were scored on just 39 possessions. And before the 33-5 run started, they had scored 61 points on 54 trips down the floor, an efficiency of 1.13 points per possession, up from 1.02 in Game 1. And this was with LeBron James shooting 2-for-12 at that point.

Other Heat-ers were shooting 23-for-44. They were keeping their turnovers down and giving themselves second chances on the glass. Though the Spurs had already committed more than twice as many turnovers as they had in Game 1 and Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were all having an off night, San Antonio had a one-point lead.

That’s when the Heat locked down, allowing the Spurs to score just five points over their next 15 possessions, a span that included six turnovers. The stops turned into points on the other end for Miami, and by the time that 15-possession stretch was over, the Heat had a 27-point lead and the Spurs’ big three was done for the night.

The lineup that did most of the damage for the Heat (plus-17 in seven minutes) was a unit of Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Mike Miller, James and Chris Andersen. And while the MVP had the ridiculous block on Tiago Splitter, it was Birdman who played the biggest role defensively.

Defensive priority No. 1 for the Heat has been containing Parker, which Andersen did that during the Heat’s run.

With the Heat up seven in the final minute of the third quarter, Andersen stopped two Parker/Duncan pick-and-rolls and then challenged Parker’s short jumper in the lane. After the Spurs got the rebound, Parker isolated on Chalmers, and Andersen was there to help …


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Duncan would throw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds play.

On the Spurs’ final possession of the quarter, Anderson was there to contain Parker once again …


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Duncan was open for a flash, but James was on the back line ready to rotate. Getting the ball to Duncan at the dotted circle would have required getting the ball over Andersen, who didn’t leave Parker until he had given up the ball.

20130609_andersen

The Spurs’ first possession of the fourth quarter was one the Heat’s best defensive possessions of the game. Andersen was there to snuff out a Ginobili/Splitter side pick-and-roll (easier said than done when Ginobili is going to his left). Then Mike Miller, after helping on the roll, closed out hard on Gary Neal in the corner. When Neal tried to go baseline, Andersen was there to cut him off and the Heat forced another turnover…


Miller’s defense in this series may be just as important as Andersen’s. We know he’s shooting much better than Shane Battier these days, so if he can hold his own defensively, there are really no questions or issues with Erik Spoelstra‘s rotation. Miller is looking a lot more spry than he did a year ago and he’s busting his tail on defense to make himself even more valuable.

******

Tony Parker in Game 2

Tony Parker’s Game 2 shot chart

Parker was 4-for-9 in the paint in Game 2, not that far off from his 5-for-9 performance in Game 1.

But he had just one bucket from outside the paint, down from the four he had on Thursday, in part because the Heat’s bigs stepped out on those pick-and-rolls and made him give up the ball.

Turnovers were also a big difference. Parker had five of them, with Chris Bosh forcing two straight early in the first quarter by stepping out on screens.

Interestingly, the Heat scored just nine points off the Spurs’ nine live-ball turnovers. So it’s not like the Spurs’ sloppiness really killed them on the other end of the floor. Miami was just much more efficient in half-court situations and on the secondary break.

******

As we saw in the conference finals, the Heat run pick-and-rolls from all angles. They’ll run the standard high pick-and-roll. They’ll set the screen at the elbow (like on Chalmers’ and-one). They’ll run side pick-and-rolls (the Spurs’ bread and butter). They’ll run them toward the baseline. And they’ll run them out of the corner.

One wrinkle we saw on Sunday was the Heat rejecting those screens out of the corner. In fact, here’s a clip of three different Miami ball-handlers — Dwyane Wade, Norris Cole and Chalmers — using a dribble to get their defender’s body moving toward the screen, then crossing over, and taking the open lane on the baseline.

Wade’s drive produces an open three for Chalmers, Cole’s produces an easy tip-in for Andersen, and Chalmers gets a floater for himself…


Panic Not In The Heat’s DNA




MIAMI – You don’t throw around words like “panic” and “desperation” when you are as resilient as the Miami Heat have been this season, not even after surrendering home court advantage after Game 1 in The Finals.

