LeBron's Legacy Aloft

by Jeff Fogle 27. May 2011 00:19

A trey from LeBron James with 2:06 left cut the Miami Heat's Game Five deficit to 77-72. A trey with 1:00 left knotted the score at 79. A 21-foot jumper with 0:29 put Miami on top of the Chicago Bulls for the first time since the first quarter. Moments later, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were taking their talents back to South Beach...ready to host Game One of the NBA Championships...

Nobody's talking about quitting on Cleveland. Nobody's talking about an inability to make big shots when everything is on the line. Nobody's even talking any more about Derrick Rose being the more valuable player. The question now is...will LeBron win his first championship this year, as he tries to take the first huge step in chasing down the legendary Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever.

We'll talk more about that over the next two weeks. First things first...

MIAMI 83, CHICAGO 80
2-point pct: Miami 39%, Chicago 37%
3-pointers: Miami 6/15, Chicago 7/21
Free Throws: Miami 25/33, Chicago 15/21
Turnovers: Miami 15, Chicago 10
1's and 2's: Miami 65, Chicago 59

Given the dramatic rally from a dozen down with under four minutes to go, the most obvious comparison is to Dallas/Oklahoma City in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals.

*Both games saw the ROAD team rally to beat the home team(!).

*Dallas went on a 17-2 run to finish regulation, Miami on a 19-4 run.

*Both games saw the home team continue to make miscues and misfires because an inexperienced point guard didn't know what to do againt a brick wall defense set up to disrupt his plans.

*Both games saw superstars lead their team back with clutch bucket after clutch bucket. We have to throw Dwyane Wade into that mix as well. Wade caught fire after a few-game walkabout that looks to be related to an injury the Heat won't discuss. D-Wade had a huge 4-point play that knocked the breath out of Bulls nation. That's the breath they couldn't find when they needed a last gasp.

*And, obviously, both games were won by teams who will be now be battling in the NBA Championships that begin Tuesday in Miami.

Let's wrap up the threads we've been monitoring throughout the Miami-Chicago matchup, starting with Miami shutting down Derrick Rose because it turned out to be most important theme of the series...

Rose This Series:
Game One: 10 of 22 for 28 points (Chicago's win)
Game Two: 7 of 23 for 21 points
Game Three: 8 of 19 for 20 points
Game Four: 8 of 26 for 23 points in regulation
Game Five: 9 of 28 for 25 points

Before Game Four, Rose talked about getting more aggressive. That just led to more missed shots and more turnovers. He was 32 of 96 in regulation in the Bulls' four losses, exactly 33% from the field.

Tonight's clampdown inside the arc vs. Rose and his cohorts was the most restrictive yet.

Chicago Scoring on 1's and 2's:
Game One: 73 points
Game Two: 66 points
Game Three: 70 points
Game Four: 72 points in regulation
Game Five: 59 points

When Chicago led by 12 with just under four minutes to go, I was planning to write up some notes on how they "bounced back" to get a win despite not doing anything better on offense. They were still struggling. They just happened to be holding Miami to a very low total. A recurring lesson, don't plan your lead paragraph until the game is actually over! Not even late double digit leads are safe in the 2011 playoffs. Especially if your offense can't break 85 points.

Another theme was going to be about how Chicago had continued to hold its own against the James/Wade combo with Rose and Luol Deng even though Rose wasn't playing to regular season levels. That was until the 17-3 finish for the tag team champs.

Big Two:
James and Wade: 49 points
Rose and Deng: 43 points

Big Three:
James, Wade, and Bosh: 69 points
Rose, Deng, and Boozer: 48 points

Carlos Boozer disappeared tonight, scoring just five points on 1 of 6 shooting in 26 minutes.

As we saw in Dallas-Oklahoma City, this was a 4-1 series that was much more evenly matched than a five-game elimination would suggest. Chicago was in position to win Game Four on two late possessions, then needed an epic offensive meltdown here to blow a late lead in Game Five. Both series losers were a few plays away from being up 3-2. Experience matters. Having a real plan of attack matters late in close games. I'm still not that fond of asking LeBron to make guarded treys over and over again. But, they keep falling so who's to argue? (Me, the next time it fails!). Ultimately, BOTH Dallas and Miami aren't playing quite as well as 4-1 would suggest, so it cancels out.

I'm planning to have an expanded preview up Monday night just before the Finals start. For now, let's match what we did last night and make a list of what Miami is doing well at the moment.

*Defense inside the arc has been stellar. James and Wade were already known for their defense, as was this team as a whole. The return of Udonis Haslem made the brick wall even tougher to deal with. On two's through the series, Chicago shot 42%, 40%, 42%, 46%, and 37%.

