A Common Theme
By Jay Cipoletti
In their Game 2 win, Miami took 47.1% (33/70) of their FGAs in the paint, 25 of them within the Restricted Area. The runaway leaders in regular season Corner 3 attempts took only six, converting only one.
In their Game 1 loss, Miami took only 39.7% (31/78) of their FGAs in the paint, opting instead to take 16 Corner 3s.
Heat Game 2 Shot Chart
Heat Game 1 Shot Chart
That their Mid-Range and Above Break 3 attempts were identical in both games is coincidental, yet informative. The Spurs' game plan last year was widely viewed as trying to turn LeBron James into a jump-shooter, a tactic that produced mixed results. It could be more accurately described as trying to make James into anything other than a high-volume Restricted Area shooter.
In the playoffs, only Russell Westbrook (151) and Tim Duncan (115) have taken more RA shots than James' 113. Among players with at least 50 RA attempts, only Serge Ibaka's 80.8% make rate tops James 78.8% mark. Not surprisingly, LeBron's 89 Restricted Area field goals are the most in the playoffs, topping Westbrook's 80 makes despite 38 fewer FGAs within the circle.
As the Spurs see it ... and any casual fan, for that matter ... ANY defensive possession that ends with the Heat getting something other than a LeBron James shot at the rim has avoided their worst case scenario. Keeping Dwyane Wade (67.2%) and Chris Bosh (69.8%) away from the rim, while also important, are secondary priorities. And if you have a game where James makes 8-of-11 shots outside the paint like he did in the second half of Game 2, then you're in trouble.
As the shot charts from the first two games show, running the Heat off of Corner 3s or closing out on those attempts is an additional focus of the Spurs defensive game plan. The shot charts also show that what the Spurs trade off in taking away these high-value shots are relatively uncontested Above Break 3s, which the Heat have converted at 46.2% through the first two games.
Here is an example, where the James drives toward the basket and forces the Spurs defense to converge on him to prevent a Restricted Area attempt; James kicks it out to Bosh in the right corner, which sends the Spurs defense scrambling to contest the shot; Bosh then swings the ball to Norris Cole for the wide-open 3-point attempt on the wing. While Cole missed this attempt, the Heat have shot 12-of-26 on Above Break 3s in the series.
Entering Game 3 and through the remainder of The Finals, whether or not the Heat can continue to make AB3s may have the greatest impact on the adjustments both teams make. If they do, the Spurs will be forced to extend their perimeter defense higher, allowing more rim attacks and/or more open looks in the corners. If the Heat cool off, however, that will enable the Spurs to flatten out and have more bodies available to contest rim attacks and C3 attempts.