Someone finally made the Miami Heat pay for going small. The Indiana Pacers’ offensive rebounding was the key to their crunch-time domination of the Heat as well as a lynchpin of another efficient offensive night.
For the game, the Pacers had 15 offensive rebounds to a mere 18 defensive rebounds for Miami. In the 4th quarter, the carnage was even worse: The Pacers had 6 offensive boards while the Heat secured a mere 2 defensive rebounds the entire quarter.* The desultory effort was present throughout the Heat lineup, as no Heat player exceeded 2 defensive rebounds aside from Ray Allen, who somehow had 6.
* The remainder of the Heat’s defensive rebounds were team rebounds, in which no player actually secures the defensive board and it goes out of bounds or a foul occurs. But only one of even these suboptimal rebounds occurred off a normal missed shot rather than a block or loose ball foul.
So what is the adjustment for Eric Spolestra? Well, getting his team to try would be a good start.
The Heat got off to a terrible start defensive rebounding in the 4th quarter on this late-clock David West heave.
Shane Battier displays his veteran leadership* in what has to be one of the least heady plays of his career. Battier should know West is about to shoot when he receives the ball with 1 second on the shot clock, but makes absolutely no move to either box out Mahinmi or move towards the basket for the rebound even as the shot goes up. LeBron James also makes no effort to jump for the ball, and Mahinmi has an easy tip-in.
*Literally. Many Heat players would follow his lead of standing around on defensive rebounds in the 4th.
Here, no Heat player even jumps for the rebound. Bosh is the primary culprit. Roy Hibbert pushes his way into the lane, but Bosh never even attempts to turn and get a boxout with his rear, much less succeed in pushing Hibbert away from the hoop.*
*Face guarding, i.e. facing the offensive player going for the rebound and boxing him out like you are playing defense, is a legitimate, if desperate, tactic against only the greatest high-energy offensive rebounders like Kenneth Faried or Dennis Rodman. Against a behemoth like Hibbert, who is just trying to push his way as close to the basket as possible, the proper play is to turn and get your backside low to keep him out.
Bosh then compounds the error with a ridiculous flop. If he stays upright, he could still prevent the rebound from hitting Hibbert in the chest, or at least contest Hibbert’s follow-up shot. As it is, Hibbert doesn’t even have to jump for the ball and lays it in utterly unmolested.
But Bosh’s is not the only error on the play. LeBron James never enters the paint until it’s too late, simply walking towards the lane as the shot goes up. This is an especially egregious sin because his man, David West, has him beat into prime rebounding position, a circumstance which should have inspired some alacrity by James. Had he hustled back immediately and Bosh stayed upright, James could have gotten the rebound, especially since Mario Chalmers did a nice job helping out on West. Dwyane Wade, too nonchalantly, make his way back to the basket, failing to box out Lance Stephenson or make a real attempt at the rebound. These bad efforts from James and Wade cannot be excused by fatigue either, as this possession was preceded by a lengthy timeout.
The Pacers’ next possession featured two offensive rebounds. The first, by West, is basically an unlucky result for the Heat. James, after fighting hard all possession to deny West in the post,* gets a boxout, but a wild Stephenson miss off the backboard sent the ball over his head to West.
*This game showed why posting up James is so difficult. A less athletic player like West just cannot match James’ activity and athleticism fronting the post. James and the Heat help-side defense make throwing a lob too difficult. And if the Pacers try to move the ball to the top of the key, LeBron is so smart, fast, and strong that he is able to avoid getting sealed above West and get into position to deny the pass from there as well. Steve Kerr posited that the fronting was putting James out of position, but that was not responsible for any offensive rebounds in the 4th that I saw.
But bad luck was far from the culprit on the Pacers’ second offensive rebound of the possession.
First, Ray Allen makes no effort at all to box out Stephenson or jump for the rebound. Stephenson contests Chalmers (again the only Heat player to make a real effort) and the ball is loose. Bosh is again the goat of the possession, as he simply stands upright and does nothing after the shot is released. He neither moves towards the ball or towards blocking out Hibbert, allowing Hibbert to waltz to the ball and the basket.
As Hibbert’s follow drops through the hoop, Bosh hasn’t moved. Getting outhustled to a loose ball by Hibbert, perhaps the slowest regular player in the league, evinces a miserable effort by Bosh.* Fatigue again is no excuse, as this play too was preceded by a timeout.
*Some may point to Bosh’s ankle injury as a mitigating factor. I might agree if he were trying and failing for rebounds, but he was not even doing that.
The Heat’s small-ball lineup relies on the ability of James and Wade, two of the most athletic wings in the game, to stanch the bleeding on the defensive glass as de facto 4 and 3 men. Bosh will always be somewhat overmatched as a center against big teams, and this problem is exacerbated when the Heat play Allen (never a good rebounder) in crunch time.
But those shortcomings will be difficult indeed to overcome if the Heat do not even try for the defensive rebound. This is especially true on the road, where at least one study has shown that offensive rebounding increases for the home team in the clutch. If they cannot, or will not, put in the effort to rebound in crunch time, the Heat will continue to be vulnerable against the Pacers’ larger lineup.