It’s not in the Heat DNA to panic after a loss, regardless of how big of a game it appears to be. The Heat are 17-3 after a loss this season (4-0 in the playoffs) and they haven’t lost two straight games since Jan. 10.

They’ve won their last 10 games after a loss by an average of 19.9 points (and by no fewer than 11). Their offense has scored a scorching 116 points per 100 possessions in those 10 games, and their defense has allowed a paltry 93.

That would explain their decidedly measured approach to the challenge that awaits Sunday night in Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, ABC), by all means a must-win game for the reigning champs with three straight games in San Antonio on the schedule next week.

With 48 hours to mull over the mistakes, rewatch the film over and over again, the Heat always seem to figure out a way not to repeat the same mistakes. It’s a trait that has served them well thus far and will have to continue if this series is going to get back on the track they want it to.

“You probably heard all of us say it’s just owning up to our mistakes in the game,” Dwyane Wade said, trying to explain how the Heat rebound time after time, “really going upstairs, with Coach putting the game plan out for us, showing us what we did wrong, showing us some of the things we’ve done well, and coming back and being a mature team and trying not to make the same mistakes twice. I don’t think we’ll make the same mistakes we made in Game 1. That’s what we always try to do, to come out the next game and be a different team. We always feel like, as the series goes on, we get better and stronger as a team.”

For Wade and LeBron James, the Heat’s two biggest stars, the collective resolve has been an evolutionary process that began three years ago when they failed to compartmentalize their mistakes and lost in The Finals to a Dallas team that was not only better but certainly more mature and tougher mentally.

Still, having two days to stew after a loss that came with breakdowns on both ends of the floor in the final eight minutes makes the recovery a challenge.

“There’s pros and cons with having 48 hours in between games, especially after a loss,” James said. “You think about it a lot and it eats away at you. But at the same time, it allows you to really pinpoint ways you can get better in the next game. So the time helps. And the communication between the players and the coaches has to be receptive and open and honest in order for the game plan to work, because we have to have everyone on page from the coaching staff to the players once we get on the floor, because the game is so fast.”

The Heat’s focus between Game 1 and Game 2 isn’t just schematic, particularly for the role players. They have to take the mental and emotional aspects of what transpired into account and check themselves before taking the floor again. For all of the problems Tony Parker and Tim Duncan caused them in Game 1, the self-inflicted mistakes deserve just as much attention.

“We have to make adjustments and play with a sense of urgency,” Norris Cole said. “We have to play with that same spirit we had the first three quarters, before that final eight minutes when things went crazy. We don’t take anything for granted. Every time we step out on the floor we want to take advantage of the opportunity and win the game. We don’t want to let anything slip away. And nobody really needs to say anything, even though guys do, because that’s the type of personalities we have on our team. We have direct communication as a group. With our brotherhood, we can take it when guys have to say something. But this is The Finals. No one has to say anything. If you don’t understand that you can’t go down 0-2 on your home court, then you shouldn’t be playing this game.”

That’s the sort of understanding of the process that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been preaching to his team for years, a clear and sober realization that nothing happens at this point in a season by chance, that your fate is what you make it and that your energy, effort and execution determines whether or not you have a chance to prevail every night out.

That also means that failures have to be absorbed, processed and discarded accordingly. Whatever residue exists from Game 1 needs to be recycled into actions that don’t lead to a repeat performance. It’s a lesson the Heat have learned the hard way during their Big 3 run, one that has fueled them this season more than ever.

“There’s a maturity with this group,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not a guarantee. We don’t take that for granted. But our guys get angry. They own it. We all own it together. And then we just work together to try to get better.”

They need to get even this time if they don’t want to face the prospect of Sunday night being their last home game of the season.

Right And Wrong: When A Triple-Double In The Finals Isn’t Good Enough

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Rare is the moment when a triple-double of 18 points, 10 assists and 18 rebounds in the NBA Finals can be deemed not good enough.

Welcome to the upside-down world of LeBron James.

