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Prized Possession: Double Teams

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics are two different defensive teams. The 76ers gave up 105 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, the Celtics just 100.3, tops in the league. But for one night at least, Wednesday’s Game 5, they were almost equals.

Not quite schematically, no, but in terms of aggression and quick help rotations, the 76ers were on par with just about anyone in the league. They doubled Dwyane Wade and LeBron James any time either caught the ball below the free-throw line, the trapped the ballhandler on pick-and-rolls and rarely got beat off the dribble in isolation. The one shortcoming was that Philadelphia was forced to concede three-pointers – the Celtics don’t concede anything – which helped Miami to 12-of-30 shooting from downtown, but this was otherwise an exceptional performance in forcing the HEAT into 20-of-50 shooting on two-pointers.

Apart from trapping the ball off screens, preventing Wade and James from curling off a pick and barreling towards the rim, Philadelphia’s prime directive was to bring an extra defender whenever Wade or James was in the post. It could be someone from the weakside, coming across the lane, or someone shading down from the elbow. Either way, there would be no one-on-one post play for those two. And for much of the game, Miami didn’t fully capitalize.

On the first nine possessions Philadelphia brought a double team, the results were as such: two made threes, two missed threes, a 10-foot make, a missed layup, one jump ball and two non-plays where the ball stuck on the perimeter. That’s eight points and just two attempts in the paint.

In the first half, the HEAT put up 99.82 points per 100 possessions.

On the tenth possession, Wade recognized the hole that extra defender was leaving in the paint:

It’s a simple play, James posts Andre Iguodala and draws Spencer Hawes from the baseline. Hawes leaves Joel Anthony to do this, making Jrue Holiday responsible for the backside of the paint. Anthony ducks down to the strongside block and Holiday has to shade down. With a giant seam in the defense, Wade makes the cut and Miami gets its best hoop off a double team thanks to James’ passing ability out of the post.

Though there were other factors, in the second half, Miami’s offensive rating was 127.08. Part of the reason for that was punishing the 76ers, even occasionally, for overplaying the ball.

Should the Celtics choose to employ this strategy – not a common regular season tactic for them but nothing is out of the question – these are the types of plays the HEAT will need to earn in order to retain efficiency. But if Miami passes out to the perimeter on each double or trap – the HEAT only got one shot off, a missed three, directly as a result of the 76ers’ six hard ball traps – then they will suffer through some of the same offensive struggles they experienced against Boston in the regular season.

They can’t afford to take 30 three-pointers a game because they won’t make 12 triples a game. The Celtics know this. But off-ball cuts like Wade’s will keep Boston honest.

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