HEAT 106 - Warriors 84 Recap

December 10 – As well as the Miami HEAT had been playing during its current winning streak, there was still yet to be a night where it seemed as if the sheer offensive potential of the team had been unleashed.

In fact, other than in a game against the Phoenix Suns earlier in the season, the team’s transition offense had largely remained just that: potent. Scoring a league-average 14.5 fast break points per game, the HEAT had stuck to creating transition opportunities through defense, using turnovers to spark the running lanes.

At first glance, Friday night was no different, as the Golden State Warriors’ 13 turnovers – many of which came from tipped passes – allowed LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to streak down the wings and act as catalysts for a 13-0 run early in the third quarter that, effectively, decided Miami’s 106-84 win then and there.

But playing the Warriors – similarly styled to the Suns as an undersized lineup focused more on up-tempo offense than half-court defense – unlocked, if only for a night, something more.

At every second-half opportunity, whether it was off a turnover, a missed shot or even a made one, the HEAT were of the mind to get the ball up court as quickly, and effectively, as humanly possible. Still born of defensive stops, yes, but it was an aggressiveness that opened up the court more, and quicker, than ever before.

“The second half we got to look more to our identity defending and getting out in the open court,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think our guys are enjoying that, but understanding more importantly the correlation. You can’t get out and run unless you’re getting stops and rebounds and they were really committing to that. We were able to use our speed to get some easy ones up the court.”

That’s where Wade and James came in. Combining for 59 points and 16 assists, the pair dominated in the open court, leading to 27 fast-break points for the HEAT which, when coupled with an opponent shooting 37 percent from the field, would normally render most other statistics moot for the evening.

“We just got it going tonight,” James said. “When we get stops and get rebounds, we’re very tough to guard because we can get out on the break. Together our speed is unmatched, so when we’re able to get stops, that leads to some easy buckets for us.”

Unless there was another number that was just as impressive. Miami’s 50 rebounds will stick out to many, but the boards will come when the defense turns a freestyling offense such as Golden State’s into a stagnant, scrambling, isolation-laden attack. And a nine-rebound advantage will also come when a team shoots 15 percent better than its opponent.

But the glaring box-score difference tonight was the HEAT’s 33 assists – having hit 30 just twice before this season – on 41 field goals, with ten of the eleven players to take the floor dishing at least one.

Though the HEAT’s goal is always to have a high assist total, because they have players that can both create off the dribble and get to the free-throw line, their totals often did not reflect how well the ball was moving.

Against the Warriors, the totals did, such as in one third quarter possession where, as James was running a pick-and-roll on the right wing, Wade and Carlos Arroyo (4-of-4 shooting) were forcing the defense to react with weakside cuts, manipulating the rotations off of Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the middle. In all, the possession featured at least five passes among four players, and resulted in Arroyo assisting on a Wade baseline layup, on the opposite side of the court from which the possession began.

It was just one possession in a victory, one during what is now a seven-game winning streak, but it was symbolic of what is going right with the HEAT lately. And during the past seven games, at one point or another, has been just about everything. Not that that’s something the HEAT are going to settle for.

“Two weeks ago, nothing in Miami was right from an outside perspective,” Wade said. “Here we are two weeks later, second place in the East and now we’re first in the division. That’s all pretty good, but right now we’re just worried about continuing to play better, and just trying to continue to take the team up another notch.

“We’re still behind some teams and we’ve only played 24 games, so we just have to keep things in perspective and know that we still have a lot of work to do.”