After the mid-point of the 3rd quarter of Game 1, Dwyane Wade scored just 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting with 3 turnovers. Before that, Wade had scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
So what changed? For one, Tony Allen took over Wade responsibility from Ray Allen. And as that happened, the C’s went away from a screen/roll defense that failed over and over to contain D-Wade early in the game.
Here’s what that unsuccessful defense looked like on an early side screen/roll, one of Miami’s favorite plays for Wade:
Wade missed the lay-in, but I’m sure the C’s don’t want him getting that sort of shot.
So what exactly did the C’s try here? Let’s look at a still shot:
Michael Beasley hasn’t set his screen yet, but KG has already left Beasley in order to cut off Wade’s right-handed drive. The idea, I think, is to either force Wade down the sideline toward Ray Allen or make him take a very wide turn along the three-point arc if he chooses to drive right.
You can see the problem. Wade’s got a big gap between KG and Beasley/Ray, and nobody in the league is better at shooting that gap. If you’re going to play this sort of defense, you better have someone in the middle of the floor waiting to cut Wade off.
Nobody is there. Perk comes over to help at the last minute, but a slow-ish big with no vertical leap accomplishes little by meeting an airborne and fast-moving Wade at the block/charge circle.
Here’s another possession from the 1st quarter in which Wade blows up this defense:
A still from the key moment:
Again: Joel Anthony is still in the process of setting his screen for Wade, but Anthony’s man (Sheed) has moved away from Anthony and into the middle of the floor to deal with a possible Wade drive down the middle. Tony Allen has shifted his stance so as to cut off Wade’s right hand. The idea, again, is to have a defender ready in either direction.
This strategy, with these particular players in this position on the floor, cannot work. The 2010 version of Rasheed Wallace is helpless here. Asking him to back-pedal to the foul line and cut off Wade is asking the impossible. Wade is going to blow by him, and the only way to protect the rim after he does so is to have someone ready in the paint. KG lunges at Wade near the block/charge circle, but he’s too close to the basket and way too late to stop Wade.
This is too easy.
Can you stomach one more?
Again: A total failure. This time, it’s Perk in the impossible position of trying to stop Wade in the open floor. And again, we see that the C’s have no second level defender waiting once Wade beats Perk:
It looks in this shot like KG is waiting for Wade in the paint, but that’s not really the case. Beasley has cut from the right side of the floor to the left, and KG, after running along with Beasley, tries to shift his momentum back toward the middle of the floor to contain Wade. Too late.
So how did the C’s change things up in the 2nd half? Here’s one possession from late in the 3rd in which the C’s force the ball out of D-Wade’s hands:
Here’s a still from the first of two Wade screen/rolls on this possession:
Between TA, KG and Glen Davis (under the rim), the C’s have the middle of the court covered; there’s no huge gap between TA and KG for Wade to shoot through.
And once Wade dribbles around the screen, two things happen: 1) He’s met by KG, easily the most mobile of the C’s big man defenders, and not Sheed or Perk. Of course, the C’s won’t have KG tonight; 2) TA spins back under the screen to close the gap and runs over to double Wade.
Miami resets and calls a second Beasley/Wade screen/roll. The C’s respond by doing this:
Beasley slips the screen and the C’s happily let him go in order to double Wade. This is an especially good decision because the shot clock is running down, and whoever receives Wade’s pass will have to act pretty quickly to get a shot off; the Heat won’t have a ton of time to swing the ball and take advantage of the C’s defensive rotations.
Here’s another successful stop from late in the 3rd in which the C’s counter Wade with a higher degree of aggression than we saw in the 1st half:
Well, there’s nothing subtle about that. As Tony Allen fights over the Anthony screen, Anthony’s guy (Big Baby) just sprints out at Wade like a defensive tackle running free to a quarterback in the back field.
Except there is one subtle thing. Check out where KG is standing as Big Baby bum-rushes Wade:
That’s KG guarding nobody on the left edge of the paint—exactly where Wade is going to end up if he squeezes through the space between TA and Baby.
KG is standing where Perk and Sheed were on those defensive sets from the first half that didn’t work, except that here, KG is the third defender charged with stopping Wade. In those earlier plays, the big guy waiting at the foul line was the guy guarding the screener—basically, the second guy paying attention to Wade.
To recap: The C’s started the game in a semi-standard screen/roll defense in which the screener’s man sagged down to cut off penetration in one direction while Wade’s guy jumped the screen on the other side. By the end of the 3rd quarter, we see the C’s trapping, sending the screener’s guy flying at Wade and assigning a third defender to be ready at the top of the paint as the last line of defense.
In my half of the Q-and-A with Hot Hot Hoops (the TrueHoop Miami blog), I questioned whether the C’s were being honest when they talked about letting Wade “get his” and containing everyone else. The Heat have so few scoring options among “everyone else” that I wondered whether it might be better to focus the defense (at least some of the time) on stopping Wade and gambling that the four guys on the floor weren’t good enough to make Boston pay.
What happened in the 2nd half was something better. The C’s indeed geared their defense more toward stopping Wade but rotated so precisely and played the passing lanes so well that Wade’s supporting cast either didn’t receive Wade’s passes cleanly or saw openings closed off before they could do anything.
I leave you with this play from about the 1:30 mark of the 3rd quarter. You’ll notice four Boston defenders collapse on Wade in the paint. And you’ll notice Wade still can’t get a pass off.
This was 2008 level defense, and when the C’s play it, they can beat anyone in any given game.
But can they play it four times in any given series?