Defense is Key for Miami Heat in 2014 NBA Finals

By Sonny Giuliano
Miami Heat Defense NBA Finals
Getty Images

The NBA Finals are knotted at one game apiece after the Miami Heat outlasted the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2 of the series thanks to the brilliant play of LeBron James and a timely contribution from Chris Bosh in crunch time. Game 2, like much of Game 1, was closely contested, which leaves myself and many other people who are invested in this series right where we were before the series started — trying to figure out who the better team is.

At this point, a good case can be made for either team as the favorite to bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. However, there are still some red flags that need to be addressed by the Heat going forward. The Heat stole one game in San Antonio which was likely the clear objective the team had in mind, but defensively Miami still has to make a lot of progress before the team or their highly-criticized fanbase can start to feel comfortable.

While some of the numbers may suggest that Miami made the proper adjustments defensively between Game 1 and Game 2, the game isn’t won or lost in the box score. The Spurs shot a smoldering-hot 59 percent from the field and an equally-impressive 52 percent from behind the arc in Game 1 compared to 44 percent and 46 percent respectively in Game 2.

The dip back down to more normal percentages is partly to do with the Heat defense, which at times in both Game 1 and Game 2 wreaked total havoc on the Spurs’ vaunted offense. But it had more to do with the Spurs not making Miami pay than the Heat defense holding the league’s sixth highest scoring offense nine points below their regular season mark.

Spurs forward Tim Duncan shot 9-for-10 from the floor in Game 1, with every single attempt coming in the paint. Duncan got similar looks in Game 2 but finished 7-for-12 in the paint. Some credit can go to the Miami defenders, namely Bosh and Chris Andersen, but those are exactly the looks that the Spurs hope to get on a night-to-night basis. The Spurs were able to get Duncan touches early in the game in spots where he was left with one-on-one coverage and in some situations, a clear path right to the rim.

A bigger problem for the Heat was their inability to locate the Spurs’ shooters on the perimeter. San Antonio deserves credit for running their offensive sets and getting their shooters open, but Miami’s effort to locate the shooters and contest the outside shots was troublesome. The Spurs knocked down 12 of their 26 three-point attempts in Game 2, but that number could have and probably should have been much higher considering the quality looks they were getting.

By my careful count, the Spurs took 12 attempts from three-point range where a defender never ran towards the shooter or at the very least didn’t get a hand up to contest the shot. Granted I haven’t watched for this kind of trend with such detail during the regular season or the playoffs, but 12 legitimately open looks from downtown seems like a generous amount to give a team, especially the Spurs. Luckily for Miami, the Spurs missed half of those attempts. It didn’t seem like they missed any of the open ones in Game 1.

It’s tough to figure out what direction this series is going to go in as the two teams head to Miami for the next two contests. Miami wasn’t as devastating defensively this year as they have been the prior two seasons, but they have shown that they are more than capable of playing prolonged stretches of great defense when they need to. It’s the NBA Finals and they need to. As the saying goes, “defense wins championships.” It won’t be any different this time around.

Sonny Giuliano is a Miami Heat writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @SonnyCG and add him to your network on Google

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