The ideal Miami Heat possession will end with a layup or a 3-pointer. They aren’t exactly the Houston Rockets in that regard, but Erik Spoelstra has crafted an offense that surrounds his stars with shooters. Usually, it’s a pick-your-poison proposition, as LeBron James and Dwayne Wade use pick and rolls to break down the defense and get into the lane to either score themselves or pass out to their ‘mates for easy 3s.
The Pacers, on the other hand, have a defense designed to take away those two outcomes. They want the opposition to take tough, contested, mid-range shots.
Often in Game 3, the Pacers achieved that goal, cutting off the rim and any passing possibilities as Wade and LeBron drove. Instead, they forced floaters, runners, and short jumpers.
Here are two such looks from Dwyane Wade in Game 3.
And here is one from LeBron.
These are all ideal outcomes for the Pacers.
Unfortunately for Indiana, Wade also has been making these difficult shots a lot in this series, including these three beauties in Game 3.
Indiana isn’t playing perfect defense on all six of the above possessions, but they are by and large sticking to their script. In short, all these shots are hard as hell.
Wade is a Hall of Famer, however, and he will make some of them. He might even get hot and hit several in a row, as he did in Game 3 — and he has largely been doing throughout this series.
How should they respond?
Really, the Pacers have two options: (1) just tip their cap and accept the loss if Wade keeps killing them, or (2) change a systematic approach they have been working to perfect for three years now.
You can argue for option #2 if you want.
But this defensive strategy is really all the Pacers have. It’s their identity and it is how they have gotten to two straight Eastern Conference Finals. Maybe it is flawed and won’t allow them to get to the Finals, but there really is no plan B. Not at this late stage of the season. Roy Hibbert has one elite skill (and Ian Mahinmi parrots it as well as any backup can) and the system has been built upon his ability to protect the rim.
It’s all they know, and I sincerely doubt some new, ad hoc, on-the-fly style will work against Miami either. So they need to stick with it, hope for more misses, and (probably most important of all) stop turning the ball over on the other end of the court so as to match Miami’s scoring.
It is key, however, that all the players actually stick with the plan.
The Pacers want to have these possessions come down to a Hall of Famer either missing a tough shot or beating them with greatness. What they can’t do is add an additional way for Miami to get easy points, which is what happens when the defenders not involved in the action cheat.
The Pacers defense slowly frayed as the regular season went on, with the perimeter defenders clearly losing some trust in both Hibbert (who was playing like carrion) and the system itself. Or they were just being lazy — but I’ll give them some credit and assume there was at least some of the former going on.
Now, down 2-1 in the series, they must redouble their faith.
For the players not involved in the pick and roll, they must stay home on shooters and not let Wade and LeBron kick out rather than take the tough shot.
We saw Luis Scola doing failing in this twice.
Bosh isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire, so it isn’t surprising that he only went 1-for-2 on these open looks, but it is breakdowns like these that could turn the (theoretically) low-percentage options for Wade and LeBron into much tastier triples for Miami.
It isn’t just Scola, however. Other players are sagging too far into the action when they should be relying on Hibbert (or Mahinmi) and the on-ball defender to force a tough shot. They need to guard the 3-point arc.
Here is Hill sagging too far down on a LeBron drive.
What exactly did Hill plan to do if Hibbert didn’t thwart LeBron’s attempt? Was he going to block James’ shot? No, he probably wasn’t. But he still hangs down in the paint for no reason, allowing Chalmers to drive by, freak out the now-ruined team defense, and pass to Haslem for the layup.
Here is an example of doing it the right way.
Stephenson, West, and George Hill (the three defenders not involved in the pick and roll) all sag some to offer the potential for help, but none lose focus of the kick-out threat. Lance is close enough so that Wade’s pass out to LeBron offers no easy catch-and-shoot attempt, and West is fully recovered by the time James swings it to Rashard Lewis at the top of the key. Rashard takes the shot, but it is well contested and misses.
This is what Indiana needs to do on the pick and roll.
Well, this and hoping for more Wade misses.