2011 NBA Finals Analysis: Understanding Heat's Dominant Defense


I know you’ve noticed it. That controlled chaos of the Miami Heat half-court defense. Scrambling, recovering, switching. One rotation followed by another rotation, forcing extra pass after extra pass until…

Well, usually until the other team takes a guarded shot. Or worse, a shot against a double team.

Part of the tracking effort at Back Picks is keeping tabs of double-teamed shots. And in the 2011 Playoffs, no defense has more shots taken against two defenders than the Miami Heat. Miami averages 7.8 double-teamed shots against per 100 possessions, which means about 16% of the Heat’s guarded 2-point shots involve two defenders on the ball. No doubt a factor that contributes to Miami’s opponents shooting just 37.4% this postseason on guarded 2-pointers, second only to Indiana (36.6%) in the playoffs.

The Swarming Help Defense

NBA teams typically need to rotate because someone needed help on defense. That’s supposed to lead to something good. But against Miami, it can lead to a bad shot. Jump to 13:20 of the video below, and notice what happens to the defense from Dirk Nowitzki‘s Opportunity Created:


Dirk drives left and Tim Duncan needs backside help to cut off the baseline drive. Once this happens, the Dallas offense has a four on three advantage when Dirk passes the ball; The Mavs are looking for the best, open shot in that “Power Play,” while the Spurs defense is doing everything possible to rotate to the (potentially) open shooter and recover enough to eliminate the advantage.

Simple enough, right?

Here’s the rub: most times this happens a team ends up with a good open shot. Against a bad defense, once the players are scrambled, the likelihood that someone misses a rotation and gives up a layup are increased.

Only Miami’s defense is a little different.

The Heat rotate so well and so quickly — it can feel like there are six of them — that all of that chaotic movement not only leads to guarded shots from the offense, but against double teamed shots.

That’s not to say teams don’t have their share of open jumpers against Miami, but when they are run off the 3-point line — the Heat finished 21st in 3-point attempts against — shots around the basket are often against two defenders. Head into the lane against Miami, and two players will probably be waiting and ready to challenge a shot.

Of course, attempts against two defenders don’t only occur after a mad defensive scramble. Players like Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, LeBron James and even Dwyane Wade swarm to the ball, protecting the paint and blocking shots in help situations (Miami finished 9th in blocks this year).

Here are the Heat players most involved in a double team in the 2011 playoffs:

Double Teams/100

Chris Bosh

Joel Anthony

LeBron James

Mario Chalmers

James Jones

The average double team rate in the playoffs is 2.2/100, which is also how often Wade has been involved in a double team in the postseason.

Get more great NBA analysis over at BackPicks.com


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