Posted May 5 2011 11:52AM
The Miami Heat had the league's third-most efficient offense in the regular season, but once they advanced to the conference semifinals, you could throw that ranking out. Against the Boston Celtics, the Heat would be facing the league's second-best defense, which had made them look pretty anemic.
Miami's offense improved over the course of the season, but this series would be the true test of their ability to execute. We know the Heat thrive on the break, but the Celtics are the best in the league at reducing their opponent's transition opportunities and their half-court defense has always been tough to penetrate.
During the season, only two teams (Chicago and Milwaukee) shut the Heat down better than the Celtics, who held to Miami to 100.9 points per 100 possessions in four meetings. They not only held Dwyane Wade to 12.8 points per game on 28 percent shooting, but they made LeBron James a more inefficient scorer as well.
The Heat were a top-five defense this season too, so this series was supposed to be ugly. But it hasn't exactly been a defensive series thus far, with the two teams combining to score 108.5 points per 100 possessions.
The Heat have scored 201 points over two slow-paced games (114.2 points per 100 possessions), beating the vaunted Celtics' defense with relative ease. Wade and James have led the way, averaging a combined 61.5 points on 52 percent shooting in the two games.
What's most encouraging is that the Heat's fast-break opportunities have been rather limited. In fact, the Celtics have more fast-break points (27) in the series than the Heat do (22). Instead, Miami is getting the job done in half-court situations.
Usually, ball and player movement are critical against the Celtics' defense, which looks to shrink the court by loading up on the strong side. And since the Heat are a low-assist team by nature (they ranked 25th in assist rate in the regular season), they run the risk of getting stagnant against Boston.
But the Heat are flourishing offensively despite a lack of ball movement. They've recorded assists on less than half of their field goals, and on only 15 of James' and Wade's 44 combined buckets.
That doesn't mean they're just playing one-on-one basketball. A lot of their offense has come via pick-and-rolls, with the Miami big men assisting with screens as opposed to passes. The Celtics' pick-and-roll defense hasn't been bad, but James and Wade don't need much space to be effective offensively.
Thus far, they've been effective with both pull-up jumpers and with drives to the bucket. James and Wade have attempted just 24 of their 85 shots (28 percent) from within five feet of the basket, which is a much lower ratio than they attempted in the regular season against the Celtics (44 percent). But though just 28 percent of their field goal attempts have come from within five feet, 43 percent of their makes have come from there, because they haven't met much resistance at the rim.
Well, technically, that's not right. There has been some resistance, but all it has done is send James and Wade to the free throw line. The two have combined to attempt 39 free throws in the two games. And when they haven't gone to the line, they've shot a ridiculously efficient 19-for-24 (79 percent) from within five feet of the basket, compared to 32-for-61 (52 percent) in the four regular season meetings.
The Celtics have the best defensive schemes in the league. But in the first two games, the Heat's talent has trumped the Celtics' schemes. Miami's offense has been rather simple, but plenty effective.
"They're going to get points," Doc Rivers said after Game 2. "I believed that going into the series. They can't be so efficient getting them and that's on us. They're getting to the line and that right now is hurting us as much as anything."
Of course, with James and Wade being so successful when they get to the basket against the Celtics, you can't help but wonder if Kendrick Perkins would make a difference.
But in 240 total minutes over the last four years, James and Wade have combined to shoot 67 percent from within five feet of the basket with Perkins on the floor. And only Dwight Howard had committed more fouls over the previous three seasons than Perkins.
No, Miami's success offensively is more about James and Wade than it is about who Boston has on the floor. And if the Heat's stars continue to play like this, that vaunted Celtics defense won't be making it to the conference finals.
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