*Defense outside the arc was great after the first game. Chicago won the opener with a big boost from a 10 of 21 performance on treys. Miami didn't let that happen again, and Chicago didn't win again. In the last four games, Chicago was 3/20, 5/12, 6/24, and 7/21 on treys. That's a combined 21 of 77 from long range for just 27%. The two-point equivalent is 40.9%...even worse than the norms from inside the arc.

*And, Miami wasn't sending Chicago to the free throw line! That's all there is...1's, 2's, and 3's. The Bulls only made 17, 16, 16, 17, and 15 free throws in order over the five games. Miami was attacking the basket more succesfully. It paid off with a line of 15, 18, 25, 32, and 25 makes.

You heard the Heat players emphasizing defense in their interviews. This is what they were talking about. This wasn't a series where they had to sacrifice one thing to focus on something else. They had all the relevant bases covered because Chicago didn't have enough weaponry to spread everyone out. That will change in the Finals.

*Chris Bosh became a more consistent big game scoring threat. There were doubts in some circles that he would thrive under the playoff spotlight. In an awkward, sluggish series known for long dry spells, Bosh's soft touch was a sight for sore eyes. It's easy to overlook the fact that Bosh scored 30 of the team's 82 points in the series opener, 34 of the team's 96 points in their home opener, and 20 of 83 points in tonight's clincher. He averaged 23.2 per game for a team that was only averaging 89.4 per game.

Enjoy the weekend. Back with you Monday night with an expanded look at the NBA Championships featuring the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat...

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Miami in Cruise Control

by Jeff Fogle 22. May 2011 23:57

In what could be very bad news for the rest of the NBA, the Miami Heat beat the Chicago Bulls 96-85 with seemingly quiet games from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, a relatively minor contribution from potential X-Factor Udonis Haslem, and category losses in three-pointers and rebounds. They won by double digits and barely broke a sweat!

Well, Chris Bosh broke a sweat. And, he was the obvious key with a 34-point performance on 13 of 18 shooting. The Chicago defense can't stop all of the big three at the same time. The Bulls held Wade to 6 of 17 from the floor, and kept LeBron from going off at 6 of 13. Bosh kept getting open looks because of the defensive rotations. He kept draining them. 

MIAMI 96, CHICAGO 85
2-point pct: Chicago 42%, Miami 53%
3-pointers: Chicago 5/12, Miami 3/9
Free Throws: Chicago 16/21, Miami 25/29
Rebounds: Chicago 41, Miami 32
1's and 2's: Chicago 70, Miami 87

Huge edge for the Heat in two-point shooting and 1's and 2's. Chicago is now 8 of 32 on treys since that 10 of 21 in the opener launched them to a blowout victory.

Some quick notes:

*Derrick Rose only went to the free throw line three times tonight. If he's not going to pick up 10-12 points from the charity stripe, this series is over now. Rose was 8 of 19 from the floor (1 of 3 on treys).

Look at how Miami has neutralized the league MVP the last two games...

Rose in Games 2 and 3:

Game 2: 7 of 23, 21 total points
Game 3: 8 of 19, 20 total points
Combined: 15 of 42, 41 total points

A handcuffed Rose is 36% from the field, with an average of 20.5 points per game in Chicago's two losses. That's not going to scare anyone.

*Rose and Luol Deng were only outscored 39-34 by James and Wade. But, the trio of Rose, Deng and Carlos Boozer was outscored 73-60 by James, Wade and Bosh even though Boozer had a big game. Bosh was bigger.

*Miami reduced its turnovers from 16 and 15 in the first two games to just 10 tonight.

*All three games in this series have registered at 85 possessions. So, Miami scored 96 points on just 85 possessions for an efficiency mark of 112.9. That's what I was referring to in the lead paragraph. How scary is it for the rest of the league that Miami can reach 112.9 in offensive efficiency when you don't even feel like LeBron and D-Wade are doing much?

*There were concerns much of the year that Miami hadn't found a reliable three-point threat they could use for the dagger when defenses converged on the big three. That hasn't been much of an issue in this series. Miami is 3/8, 3/13, and 3/9 so far, for a mediocre 9 of 30. They shot 53% on two-pointers in the two games they won. They keep doing that and treys are irrelevant. At least in this series. It's not like Chicago is going to pop 10 makes three more times in the four maximum remaining games.

*Kyle Korver of Chicago can be ruled out as a meaningful player in this series. He only took two shots in 11 minutes tonight, but committed four personal fouls.

*Did tonight's game look familiar?

Miami's Last 4 Home Games

Miami 96, Chicago 85
Miami 97, Boston 87
Miami 102, Boston 91
Miami 99, Boston 90

Those are consistently bunched margins of 11, 10, 11, and 9 at home against the scariest teams in the East. Might as well mention now that Miami would have home court advantage over either Dallas or Oklahoma City in the Finals...

