HEAT 90 - Cavaliers 102 Recap

Since the first day of training camp, the Miami HEAT have been a defensive-minded team. They were to build their foundation on strong man-to-man defense, and in turn, that defense was to define them. And it did, for most of the season.

But, in giving up 116 points per 100 possessions to a Cleveland Cavaliers team that averages 15 fewer, a league worst, the HEAT are left trying to find themselves, their defense, among the wreckage.

“We got exactly what we deserved,” Erik Spoelstra said. “They played harder than us, came out with more desperation and a sense of urgency. This pattern started two games ago.

“Our identity is a little bit lost, for three games we thought we were going to beat teams offensively.”

Though one game, a 102-90 loss, is hardly a harbinger of doom, there was one sequence which illustrated just how off the HEAT’s defensive game was. It just so happened to be Miami’s best segment of the evening.

This was by and large, a game you’ve seen before, with the HEAT reaching the crest of the hump on multiple occasions only to have a missed layup or open three spur a quick burst from Cleveland. That means the HEAT made the sort of run you would expect in such a game, and they did, outscoring the Cavaliers 22-4 at the end of the third quarter to get within four.

Only, they were playing zone the entire time.

Miami is not a team that plays much, if any, zone. They don’t even switch on pick-and-rolls, much less abandon man-to-man altogether. But with his team getting beat in such a wide variety of ways, Spoelstra dipped into the forbidden well, searching for anything that might work.

The Cavaliers were befuddled, surely, missing five jumpers and turning the ball over three times in that four-minute stretch. The tendency with zones, however, is to create effective, but temporary confusion, and once Cleveland had the break to settle down, it figured things out. They drove the seams, flashed to the open space, and busted the one thing the HEAT had going for it, that they never should have had to go to in the first place.

“We shouldn’t have to go to a zone to get back in games,” LeBron James said.

Lost amid the frustration will be that the HEAT have been executing exceptionally well offensively. It was difficult to see with Chris Bosh mired in a 5-of-14 slump, but the motion, as it was against Houston, was prolific in the first half.

Their 42.3 percent shooting – points upon points in the paint were left on the table – ruined much of that, and in the second half it took some hero ball from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and 7-of-11 shooting from three courtesy Mike Bibby to threaten the Cavaliers, but the intentions were there.

Which goes to show that no matter how good the offensive process may be, it can’t be relied upon to produce as consistent result as a working iron curtain.

“We shot poorly tonight, that will happen,” Spoelstra said. “But that’s why we spent so much time drilling our defense, to be able to fall back on tough nights offensively. To be able to grind back and give ourselves a chance to win.

“We really didn’t have a great chance at this game because we didn’t defend.”

Yet they still had a chance. Far more than a glimmer, even. The playoffs won’t be so forgiving. Then, it comes back, again and again, to the defense. And eventually, the HEAT will have to put that offensive process on top of their defensive foundation, not against a team playing one of its best games of the season, but against a team that is, consistently, every bit as good as Miami.