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HEAT-Pacers: Second Quarter Defense

The Miami HEAT are playing far faster than they did at any point last season, and they’re doing it as one of the three most efficient offenses in the league. The pace has, deservedly, has gotten much of the early attention, but it’s in part because the defense has yet to reach the level of consistency of a year ago.

But for one quarter in the HEAT’s 118-83 victory over the Indiana Pacers, any defensive issues fell by the wayside.

Though Miami’s defensive efficiency of 99 points allowed per 100 possessions is actually about four points better than they allowed last year, that’s in part because the league’s average offensive efficiency is down almost five points per game. Where the HEAT were the fifth ranked defense last year, they’ve started at ninth through seven games. But in the second quarter against the Pacers, Miami held its opponent to just 46 points per 100 possessions.

“That’s about activity, that’s about effort, that’s about habits,” Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve built a lot of those things in training camp, and you’ve seen it in stretches. We haven’t been able to do it consistently for a 48 minute game. But our guys fully understand what our identity is, even while we may be pushing the pace and trying to score a little bit quicker”

Spoelstra’s team was able to do it consistently for the full 12 minutes of the second quarter Wednesday, holding the Pacers to 1-of-15 shooting – the only field goal coming from Indiana’s first possession of the period. Better yet, the HEAT also forced 10 turnovers.

“The beauty was, we were just playing good defense,” Battier said. “We were flying around and making plays. We were active. That was a pretty good result.”

That result, all those turnovers – and the ability to score off them – is what separates the HEAT from other historically-strong defensive styles.

“I’ve never really been on teams that create turnovers as much as this team does,” Battier said. “I’ve been on some really good defensive teams. Top-5 defensive teams. [With Jeff] Van Gundy in Houston, it was more of a trench defense. We just dug in and suffocated the life out of offenses, but didn’t really turn people over. Here, a lot more turnovers are created, a lot more fast breaks. It seems like the defensive is at a higher level than trench warfare.”

Granted, eight of the ten Indiana giveaways in the second quarter were of the dead-ball variety, meaning Miami had to take the ball out of bounds before beginning its offensive possession. And some of those whistles were, even given strong HEAT resistance, partly the fault of the offense, including a number of travels with the ball and offensive fouls that occurred off the ball.

Still, there was a legitimate sense of momentum to the quarter. Miami began so technically sound, hedging onto ballhandlers and recovering off screens so fluidly in play such as these:

And as time went on, Indiana’s possessions seemed to get shorter and shorter, the number of passes became fewer and time spent comfortably handling the ball dwindled. Sometimes it seems silly to award a team momentum when really one made shot has so little effect on the last made shot, but when a quarter rolls downhill so long for a team only to build to the crescendo of a live-ball steal by Mario Chalmers that became a monstrous LeBron James dunk – their only fast-break hoop of the period – in the last HEAT play before the half, momentum is appropriate.

“Most players, when you create turnovers and get easy buckets, it raises their defense on the other end. I don’t know why it is. It’s just part of the psychology of the game,” Battier said.

Given that this is the first time the HEAT allowed just one field goal in a quarter in franchise history, the second quarter may well be, at least statistically, the epitome of Miami defense in 2012. But they will be tested more and more, and for longer than a quarter that gave the HEAT a commanding 29-point lead. Just as it helps to hit that one move you’ve been working on all summer, just once, in a game, this is now something recent Miami can call back on, to remember how good their defense can be.