Doesn't feel like there's much else to say. Well, I shouldn't leave the impression that James and Wade were freeloading while Bosh was doing all the work. James and Wade are very important elements of the Miami defense. And, the Miami defense held Chicago to 42% inside the arc, kept Rose off the free throw line, and discouraged Deng from getting any ideas about being a hero.

Miami takes a 2-1 series lead into Tuesday Night's fourth game. Back with you late Monday Night for numbers and notes from Game Four of Dallas-Oklahoma City...

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Bosh 1 of 18 in Miami Loss

by Jeff Fogle 25. February 2011 01:19

What lessons can we draw from Chicago's 93-89 victory over Miami Thursday night? Whatever pathway you try to take toward insight, you eventually run into the elephant in the room. How many times will Chris Bosh go 1 of 18 from the field?!

Amazingly, the first few recaps I read of the game didn't even mention this startling non-accomplishment. If Bosh had thrown the ball into the crowd 17 times a wire service reporter would have noticed. The ebb and flow of the game was certainly dramatic. Wasn't it influenced by one of the "big three" stars missing 17 of 18 shots?

If you're a fan of Miami, you can convince yourself that a rematch would be a win because there's no way Bosh could be that bad again. The Heat only lost by four after all. If you're a skeptic of Miami's championship hopes, you can point out that Chicago did a great job of forcing Miami to shoot where they didn't want to shoot from outside of some fast break dunks in the first quarter (Heat by quarter: 31-22-14-22).

It's interesting that this was Miami's second road loss to an Eastern power in recent memory. They fell at Boston 85-82. Bosh was actually 8 of 11 in that game, but Dwyane Wade struggled at 6 of 17. Maybe that's a path worth walking down for a bit...

82 POINTS AT BOSTON
James: 10 of 21
Bosh: 8 of 11
Wade: 6 of 17
Total: 24 of 49...49%
Others: 7 of 25...28%

89 POINTS AT CHICAGO
James: 12 of 21
Wade: 12 of 24
Bosh: 1 of 18
Total: 25 of 63...40%
Others: 7 of 16...44%

There was talk when the superstars were assembled that the combination provided some big game "insurance." If LeBron was having an off night, surely Wade would pick up the slack. If Wade wasn't hitting, LeBron could take over. If defenses had to devote most of their attention to LeBron and Wade, then Bosh would score at will on chippies.

That line of thinking looks to be true against most of the league. Miami has truly been dominant in recent weeks when all three were healthy. They've won 31 of their last 34 by my quick count when all three were in the lineup and ready to go. But, that includes an 0-2 mark when playing on the road against Eastern powers with strong defenses. To win a championship, you'll have go to through at least one Eastern power with a great defense. 

Perhaps these results are suggesting that the big three HAVE to all be playing well in the playoff style showdowns. If one has an off night, then what's left of the team will struggle to reach 90 points vs. a top defense.

We haven't seen Miami at home against an Eastern power for awhile. If they keep dominating the rest of the field, they may have home court advantage through the Eastern brackets and be able to overcome these road concerns.

Once the expanded boxscores are up for study early Friday, we'll be able to see where all the missed shots were coming from on the floor. For now, Chicago gets to celebrate another big home win over a championship contender. Keyed by the best defense in the NBA... 

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Keys to the Loss: Heat vs Celtics

by 27. October 2010 11:24

While the Miami Heat managed to make the final score a respectable 80-88 against the Boston Celtics in their opening night matchup, the game was not very competitive for most of the night, with the Heat playing far below the expectations many set for them. The Heat finished the game with just an 87.9 Offensive Efficiency, and the offensive problems were far more severe than a problem of mere chemistry or unfamiliarity. Here are some of the key themes to why things went so wrong:

Link to Advanced Box Score

The Problem with Joel Anthony

Joel Anthony is a solid rotation player in the NBA, a great athlete capable of making contributions on defense and the boards, and theoretically he is exactly the kind of hustle player you’d expect to fit in well with a trio of All-Stars. This isn’t your every day trio of All-Stars, however, and there are a few reasons why he is not such an ideal fit.

From an offensive perspective, all of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade are players who operate predominantly inside the three-point line, all being players who get to the rim very frequently. Because of this, putting a player with Joel Anthony’s lack of perimeter game on the floor with them can make things very crowded, severely hurting floor spacing and allowing top-tier defensive teams like the Celtics the ability to seriously take advantage of aggressive help defense. It also clogs up the pick-and-roll game, as it allows the opposition to double hard off Anthony onto the ball-handler, while Anthony isn’t much of a threat to do anything if he receives the pass.

