The Heat made the first big adjustment of the series. They realized that LeBron has a major size and strength advantage on Paul George and can abuse him down low. There were a few times during Game 3 where Vogel called a time out and it seemed like they were going to start doubling LeBron whenever he entered the post. However, even after the timeouts they didn’t.
Frank Vogel might wish he had implemented some type of zone to neutralize LeBron post ups, but I think that after watching film of Game 3, he’ll realize that there’s no real need.
Instead, they’re going to need to aggressively double LeBron. If they don’t we could see every game go like Game 3. You might think that doubling LeBron in the post would leave Miami’s three-point shooters wide open. This would be true, but based on their spacing in Game 3, while LeBron was posting up, it seems as if it won’t be much of a problem. Miami’s weak side spacing was extremely poor during LeBron post ups, so much that it was somewhat of a shocker that the Pacers didn’t decide to double him.
Paul George was extremely effective defending Carmelo in the post in the second round. Needless to say, Carmelo isn’t LeBron. LeBron is much stronger than Carmelo and will settle for turnaround jumpers on a much less consistent basis than Melo. Via My Synergy Sports, in the series against the Knicks, Carmelo was held to a pedestrian 0.88 points per possession on post up opportunities (which was also his opponents average during the season while defending 179 post ups). Through hree games in this series, the Heat are scoring (a very good) 1.12 points per possession when LeBron posts up. As you can tell LeBron post ups are much more deadly than Carmelo’s (or probably any other small forward in the league).
The Pacers didn’t need to double in the Knicks series but they definitely will here.
On first glance, this looks like the exact reason why the Pacers wouldn’t want to double LeBron in the post.
Bosh ends up with an open three. In reality this was just poor defense by the Pacers. David West should double LeBron right away, while the Heat have four players on the weak side and George Hill is in position to rotate to prevent a pass to Bosh. Instead, West chooses to double a few seconds into the post up and Bosh smartly positions himself above the arc, where Hill is not in position to rotate fast enough.
At the beginning of the clip, however, Miami’s spacing is God awful; the Pacers could have easily defended the three weakside players if West was able to get the ball out of LeBron’s hands quickly enough.
Once again, the Heat have disastrous weakside spacing.
Wade, Bosh and Hasslem are within arm’s reach of each other. Roy Hibbert doubling LeBron here wouldn’t have been a bad option, where West and Lance Stephenson can easily defend the weakside. But instead, Hibbert waits under the basket for the arrival of LeBron. LeBron never gets within arm’s reach of Roy and instead easily banks in a left handed hook.
The other option here (probably the better one) would be for Hill to aggressively force the ball out of LeBron’s hands while West rotates onto Chalmers. This would allow Lance to prevent a pass to Bosh or Wade, who are practically holding hands, and Roy can defend the pass when anyone attempts cutting to the basket. If the double team is done quickly and aggressively enough, not only would the Heat not score on this possession but would most likely also turn it over.
This is almost the same exact play as the one prior, only LeBron doesn’t score, but that’s not the point.
The point is that until Miami shows that they can space the floor correctly, the Pacers can only benefit from doubling LeBron in the post.
Here, Hibbert initially looks as if he’s getting ready to hard double LeBron, and Sam Young rotates on birdman to prevent the pass. But rather than double LeBron, which probably would’ve gotten the ball out of his hands, Hibbert just stays back waiting for LeBron to come to him. When Chris Andersen is in the game, it’s probably a better option for one of the guards to double LeBron, because if Roy is brought away from the basket, Birdman will probably be able to get an offensive rebound fairly easily.
Later in this possession, Norris Cole darts to the weakside corner, where three of his teammates already are, via a baseline cut. When Cole cuts, D.J. Augustin could have tried to force the ball out of LeBron’s hands while Roy is in position to stop a pass to the cutting Cole. Were he to do this, Shane Battier would’ve likely ran to the top of the arc, but Tyler was in position and preventing an open three from Ray or Cole would have been a walk in the park for Sam Young.
Instead, this possession results in LeBron free throws after he is fouled by Hibbert.
For some odd reason, Ray thinks that running all the way to the weakside will space the floor well. The second Sam Young sees Ray do this, he needs to run over to force the ball out of LeBron’s hands. Were Ray to run back to the top of the arc, Tyler is in position to rotate onto him while D.J. can contest a shot by either Cole or Battier if they get the ball.
Roy Hibbert can’t come over to meet LeBron under the rim, like he does in this clip, when Birdman is in the game. If LeBron missed this shot, Birdman was in position for an easy offensive rebound.
After Shane Battier and Norris Cole cut to the weakside corner here it looks like they’re having a three-man group huddle in the middle of the possession. The spacing is that bad.
Paul George thinks the paint is his personal dance floor and he just dances around spinning in circles. This is proof that LeBron would not have been able to get the ball to the weakside corner. Paul is standing smack in the middle of the paint wondering where the heck Norris Cole disappeared to — he should have gone to double LeBron — as it looks like LeBron doesn’t even entertain the thought of passing to one of his teammates in the corner.
The Pacers have two opportunities to get the ball out of LeBron’s hands here.
The first comes right after the entry pass: Augustin can force the ball out while West covers Cole on the baseline cut. Sam Young would have been in position to contest a shot if Battier or Allen get the ball.
The second opportunity: When LeBron makes his move towards the baseline, Ian has the chance to double him. David West would have been in position to deny a pass to the cutting Birdman, and if LeBron managed to get the pass off to Battier, West or DJ are in position to recover in time.
The initial defense is really good on this possession to deny the entry pass to LeBron in the post. Again, Miami’s weak side spacing is so bad that Hibbert and Hill are able to leave their defensive assignment and Wade still has no open players to pass it to.
When Wade finally does get the ball to LeBron in the post, he cuts to the weakside corner to join the party his teammates are hosting him there. For some reason Lance follows him even though there’s no point. He should have doubled LeBron while Hibbert can rotate on Wade to prevent him from getting a pass under the rim.
That would have been much better than aimlessly jumping in the air while LeBron drives to the basket.
The Pacers are going to need to get the ball out of LeBron’s hands when he posts up. Paul George is completely over matched down there. Trying out zone would be a viable option but unfortunately, Vogel has yet to implement a zone scheme to his defense. Thankfully, the Heat space the floor like an orthodontist wants to space your teeth. Not only can the Pacers limit how much LeBron is able to score while posting up Paul George, they can also force turnovers while doing so.
If they remain stubborn and refuse to double him, more 70-point halves could be looming in Indiana’s future.
In Game 4, I’d be very surprised if LeBron doesn’t get doubled in the post. Then again, the Heat seem to be making their offense as unpredictable as Lance Stepehnson’s game-to-game production, so we might not even see more than a few LeBron post ups in Game 4.