Give the Miami Heat credit for making the proper personnel and tactical adjustments in their 85-75 victory over the Chicago Bulls, squaring up the Eastern Conference Finals at one game apiece.
The most important adjustment the Heat made was Eric Spoelstra’s decision to incorporate 3-1 screen/rolls late in the fourth quarter with LeBron James as the ball handler and Mike Bibby as the screen-setter. LeBron would have the ball up top defended by Luol Deng, while Bibby would come off a corner screen set by Dwyane Wade and then screen for LeBron with Korver checking Bibby.
The Heat ran LeBron/Bibby screen/rolls six times down the stretch with the following results.
- Deng went way under the Bibby screen and got strung out for a split second, while Korver’s hedge on LeBron was ineffectual. LeBron sank a critical three.
- Deng shoved Bibby to the ground for a non-shooting foul.
- Though Deng was screened again by Bibby, Joakim Noah pre-rotated nicely to meet LeBron outside the paint and string him backwards. With the play successfully strung out, the Heat merely passed the ball along the perimeter until James missed a three with the shot clock winding down.
- Again, Deng was screened off by Bibby and Noah rotated to meet LeBron. LeBron missed a short runner over Noah’s outstretched hand, but grabbed the rebound and stuck the putback.
- Korver reached in on his hedge and committed a non-shooting foul.
- With Rose defending Bibby, Deng was able to fight over the screen and square up LeBron. LeBron iso’d Deng, though, and hit a clutch dagger that sealed the game.
Not counting the non-shooting fouls, the Heat scored seven points the four times they ran the screen/rolls. It was a nice tweak by Spoelstra as it managed to get Luol Deng’s rangy defense off of James without bringing one of Chicago’s ubiquitous big men to cut James off trying to turn the corner on the screen.
Give credit to Spoelstra. After getting pantsed by Tom Thibodeau in Game One, Spoelstra got the better of the coaching matchup in Game Two.
Why else did Miami win?
- Though he almost disastrously rode him too long, summoning Udonis Haslem was a masterstroke for Spoelstra. Haslem provided the same terrific screen defense Joel Anthony was providing, with the added benefit of being able to recover and secure prime defensive rebounding real estate. Also, unlike Anthony, Haslem was a factor on the offensive end.
- Haslem was active on the offensive glass (three boards), connected on two of his five jumpers, and even threw down three impressive dunks to provide the Heat with offense and energy from somebody other than one of the Big Three.
- Also, while his first baseline rotation was tardy, Haslem’s second meaningful defensive possession saw him draw a charge. His subsequent rotations were usually on-point, and he had no qualms hustling and diving for loose balls to secure possessions.
- In short, Haslem provided championship-level help defense, complementary offense, and necessary hustle. While some tertiary Heat players have provided one or two of those qualities, with Haslem providing all three, they were able to offset Chicago’s depth and energy.
- Spoelstra also limited the minutes of James Jones, Mario Chalmers, and Anthony, giving Bibby more minutes, along with Haslem.
- Wade scored enough early to pace the Heat until James heated up late.
- Thanks in large part to Chicago’s exemplary screen/roll defense and athletic defensive wings, LeBron and Wade checked out of the game late in Game One. Also, the teamwide hustle level of the Heat wasn’t up to snuff in Game One. However, even when James and Wade were struggling to score in Game Two, they stayed active on the defensive end and weren’t outhustled.
- As a result, Chicago’s offense wasn’t gifted with the same number of broken plays they were gifted in Game One and had more trouble scoring against Miami’s suffocating defense.
- Bibby was frequently isolated by Rose and lived to tell the tale (though Bibby was frequently chumped on screen/rolls by giving Rose too much room). Bibby’s screening also played a huge part in Miami’s endgame offense.
- Deng’s sharp Game One was largely fueled by broken plays and sloppy second half defense by LeBron. In Game Two, LeBron was much more engaged in limiting Deng’s wide open looks. When Deng was asked to create offense against LeBron, James locked him up and threw away the key, holding Deng to an unsightly performance—5-15 FG, 1-7 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 AST, 4 TO, 13 PTS.
- James’ quick hands and quickness in the passing lanes also led to three steals.
- Chris Bosh’s defense was passable, and while he didn’t do much, he didn’t make many egregious mistakes.
- Jamal Magloire set bone-crunching screens.
- The Heat also deserve credit for providing very good interior defense, for playing harder than Chicago, and for not panicking after the Bulls tied the game late in the fourth.
While those are the majority of the reasons why the Heat won, there are several critical reasons why the Bulls lost.
- The Bulls missed over a half dozen layups, with Carlos Boozer and Rose the main culprits.
- Rose was often out of control and forced a number of wild drives, and subsequent wild shots in the paint. He shot 7-23 for the game, an awful number, though he shot 2-10 inside the paint—even worse.
- Boozer didn’t provide any post offense, scoring all three baskets on cookies generated by offensive rebounds or his teammates penetrations. His defense was the weak link of Chicago’s frontcourt, he was frequently late on his interior rotations, and was ineffective on his screen/roll soft shows. The only area Boozer was a factor in was on the offensive glass.
- Taj Gibson made crucial plays down the stretch as he provided a jumper, a left hook, and a screen/roll dunk to get the Bulls back in the game. Defensively, he blocked a Haslem shot attempt, induced a travel when Bosh tried to post him, perfectly covered LeBron when soft showing on his screen/rolls—plus his rotations span the breadth of the globe. However, Gibson only played 22 minutes to Boozer’s 27.
- Omer Asik had a strong second half, but he committed an offensive foul in the first half, and a poor hedge allowed LeBron James to split a trap and get a layup to close the second quarter, giving the Heat a halftime lead.
- After outplaying LeBron in Game One, Deng lost his matchup in Game Two.
- The Heat did a better job of providing hard contests and shows on Korver, preventing him from popping open for wide open looks. Without his shooting (1-7 FG, 1-5 3FG) making up for his exploited defense, Korver was a liability.
- The Bulls had trouble generating easy offense against the Heat. With Deng matched up against an All-NBA defender, the Bulls need a second scorer to step up when Rose is having a bad game. Again, the onus here is on Boozer.
With the Heat making the proper adjustments, it’s up to Thibodeau and the Bulls to take the necessary countermeasures.
When Wade goes to screen for Bibby in the corner, Korver can overplay the topside of the screen forcing Bibby to the baseline. The Heat could sink the weak-side big into the paint to protect against a backcut and trust their rotations to get out to cover Bosh at the elbow. This is one possible way to defend the corner curl Bibby uses to screen for James.
The Bulls could also simply look to jam Wade’s screen, but Korver’s lack of physicality makes that strategy hard to execute.
The simplest, and most effective measure would be to have Deng fight harder and get under the screen quicker, but any delay by Deng leaves James with a head of steam against a help defender—not a good position for the Bulls to be in.
Boozer needs to be given a shorter leash. If he’s missing layups and only looking to fade away on his offensive moves, then he’s not covering up for his defensive deficiencies.
Also, the Bulls need to get more weak-side action to keep Miami’s help defense occupied.
Whatever the case may be, the Heat did their job in Chicago and broke the Bulls’ home court advantage. Let’s see which pawns each coach decides to move, and which pieces end up capturing or being captured as the Eastern Conference Final chess match moves to South Beach.