From a defensive perspective, you’d think Anthony’s abilities would be a big-time help to a trio of stars, many of whom don’t have a reputation for applying themselves equally on both sides of the ball, but again, these are not your typical All-Stars, as all of them are well above average, if not elite, defenders in this league. While the roster is largely different, it’s important to remember that the Heat actually ranked third in the league in Defensive Efficiency last year, and their coach clearly knows what he’s doing on this end of the floor. Combine all of those things together and Anthony’s contributions here are largely negligible, a big problem when his presence on offense can throw such a wrench into everything.

We Want Z!

On the contrary to Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is a player who has the perfect offensive skill-set to complement the big three, being a highly intelligent player with the perimeter jumper and passing game to really open things up for the team. It’s no surprise that Ilgauskas posted a +17 +/- on the night in just 11 minutes (while everyone other than James was in the negative on the game), playing almost all of those minutes in the third quarter alongside James, where the Heat outscored the Celtics 27-18.

Ilgauskas’ benefits to the offense are multi-fold, first in terms of general floor spacing by being a potent catch-and-shoot option with three-point range and second by being the best pick-and-pop big man on the team outside of Bosh, a critical skill to have when playing alongside Wade and James.  Beyond that, it’s readily apparent he puts James a lot more at ease when they’re playing together, something the Heat really need from their primary ball-handler and scorer.

Defensively, Ilgauskas is underrated as a positional defender, though he clearly is a liability in the pick-and-roll game at this point of his career. Still, with three players who have the elite size, length, and athleticism like the Heat’s do, this is something that can be covered up, especially relative to the problems Joel Anthony brings on the offensive end. As strange as it sounds, the Heat’s role players around the big three are better served helping on offense than defense when you consider the coach’s strong points and the elite abilities of their stars.

Mis-Utilization of Chris Bosh

Chris Bosh had a terrible game offensively, largely in part to excellent team defense by the Celtics, excellent individual defense by Kevin Garnett, and very poor play by himself, but seeing where he was getting the ball in Miami’s offense is extremely concerning, especially considering what the Raptors’ offense was able to do for him.

Despite Steve Kerr’s repeated cries during the broadcast that Chris Bosh can’t post up, Bosh is actually one of the best post-up players in the entire NBA, ranking in the 90th percentile in post efficiency according to Synergy last season, scoring 1.09 PPP on a ridiculous 549 possessions in 70 games played. Only seven players in the entire NBA posted up for more possessions than Bosh last year (despite Bosh missing 12 games), and the closest to him in efficiency was Tim Duncan at 1.04 PPP!

So what went wrong against the Celtics? For one, nearly all of Bosh’s post-up opportunities saw him catching the ball 10 feet or more away from the basket, while the help defense the Celtics sent off Joel Anthony certainly didn’t help matters either. Pairing Bosh with a more threatening big man and using more off ball action in terms of screens and movement to free him down low will be critical to the Heat this year, and they’ll need to show a lot more creativity in getting him the ball this way in the future, as there was virtually none of it last night.

The Problem with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James

This may be the most concerning and critical factor of all in the quest for a championship, as even if the Heat sort out their rotation, floor spacing, and utilization of other players, it won’t be enough to save them from errant decision-making from their stars, not in series against the Magic, Celtics, and Lakers.

Too often last night it seemed to be decided with more than half the shot clock remaining that the best option for the Heat was for James or Wade to isolate their man and pull up for a 20-foot contested jumper, which worked about as well as you’d expect it to work. Having players with elite shot creating abilities like this is a massive luxury when the shot clock is running down or your team is down and you need someone to take over, both of which we saw on many occasions last night. But on the other hand, it is very much a double-edged sword if you allow it to bog down your normal halfcourt offense, and this it will be very important for James and Wade to tone down these tendencies, if not for the regular season (where they can get away with it against 75% of the league) then for inevitable postseason matchups against other elite teams. 

The other question here is will Erik Spoelstra have the willingness to really come down hard on his stars when they derail the offense (and likewise will the stars have the respect for him to listen). The silver lining here is all three of the Heat’s stars are highly competitive and want to win, plus with expectations so high they shouldn’t be content with letting things go sour for too long. Still, Pat Riley is obviously lurking in the wings, and the more performances we see like last night’s, the more the public will speculate about Riley descending from the front office to the sidelines once again.

Looking Forward

It’s easy to overreact about things based on one game, and the fact that the Heat only lost by eight and were within one possession with a minute to go last night despite playing so poorly puts in perspective how dangerous this team can be when they get things in full gear. Still, many of their problems won’t go away without adjustments, and it will be interesting to see how creative the coaching staff is in making them. The return of Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers to the lineup in the future will certainly help things from a floor spacing perspective, but it’s easy to see the Joel Anthony problem becoming a recurring issue against elite defenses should they keep their frontcourt rotation the same. Luckily for us fans, we only have to wait ‘til Friday’s game against the Magic to see another such match-up, where the Heat will obviously be looking to make a statement given how poorly their debut went against the Celtics.

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