Let’s start with some full disclosure here. This is an article I had first planned on writing during the Celtics-Heat series after Game 3. Time ran short quickly unfortunately (a five-game series will do that) and I wasn’t able to crank it out in time. It happens. Luckily, my original line of thought about Miami still holds up thus far in the next round, although it comes as little consolation for Celtics fans.
As we all know, the Heat is down 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals to those pesky Chicago Bulls. After the Game 1 beatdown, the vast majority of the attention from the media were seemingly on a few glaring Miami deficiencies. There were the offensive rebounds (Chicago had 19), the second chance points, (31-8 edge for Chicago), the turnover mismatch (Miami 16, Chicago 9). Now don’t get me wrong, these were all worthy statistics of our attention, but there is one other category, which caught my eye.
3-point shooting Chicago: 10/21 – 47.6%
A terrific number for the Bulls, to be sure, especially for a squad that had only shot 33.6% from downtown in their first two series. This was just one game though. It would be foolish to take too much out of it right? Chicago was due for a hot-shooting night and they performed well in front of their home court, which they are perfectly capable of doing.
There’s just one problem with that perspective however. Sunday night was not an anomaly when it comes to Miami’s contests of the three-point line. Hot shooting nights for Miami’s opponents beyond the arc have been the rule, not the exception through this postseason thus far, as the Heat have allowed their foes to hit a alarming 43.4 percent of their treys from downtown in 11 games.
A look at history tells us that kind of putrid defense of the three-point line could very well be Miami’s fatal flaw in their quest for a championship this season.
Before we go any further, let’s take a closer look at the team’s performance limiting the trey, both during the regular season and this postseason.
If you look at strictly regular season numbers, my concerns about Miami’s D appear to be far fetched. The Heat weren’t a bad team at defending from downtown at all. In fact, they were a top-10 squad, holding their opponents to just 34.5 percent from deep, good for 9th in the NBA.
If we inspect the postseason numbers however, you run into a disturbing trend for all three teams Miami have faced thus far. High percentages from downtown, with all of the teams outperforming their regular season numbers.
Philadelphia: 32/82 – 39% (regular season-35.5% 15th in NBA)
Boston: 39/84 – 46.4% (regular season-36.5%, 11th in NBA)
Chicago: 10/21 – 47.6% (regular season- 36.1%, 13th in NBA)
There is a lot to be worried about here if you are a Miami fan. You can say that the Bulls outburst was a flash in the pain, but through 11 games this postseason, the Heat’s problems defending the arc have become a flat out trend.
You also begin to notice problems, when you compare Miami’s issues to the rest of the NBA teams this postseason. To start, on average during the playoffs, teams are allowing their opposition to shoot a mere 34.2 percent from deep, nearly 10 points below the Heat’s number.
Out of all 16 teams in the tournament, Miami ranks 15th (behind New York) in defending the trey.
If you narrow it down to the three other teams remaining in the Conference Finals, you run into more glaring deficiencies for Miami in it’s defense of the arc. Postseason numbers are in parentheses
Chicago: (32.5%-5th), regular season-32.6%-1st in NBA
Oklahoma City: (34.5%-9th) regular season- 36.1%-18th in NBA
Dallas: (27.1%-1st) regular season-34.3%-7th in NBA
As you can see, all three of these remaining contenders have improved on or maintained their stellar patrolling of the three-point line from the regular season. Or in the case of Dallas, demolished it, reversing course much like Miami has done from its regular season numbers, but in a good way.
There’s more damning evidence out there for Miami and its lackluster 43.4 percent mark though. Let’s cycle through the numbers for the past decade of NBA champions and how they defended their opponents’ treys in the postseason.
1998- Bulls 31.3%
I stopped going back at this point, since it’s safe to say we can all notice a trend here. NBA champions don’t get beat from beyond the arc. Outside of the 2000 Lakers, none of these allowed more than 35 percent shooting from downtown during their postseason runs, and were on average hovering around the 31-32 percent mark.
If you look at that list right on now, you can safely call the Bulls, Thunder, and especially the Mavericks true contenders, based on their current postseason numbers. The Heat? Not so much.
It pains me as a Boston supporter to know that Miami got away with allowing 46 percent shooting from deep by the Green and lived to talk about it. The fact they took care of business in a mere 5 games is even more depressing and speaks volumes about the other problems Boston had within its offense during the series. That’s another topic for another team however.
All of this isn’t necessarily to say we should count the Heat out entirely. The playoffs are far from over, and in all likelihood the Heat will improve these numbers. They’ve also been stellar overall defensively through the majority of their 11 games, limiting opponents to just 43.4 percent shooting overall from the field, despite their high numbers from downtown.
They are also fouling minimally, (.191 FT/FGA-2nd lowest among playoff teams), contesting the ball extremely well at the rim (just 51 percent for Bulls on Sunday night) and had been holding their own on the defensive glass before Game 1 in the first two playoff series.
Therein lies the problem however. Unlike Boston and Indiana, the Bulls are the first elite rebounding team that has faced Miami all postseason. The Heat will have to fight tooth and nail to hold even with Chicago on the glass all series long to stay competitive in these games.
And what Miami can not afford to do, is continue to allow a mediocre three-point shooting team like Chicago to consistently get good looks at the basket all series long.
They got away with it against the C’s sadly, since they were so much better in other facets of the game (rebounding, getting to the free throw line, etc.), but the same will not be true of those categories against the athletic Bulls.
There’s still time for Miami to shore up its D and give Chicago a good run. If no change comes beyond the arc however, the lackluster contesting of the three-point stripe may turn out to be the Heat’s fatal flaw.