The King left his Cleveland throne three years ago for the company of more noble servants, not more clown jesters. Yet here is, fresh off a grueling, seven-game series just to get back to The Finals and he and his favored Miami Heat — The Big Three a vanishing contrail of past conquests — have fallen behind the magnificent Tony Parker and his humming band of San Antonio Spurs, 1-0.

Right: James had just eight points on seven shots in the second half and he took just four shots in nine minutes of the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh, dared by San Antonio to shoot long-range jumpers, took five shots and missed four. Credit young Spurs defender Kawhi Leonard for his quiet, determined one-on-one defense against James (7-for-16 shooting) all game. Leonard made a huge steal on a James pass attempt with six minutes to go that extended a 79-78 Spurs lead to 81-78 and ignited a 6-1 surge. The Spurs never lost the lead. Fact is the Spurs will live with an 18-10-18 triple-double from James every game. It’s the 32-10-10 ones that’ll get them killed.

Wrong: With 1:08 to go and the Heat down 90-86, Bosh received the ball behind the arc on the right wing. Not a defender stood between him and Miami Beach. Although he was 0-for-3 from 3-point range, Bosh unleashed a wide-open 3 … and he still missed it. Bosh needed to put is head down and drive to the basket, at least hope to get to the free throw line where was 1-for-2 in 35 minutes.

Right:Parker is a magician with the basketball and if his Curly Neal impersonation as the shot clock ticked down on the Spurs’ final possession isn’t convincing, nothing will be. The Heat don’t have an answer for Parker and that’s going to be a big problem. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole were helpless and when Miami matched LeBron on him, the Spurs’ screens created switches. Parker scored 10 points in the fourth quarter while the Heat managed just 16. He finished with 21 points on 9-for-18 shooting, six assists and — this is amazing — no turnovers in darn near 40 minutes of orchestrating the offense.

Wrong: The Heat have now lost one of the first two games at home in three consecutive series. It hasn’t proven fatal yet, but in the 2-3-2 Finals format, it’s more difficult to recover (as the Heat remember well from 2011). When Cole busted a 3-pointer for a 38-29 lead early in the second quarter, Miami appeared to have that winning look in their eye, but never could put their foot down. Only two minutes later it was 38-36. It would be the theme of the night with the Spurs continually reeling itself back within a bucket or so until finally pulling ahead in the fourth quarter for its first lead since the first quarter. That nine-point bulge Miami briefly enjoyed was its largest.

Right: Any suggestion that 37-year-old Tim Duncan wouldn’t victimize Miami’s thin interior in the same manner as the Pacers’ young and rugged Roy Hibbert seemed asinine — and indeed were. Duncan opened the game 0-for-5 from the floor, but the quickly heated up and tormented the Heat the rest of the way for a do-it-all 20 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.

Wrong: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra‘s rotation went haywire. By the end of the first half he and already used six players off the bench with five logging six-plus minutes (Rashard Lewis – DNP-CD again — must really feel awful). In Game 7 against the Pacers, Spoelstra went nine-deep with Shane Battier playing fewer than nine minutes. Sure, maybe Spoelstra felt his guys were a little worn out after the Pacers series and wanted to spread some minutes, but look for him to tighten the rotation and seek more continuity.

The Plays That Got Them Here

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MIAMI – The most important play in a game isn’t always the one you remember most. Sometimes, it’s subtle and doesn’t even make the highlight reel. Sometimes, something as simple as a change in possession can be more important than a shot that does or doesn’t go in.

The NBA has a way to use analytics to figure out just which plays had the biggest impact on a close game. It’s a “leverage” model that was developed to evaluate and instruct referees by pointing out which calls or no-calls had the biggest impact on a game’s result.

Here’s the idea: At every point of a game, each team has a certain probability of winning. Putting the quality of each team to the side, when the game tips off, the home team has a 60 percent probability of winning and the road team has a 40 percent probability of winning. After the first basket, those numbers haven’t changed much. But if the home team is up 10 with the ball and five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, their win probability (WP) is obviously a lot greater than 60 percent.

So, by calculating win probability both before and after a play occurs, it can be determined just how important that play was. Score, possession and location are the factors. And obviously, plays in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter (or overtime) in a close game are more important than any others.

