How Miami Defends Carmelo

In Game 1, the Miami HEAT revealed their plan to front Carmelo Anthony on the wing.

In Game 2, the New York Knicks adjusted, gave Anthony screens to work with, and Anthony got open.

And then in Game 3, well, nothing changed.

Fronting Anthony was never a form of attempting to keep the ball away from him at all times and, in turn, force the other Knicks to win the game, just as guarding Anthony straight up in Game 2 was not some strange adherence to the old adage about letting the scorer get his as long as nobody else gets anything. Miami has simply done all it could do to leverage every situation in its favor, and in turn show everyone that there are no defensive absolutes.

After Miami’s Game 3 win, Mike Woodson made reference to how the HEAT are doubling Anthony, which is both true and untrue. When Shane Battier or LeBron James fronts and forces a Knicks guard to lob the ball over the top, Miami is, in a sense, doubling. One of Chris Bosh or Joel Anthony or Udonis Haslem is there waiting on the backside of the defense to go after the ball. If Anthony catches it, they trap.

If either James or Battier gets beat off the dribble – it has happened to each of them – and Anthony puts a foot in the paint, then Miami isn’t doubling. They are sticking to their most basic help principles. Someone steps up on the attacker, they contest the shot or they force a pass.

But Miami is winning this series because when New York’s best scorer does catch the ball, they aren’t doubling. They make him work for space and for the catch, they help off screens and in the paint, but if Anthony wants to shoot contested shots, the HEAT are letting his shot slowly fade out of every game due to efficiency starvation.

“We’re trying to make it tough on him as much as possible, trying to wear on him for 48 minutes,” Dwyane Wade said. “Just trying to wear on him as much as possible, make him as tired as possible, so that the shots he’s hitting early he’s not hitting late.”

Almost 47 percent – up almost 10 percent from the regular season – of Anthony’s shots have come in the zone outside of the paint but inside of the three-point line, where the prospect of efficiency is often nothing but the hazy mirage hanging over the desert, far in the distance. He’s using 11.7 isolation possessions per game, the most of any player in the playoffs and three possessions more than any player, including Kobe Bryant, averaged in the regular season. And those are used possessions, meaning they don’t get logged unless Anthony takes a shot, turns the ball over or gets fouled. With the way the HEAT are playing Anthony, those are possessions ending in shots worth two points, contested and off the dribble.

The problem for the Knicks is that those are the shots Anthony likes.

“I wouldn’t say they shut me down,” Anthony said. “I am missing shots that I would normally make.”

Anthony shot 38.9 percent from mid-range this season, taking almost as many shots there as he did in all of the paint. In the playoffs, he is making 40 percent of those shots and 34.9 percent overall.

The Knicks need Anthony to shoot closer to 50 percent for their offense to have the sort of efficiency that can stand up against Miami’s, but almost nobody does so on the number of attempts Anthony is taking. A few shots fall with Battier’s hand in his face and Anthony’s offense looks great, but eventually the shots miss and New York has to fall back on an offense that is already stalled.

Anthony is too good not to toast any defender in a few one-on-one situations, but there’s a reason Miami isn’t doubling as long as Anthony – or JR Smith, for that matter – is working in that designated mid-range zone. The percentages drastically favor the defense.

Of course, the rest of the defense still has to be ready at a moment’s notice, ready to help when Anthony attacks, but also ready to make him regret passing the ball.

Take, for instance, this defensive stand in the fourth quarter.

After one incredible Wade closeout, the Knicks throw the lob over the top and Bosh comes over for the trap. Anthony makes the good basketball play to kick the ball to the open man, and the Knicks exhibit good instincts to find the open spot on the weakside. But again, there is Wade.

“That was huge,” Joel Anthony said. “That’s the type of stuff you need. Especially when it comes to that fourth quarter defense….defensively he’s amazing in those moments. To get to those shooters and close out like that is just amazing.”

Steve Novak, the victim of Wade’s closeouts and New York’s weakside bastion of efficiency, has taken seven shots in this series. The Knicks have attempted 12 corner threes.

When Miami’s defense is on like it was in the second half, allowing 30 total points, here is what it spells out for New York:

If you don’t take some time off the shot clock to set up screens for Anthony, he’s going to get fronted. If the ball is lobbed over the top, a trap is coming. If a ballhandler enters the paint, help defense will step up. If you try to find an open shooter, the closeout will be there.

But if you attack in isolations, off the dribble and from the periemter, go ahead and make the defenders look bad for a couple of possessions. There will be no call for reinforcements. No help will come. The defense won’t change.

Because when the percentages are heavily in your favor, there’s no reason to. The defense has the situation in control.

Statistical support for this article was provided by NBA.com and Synergy Sports