By Raul Takahashi
After one game of these colliding teams in the spotlight, outsiders’ perception of the Miami Heat steers closer towards the supposed gratification at the demise of the superstar posse.
The Bulls, with their virtuous MVP and crew of mercurial length, have crashed into the tag of the people’s team. Each of their style of play sparks the commoners’ feedback, with ongoing digs of “All they do is take turns playing by themselves!” abundant for the Heat all around. It’s somewhat true, with the slight occasional variation. And that’s okay. Work with what you have, they say.
Stimulation of the Offense
The times, they aren’t a-changin’. Not this late in the season.
Miami’s offense has steadily evolved into an incessant carousel of transition baskets, isolation, incessant pick-and-rolls with Wade or James at the helm, and the consequential kick outs to the spot-up shooters. Unfortunately, much like Miami’s defensive philosophy, the Bulls persona has been constructed to nullify this same structure and it was magnified in Game 1. The Bulls are the best team in the league at defending players in isolation, allowing only a 36.2% success rate (Heat rank 6th allowing a 39.6%), amongst their many other defensive tenacities.
The Heat will not turn into a solid half-court offensive team overnight so they only viable option is to accentuate what works.
It will need to start with rebounding the ball, but overall the Heat would be hard pressed to find easier baskets than by relentlessly attacking the Bulls before their defense settles into the revered roadblock it is famous for. Easier said than done with the Bulls’ bigs crashing the boards and their agility able to recover quickly, but 48 minutes of ongoing onslaught must overcome the 48 minutes of the Bulls’ suffocating defensive tenacity.
In Game 1, Miami fell comatose after the first half as the Bulls turned up their raucous defensive resolve. The more persistent team won and the feeling is the same way will be for every game this series. Time to beat the good defense with better, intensified offense.
A Second Chance
One thing in this series is a given: both teams will force bad shot selection upon each other. They are elite in this same manner, each ranking in the top 5 of almost all statistical categories in defensive coverage. At this stage in the playoffs it’s hard to imagine either will falter, so maximizing every possession is of utmost importance.
The Bulls’ 31 second-chance points made all the difference in game one. Coupled with some unlikely shots at inopportune times, the daggers to Miami’s physical efforts buried the Heat too deep to recover. Take away this one essential weapon and the game returns to a state of grind with a much better chance for Miami to close it out in the hands of the stars.
Sure, the Bulls are an elite offensive rebounding team (Chicago ranks 4th, Miami 19th) but the Heat are extensively capable of countering with their defensive rebounding prowess (Miami ranks 4th, Chicago 3rd). Keeping the four-headed rebounding dragon (Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer, and Omer Asik, in that order) at bay will be no easy task, but fighting fire with fire might be the only way to effectively counter.
Bosh will need to be at his most fundamental rebounding mindset, Joel’s urge to help while leaving his man open must be cautiously selective while on Boozer, the girth of Dampier and Magloire shall be summoned to shove Asik’s European torso out of the equation and the James/Wade duo, much like the rest of the team, must balance the impulse to break away in transition with the responsibility to disallow the Bulls a second lifeline after suffocating them on every possession.
Going small introduces agility to match and perhaps over-bear on both sides of the court. Bosh can matchup with Noah at center, while James can use his similarly built frame to keep Boozer in check while terrorizing him on offense. Getting bigger with the sprinkling of Dampier, Magloire or Ilgauskas will have its advantages in the much coveted painted area, but might prove counter-productive as the Bulls are so keen to attack any weak link with their pick and rolls sets.
The lack of experimentation with the smaller lineups during the season leaves doubts as to their efficiency (69% DReb with Anthony at center in 177 minutes, 69% DReb with Bosh at center in 42 minutes), while the late season’s lineup with Dampier has been proven to be quite effective on the boards (73% DReb in 269 minutes). Dampier’s absence in the playoffs remains unexplained, some sources citing injury and age while others cite the need for speed over burl.
It’s That Time.
It’s time for Miami to spear into their previous deficiencies head-on. Time for coach Spoelstra to relish in the spotlight and shine by matching Thibodeau’s best with his own maneuvers. Like the Boston Celtic series, Miami is the more talented team although no longer the more athletic. Stakes are higher, the difficulty level increased and the challenged at hand ultimately lenient on two non-basketball terms, applicable in the purest sense of life: focus and fortitude.
To never falter on defense, to balance the efforts on the boards and in transition, to avoid the stagnant isolation and predictable pick-and-rolls, to not allow second chances.
Chicago can only stumble into a 19-6 rebound differential and 10-21 3FG shooting night so often. They might be too good for careless imperfections, but the Heat are too good to succumb to the entire season’s crescendo of expectations.
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