Using the league’s data model, we’ve determined the 10 most important plays made by the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs on their way to The Finals.

10. +18.7 percent – Conference semis, Game 5 – Heat get multiple stops on the Bulls’ final possession.
With 26 seconds left, Miami up by three (94-91) and Chicago in possession, Miami had an 81.3 percent WP. After the inbounds, Nate Robinson advanced the ball and attempted a 3-pointer with 18 seconds on the clock that was contested by Norris Cole. Just before the shot, Miami had a slightly better chance of winning (83.6 percent) than at the start of the possession because eight seconds had run off the clock.

Had Robinson’s shot gone in, Miami’s WP would have dropped to 60.3 percent (about -20 percent) with the tie, possession and about 18 seconds left. Instead, the shot missed and the Bulls got the rebound. With just three seconds left, they set up Jimmy Butler for another 3-point attempt to tie.

At that point, Miami’s WP was up to 95.5 percent, but had Butler’s shot gone in as time expired, sending the game to overtime, Miami’s WP would have been cut from 81.3 percent at the start of the possession to about 58.3 percent at the start of OT (-30%). Instead, the shot missed the series was over.

9. +18.9 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Boris Diaw hits a three with 2:27 left in the first overtime
With 2:49 left in the first OT, Diaw rebounds a Draymond Green shot that could have given the Warriors a five-point lead. With possession and down three (111-108), the Spurs WP was 28.1 percent. After they advance the ball and swing it around, Manu Ginobili drives into the paint, draws Diaw’s defender, and hits him in the corner for an open three. Diaw drains it, increasing the Spurs’ WP to 46.9 percent. They went on to win in double-OT.

8. +19.0 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Dwyane Wade’s steal sets up LeBron James’ three-point play.
With 7:18 left in the fourth quarter, Miami leading Chicago 70-69. and the Bulls in possession, the Heat had a WP of 57.4 percent. At 7:07, Wade steals a pass from Marco Belinelli, increasing Miami’s WP to 64.8%. That’s a jump of +7.3 percent just for the change of possession. But Wade then gets the ball to James, who is grabbed around the shoulders by Butler and still manages to hit a shot with his left hand at 7:04. He makes the free throw, increasing Miami’s WP to 76.5 percent. But the Bulls would come back to win the game, 93-86.

7. +20.9 percent – Conference finals, Game 1 – Chris Bosh gets an and-one tip-in
With 1:20 to go in overtime, Miami is down 99-96 when James rebounds a Lance Stephenson miss. At that point, their WP is 24.5 percent. Bosh misses a three, but James gets the offensive board and sets up Shane Battier for another three. At that point, the Heat’s WP is down to 23.3 percent.

Battier misses, but Bosh rises over Roy Hibbert, gets fouled by Paul George, and tips in the miss. The tip-in with no foul would have increased Miami’s WP 32.8 percent, but when Bosh ties the game with the free throw, Miami’s WP increased to 45.4 percent, for a total possession increase of 20.9%. The Heat went on to win with a play that’s further down this list.

6. +21.3 percent – Conference finals, Game 1 – Cole steals inbounds pass
This was a judgement call as to whether there was a change of possession, because Cole never really had control of the ball, but the scorer tallied it as two successive turnovers.

With the Pacers down three and 10.8 seconds left in OT, George Hill drops the inbounds pass and Cole gets his hands on it. There’s a scramble for the ball at the mid-court line and Hill gets the ball back. He gets it to George, who is fouled by Wade on a 3-point attempt.

Before the play, the Heat’s WP was 71.8 percent, and the first change of possession increased it to 93.1 percent.

5. +22.5 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Diaw steal leads to Danny Green lay-up
With the score tied at 111 and 2:08 left in overtime, the Spurs’ WP was 46.6 percent, because the Warriors have possession. But Diaw steals a Draymond Green pass in the lane and gets the ball to Tony Parker, who finds Danny Green for a lay-up with 2:02 left. The steal increased the Spurs’ WP to 59.3 percent and the basket increased it to 69.1 percent.

So Diaw made two huge plays in the Spurs’ Game 1 win over the Warriors. But there were two bigger…

4. +22.6 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Danny Green’s three ties the game in regulation



Down three with 29 seconds left, the Spurs’ WP was 22.4 percent. But they run a great misdirection play to get Green an open three from the right wing. He makes it with 20.8 seconds left, increasing their WP to 45.0 percent.

3. +23.6 percent – Conference semis, Game 4 – James’ steal leads to Wade’s three-point play
This one is interesting, because there were still six minutes left in the fourth, but it was essentially a four-point swing, because the Pacers scored about a point per possession in the series.

With the Pacers about to inbound the ball with exactly 6:00 on the clock, the score was tied at 83 and the Heat’s WP was just 41.9 percent (because they were on the road and didn’t have possession). But James steals George’s awful inbounds pass and gets the ball to Wade, who gets fouled by David West and goal-tended by George.

The steal itself increased Miami’s WP to 50.5 percent and the three-point put it at 65.5 percent. But the Pacers would recover and win the game.

2. +61.3 percent – Conference semis, Game 1 – Ginobili’s three wins it in double-OT



With the Spurs down one with 3.4 seconds left, their WP was 35.7 percent. Ginobili’s three left 1.2 seconds on the clock, but increased their WP to 97.0 percent.

1. +77.6 percent – Conference finals, Game 1 – James’ game-winner



From 22.4 percent to 100 percent.

Pacers Must Stop Heat’s Paint Parade

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MIAMI – It’s another game day on Biscayne Bay, so it’s well past time to put the Vogel/Hibbert thing behind us. It’s done with, the Pacers proved that they can hang with the Heat, and they have another chance to steal home-court advantage in Game 2 on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Besides, more concerning than the two layups that LeBron James got with Roy Hibbert off the floor in the final 11 seconds of overtime were the other 56 points in the paint the Heat scored in Game 1, 2 of which came with Hibbert on the floor.

The 60 points in the paint were almost twice as many as the Heat averaged (30.7) in three regular season games against the Pacers and, appropriately, were the focus of the Pacers’ film session on Thursday. The Heat shot 11-for-42 from outside the paint on Wednesday and committed 21 turnovers, but still had a solid offensive game (103 points on 97 possessions), because they were able to get to the basket so often against a defense that has typically protected it better than any other team in the league.

“We got to keep them off the glass,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Thursday. “We got to keep them out of transition more than we did. And we got to clean up our coverages in the half court, so we don’t allow so many straight-line drives at the rim like we did [in Game 1]. And I think we can do that.”

Though there was that example of James getting an and-one when the Pacers failed to get back after a dead-ball turnover, the Heat registered only 11 fast break points on Tuesday, a not-so unacceptable amount given the Pacers’ nine live-ball turnovers. And Miami’s 16 offensive boards (and 24 second-chance points) were mostly a product of those “straight-line drives at the rim” forcing the Pacers’ bigs to help and rotate. So if the Pacers can curtail those, they’ll be in decent shape in Game 2.

The problem is that the Heat have James, the trump card to any adjustments a team might make. Still, there are some adjustments to be made, because the Heat ran their offense a lot differently in Game 1 than the New York Knicks did in the conference semifinals.

Though many of their possessions eventually turned into isolations, the Knicks did run a lot of pick-and-rolls. But they mostly ran them at Roy Hibbert, without much variation. With Hibbert’s man acting as the screener, he was able to pose a threat to the man with the ball, while also staying within reach of his man rolling to the basket (who was still in front of him).

The Heat didn’t run many pick-and-rolls at Hibbert, instead using a guard or David West‘s man as the screener and leaving Hibbert’s man on the baseline, forcing Hibbert to make a decision between the guy attacking the basket or his man behind him.

“They had a more intelligent plan against Roy Hibbert than New York did,” Vogel said. “It was effective last night and we got to adjust to it.”

Of course, the Heat’s plan wouldn’t have been a huge issue for the Pacers if West was able to contain the ball-handler better than he did.

Here’s an example where Chris Bosh sets a high screen for James, who is able to get around West.

james-bosh_p&r_1

At this point, both West and Sam Young (James’ defender) are trailing the play. James goes straight at Hibbert, gets the big man to leave the floor, and dumps the ball off the Chris Birdman, who throws down two of his 16 points.

There were countless examples in Game 1 of West getting burned on pick-and-rolls. In fact, on the very next play, James goes right by West with his left hand. He misses a scoop shot that Hibbert contests, but Andersen is right there to tip in the miss.

Another wrinkle that the Heat used was running a lot of pick-and-rolls toward the baseline, instead of toward the middle, something the Knicks had a little success with in the last round, but probably didn’t try often enough.

The Heat ran it quite a bit in the fourth quarter and overtime, mostly with Norris Cole as the ball-handler and Shane Battier (being defended by West) as the screener.

Here, West doesn’t get totally burned, but Cole uses a little in-and-out dribble move to get to the basket and draw Hibbert’s help.

baseline

Cole could hit Bosh, who is wide open in the corner here, but the advantage of the ball being on the baseline is that the defense is turned inside-out and defenders have to turn their heads away from their man. That’s exactly what Lance Stephenson does, and Dwyane Wade takes advantage by cutting to the basket. Cole dishes to Wade, who hits a short floater over West.

When West overplayed that toward-the-baseline pick-and-roll, Norris Cole went the other way, drew Ian Mahinmi‘s attention, and got Birdman another dunk …


West carried the Pacers’ offense in the first half on Wednesday and finished with 26 points. But he was largely responsible for many of the Heat’s points on the other end of the floor. And if Indiana is going to keep Miami out of the paint in Game 2, it has to start with his containment on pick-and-rolls.

Cole Fills ‘Nate’ Role Off Miami’s Bench


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CHICAGONate Robinson has been doing a Derrick Rose impersonation for the Chicago Bulls lately, which is tough enough against a Miami Heat defense that often makes life miserable for the real McCoy. But where that really hurts Chicago is off the bench, where no one is available to mimic Robinson’s instant offense and energy in reserve.

The closest thing this Eastern Conference semifinal series has to a Robinson impersonator, in fact, comes from the Miami side. His name: Norris Cole. The Heat’s backup point guard scored 18 points in the home rout of Game 2, but backed that up with 18 more – in far more clutch circumstances – in Miami’s 104-94 Game 3 victory Friday at United Center.

The flat-topped point guard in his second season from Cleveland State played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter and, with seven points, outscored everybody in Chicago’s lineup in the period. Cole’s driving finger-roll with four minutes left got the Heat’s cushion to four points and his 3-pointer two minutes later bumped the lead to 96-88, essentially the game-winner.

“Norris is a tough competitor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “He was most noticed for his 3s and driving down the lane tonight, but he made big plays for us all night.”

Cole, with starter Mario Chalmers, has made life difficult for Robinson the past two games, throwing traps at him and working to get or keep the ball out of his hands. The 5-foot-9 irrepressible force hustled his way to 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds but needed 42 minutes to get them; Cole worked more in Robinson’s normal range and ratio, his 18 points coming in 24:27.

“He kind of got hot late,” Chicago’s Taj Gibson said. “When you’re playing with three future Hall of Famers, guys are going to get open looks. … That team has a lot of guys playing with a lot of confidence.”

Shooting that way, too. Cole has taken eight 3-point shots in the series so far and made them all. He has hit 10-of-13 this postseason, including the four-game sweep of Milwaukee in the first round, and he is shooting 64.1 percent overall (57.7 on 2-point attempts).

“I think it’s just the reps,” Cole said of his accuracy after Game 3. “I work a lot with coach Dan Craig before practice and every night back in Miami. I have my shooting session late at night. I just am putting up a lot of reps and understand the spacing of our team. And have the confidence to knock it down.”

Last year, Cole averaged just 8.9 minutes in the Heat’s 19 playoff games, his role diminished by Spoelstra’s use of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as de facto point guards. This postseason, Chalmers and Cole (22.3 mpg) have handled their position and duties more fully, with the backup earning his increased responsibility.

“With experience comes comfort,” Cole said. “I’m seeing things more than one time and I’m able to adjust.”

The Bulls have seen Cole as a problem for two consecutive games now. They’d better be able to adjust.

Riley’s Thread Ties Streak Record Chase

If the Heat finally run their win streak to 34, break the record of the legendary 1971-72 Lakers and plant their flag in the pages of history, it will likely be the result of something spectacular done by LeBron James. Or heroic by Dwyane Wade. Or timely by Chris Bosh. Or perhaps out-of-this-world unexpected by the likes of Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers.

But making it all happen will have been Pat Riley, the link to past and present. As much as anyone in the game over the past four-plus decades, he’s the thread you cannot pull without some part of the NBA story unraveling — from the Showtime Lakers to the Slow Time Knicks to the South Beach Shuffle.

This steamrolling monster is his creation, a plan so bold and audacious that nobody really thought he could pull it off, and it all grew out of an intense drive that is belied by the image of slicked-back hair and designer suits.

The truth is, he’s always been far more Arm & Hammer than Armani, the Schenectady, N.Y., street tough who absorbed the work ethic of a father who toiled for 22 years in baseball’s minor leagues.

On that historic Lakers team with Hall of Famers Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich, Riley was a member of the supporting cast, but no less vital to the cause.

“He’s tenacious,” West said recently in a conference call with reporters. “I’d say to him in practice, ‘Go beat the hell out of Goodrich, I’m tired.’ ”

He’d been a high school star and his Linton team took down mighty Lew Alcindor and Power Memorial in 1961. He starred for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky when the Wildcats lost to the first all-black lineup from Texas Western in 1966 and was the No. 7 overall pick in the 1967 NBA draft by the expansion San Diego Rockets.

But by the time he was part of that famous Lakers roster, Riley was like a circus mouse trying to avoid getting trampled by the elephants. He used his wits to survive, sheer hustle to make his presence felt and overall relentlessness to carve out a nine-year NBA career.

“He definitely wanted to play more,” West said. “But it was a special group of guys and, like all of us, he understood that.”

Sure, he would never have won those four championships as a coach in L.A. without stars named Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. He wouldn’t have headlined on Broadway without a marquee star in Patrick Ewing. He wouldn’t be sitting in the middle of this 21st century media-frenzied hullaballoo today without the overpowering phenomenon that is now LeBron. Yet his own past has taught him the value of the cast of formidable role players he has brought to Miami in Battier and Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole.

Miami draws attention for its glamor — James taking the express elevator to the top floor to hammer home the dunk in Orlando or flushing and then scowling at Jason Terry in Boston — but the Heat have become the only team to seriously threaten the 33-game win streak because of a defense that is ferocious, hungry and unforgiving, like their architect.

For all that he has done on the many sidelines and the various front offices, maybe nothing defines him like the 1985 NBA Finals, when the Celtics blasted his Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

Before his team took the floor for Game 2 at the old Boston Garden, Riley repeated words that had once been spoken by his father:

“The fact is, that to do anything in the world worth doing, we must not stand back … Some place, sometime, you are going to have to plant your feet, stand firm, and make a point about who you are and what you believe in. When that time comes, you simply have to do it.”

The Lakers won Game 2 and eventually the series, defeating the Celtics for the first time ever in the postseason to claim one of their most significant championships.

At 68, that drive and resolve are the rhythms that beat at his core, the occasional awkward dance steps on YouTube jammin’ to Bob Marley notwithstanding.

So when James and Bosh were both heading toward free agency three years ago and most NBA teams were scrambling for a way to get their hands on one of them, Riley’s plan was the bigger, bolder and bodacious one. An old friend who’d stopped by for a visit in Miami during that time recalls stepping into a darkened office where Riley sat, half-lit by the beam of a single desk lamp as wisps of smoke from a cigarette rose past his face.

“He reminded me of Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now,” said the friend. “Who knew what was going on inside that head?”

Now we know as we watch his awesome creation keep marching on.

“I’m happy for my friend, Pat Riley,” said West, “who was able to do it as a player and is able to replicate it as an executive.”

The thread through history with ties that bind.